The news story “Hilcorp Energy first in Pa. to test law allowing access to gas without property owners' consent” and the editorial “Forced pooling? Change the law” (Oct. 6, Oct. 9 and TribLIVE.com) regarding the 1961 state law that allows forced pooling for Utica shale natural-gas drilling seem to portray a misperception, implying that forced pooling of mineral interests allows drilling companies to “take” a person's property.
Such pooling does not impact surface rights. Landowners cannot be “forced” to allow drilling activity on their land without a lease agreement. Most know that natural gas may flow deep underground across property boundaries. Forced pooling simply attempts to account for this by “forcing” unleased landowners to accept the same payments as leased owners in the same drilling unit.
The true reason for forced pooling is actually the exact opposite — so that a mineral owner with small acreage may not unfairly prevent his or her neighbor from drilling.
A drilling unit must have a majority of property leased before unleased acreage can be included. The news story stated Hilcorp leased all but 35 acres out of 3,267 in its drilling unit (99 percent) — multiple horizontal wells can be drilled from just a few surface pads and a few acres there.
Would it be fair if a few small property owners were able to prevent the majority of their neighbors from accessing mineral rights? Similar laws have existed in many states for many years, for good reason.