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Problems with 'pooling'

| Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

No longer just a hypothetical concern, Marcellus shale drillers' expediency trampling private-property rights under a new state law that forces “pooling” of leased properties has become a practical concern with EQT Corp. suing for survey access to 70 Forward properties under that law. But landowners at least can have their day in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

If, that is, they're willing and able to wage a legal fight against a deep-pocketed firm — which points out yet another unfair aspect of this ill-advised law.

It strips landowners whose leases don't explicitly prohibit “pooling” — which enables sideways drilling with fewer well pads — of their rightful leverage to renegotiate better lease terms in exchange for allowing the practice. They're left at drillers' mercy — a quality EQT's decision to litigate seemingly lacks.

The law's sponsor says EQT — surprise! — lobbied for its passage. And its advocates maintain that by requiring all pooled properties to already be leased, it doesn't force unwanted drilling.

The lawsuit shows that's true only until a driller decides to use the law, forcing a grim choice on landowners: Knuckle under or fight a steeply uphill legal battle.

EQT-style use of the law may bolster drillers' bottom lines but will win their industry few friends. Landowners statewide will watch this litigation closely, hoping courts will show more regard for their rights than the Legislature, Gov. Tom Corbett and EQT have.

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