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Minimum Distance Between Gas Wells

By Paul R. Yagelski, Esquire

Can A Landowner Who Does Not Own The Oil And Gas But Who Does Own The Coal Stop An Oil And Gas Company From Drilling An Oil And Gas Well On His Property?

You do not own the oil and gas under your property, but you do own the coal.  There is a gas well that is already on your property or on adjacent property.  The oil and gas company wants to put an oil and gas well on your property and the distance from either the well that is currently on your property or from the well that is on adjacent property is less than 1,000 feet.  Can you stop the oil and gas company from placing a new well on your property?  It is possible, if certain requirements under the Coal and Gas Resource Coordination Act are met.

The Coal and Gas Resource Coordination Act, 15 P.S. § 501 et seq., applies to gas wells which penetrate a workable coal seam in Pennsylvania, including any gas well which penetrates a workable coal seam on lands owned or administered by Pennsylvania or any political subdivision.  It is an act requiring coordination of coal mine and gas well operators.  Under the Act, no permit for a gas well covered by the Act may be issued to drill a new gas well, or reopen a gas well, which has been plugged in accordance with the Oil and Gas Act, unless the proposed gas well is located not less than 1,000 feet from any other well.  15 P.S. § 507(a).  For purposes of this section of the Act, “other well” does not include an oil and gas or injection well which does not penetrate a workable coal seam.  In other words, the Act requires that any new gas well or reopened gas well, which had been plugged, must be spaced 1,000 feet from any other well, but any other well does not include an oil and gas well or injection well, which does not penetrate a workable coal seam.  If the oil and gas well does not penetrate a workable coal seam, the 1,000 foot spacing requirement does not apply.  What is a workable coal seam?

Under § 502 of the Act, 58 P.S. § 502, a workable coal seam includes: (1) a coal seam being mined in the area in question under the Act by underground methods or (2) a coal seam which in the judgment of the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) can reasonably be expected to be mined by underground methods.  If the coal seam is not being mined under the area on your property where the proposed well is to be placed, what is a coal seam which, in the judgement of the DEP, can reasonably be expected to be mined by underground methods?

Per DEP Document No. 550-2100-003, the DEP considers a coal seam workable for purposes of the Act’s spacing requirements only if the seam is at least 28 inches thick and has at least 100 feet of overburden.  If you can pinpoint for the DEP the exact location of the well on your property; e.g., by latitude and longitude, a coal status report can be obtained from the DEP, which will tell you what coal seams, if any, are under your property (coal seams listed as “inferred” on the coal status report are not considered to be workable coal seams).  The coal status report will tell you the amount of overburden.  Accordingly, if the coal seam under your property is considered to be a workable coal seam, and you own the coal, then the oil and gas company must comply with the requirements of § 507 of the Act; specifically, the proposed well must be 1,000 feet in distance from other wells that are located on your land and/or on adjacent lands.  If the oil and gas company cannot meet this spacing requirement, then you as the landowner can block the drilling of an oil and gas well on your property, should you wish to do so.  This is done by filing an objection with the DEP when you receive notice from the oil and gas company that a drilling permit has been applied for.  This objection must be filed within 15 days of the receipt of the notice.

Instead of blocking the placement of an oil and gas well on your property, you may be interested in working out a deal with the oil and gas company to allow the oil and gas company to put its oil and gas well on your property and to do so without fulfilling the minimum distance requirements.  This is called a waiver and is permitted under § 507(b) of the Act. 58 P.S. § 507(b).  This section provides that the DEP, upon request of the permit applicant or the owner of the workable coal seam which underlies the proposed gas well, shall grant an exception from the minimum 1,000 foot distance requirement of § 507(a) where the permit applicant and the owner of the workable coal seam consent in writing.

Accordingly, if you do not own the oil and gas rights under your property, but you do own the coal thereunder and there is a well on your property and/or on adjacent property and the proposed well to be placed on your property is less than 1,000 feet from these wells, it is possible that you may be able to block the drilling of the oil and gas well on your property.

If you have questions about blocking the drilling of an oil and gas well on your property, contact us or call (412) 338-1124.

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