Appeals, Nos. 196, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, and 204, Jan. T., 1957, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Cameron County, Jane T., 1953, No. 7, in equity, in cases of James H. Brookbank and B. & M. Oil and Gas Company v. Benedum-Trees Oil Company et al. and New York State Natural Gas Company. Decree affirmed; reargument refused June 18, 1957.
Elder W. Marshall and Charles E. Kenworthey, with them, Harvey A. Miller, Sr., Harvey A. Miller, Jr., B. R. Coppolo, Edwin W. Tompkins, J. Tomlinson Fort, John L. Rogers, Jr., Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, Driscoll, Gregory & Coppolo and Miller & Miller, for appellants.
William H. Eckert, with him Frank L. Seamans, Robert F. Patton, Clarence O. Devore and Smith, Buchanan, Ingersoll, Rodewald & Eckert, for appellees.
Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno, Arnold, Jones and Cohen, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES
This appeal presents an inquiry into the rights, if any, of a railroad company and its assignees to drill
for natural gas under an abandoned railroad bed which crosses a tract of land in Cameron County.
James H. Brookbank, one of two appellees,*fn1 is the owner of a 90 acre tract of land situated in Gibson Township, Cameron County, over a portion of which the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company operated a railroad until 1942.*fn2 The appellants are six corporations and two individuals, who claim an interest in a natural gas well drilled by or for them on or about April 1, 1953 on the former railroad bed crossing Brookbank's land, together with the corporation which purchases the gas recovered from the well.
Brookbank claims that the railroad company had simply a "right of way"*fn3 across his land for railroad purposes and, upon the cessation of its use for railroad purposes in 1942, the land within the "right of way" reverted to him as the present owner of the fee. The appellants claim that the railroad company in 1903 acquired by purchase from Brookbank's predecessors in title an estate in fee in the strip of land over which the railroad crossed which estate carried with it the right to the minerals, including gas, under the strip of land. The rights of the respective parties depend
solely upon the interpretation of a written agreement dated January 7, 1903.
In 1902 one J. J. Ingraham and his wife owned this tract of land.*fn4 On August 14, 1902, the Susquehanna and Southern Railroad Company, acting through its board of directors, formally adopted a resolution which located a route for a railroad to be constructed from Sinnemahoning, Cameron County, to Sykesville, Jefferson County, an operative survey thereof having been completed. As located the proposed route crossed the Ingraham (now the Brookbank) farm. Subsequent thereto - January 7, 1903 - the Ingrahams and the railroad company entered into the following written agreement:
"KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS, That J. J. Ingraham and Anna Ingraham parties of the first part, for and in consideration of the sum of Three hundred Dollars, lawful money of the United States, duly paid by the railroad company hereinafter mentioned, to us, receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, have granted, bargained, sold, released and conveyed unto the SUSQUEHANNA AND SOUTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, a corporation organized under the laws of Pennsylvania, its successors and assigns, a strip of land four rods in width, and, through cuts and fills such additional widths as may be needed for slopes, one-half thereof on either side of the center line as now located, of the SUSQUEHANNA AND SOUTHERN RAILROAD, leading from Sinnemahoning, Pennsylvania, to DuBois, Sykesville, &c., through lands of the parties above mentioned, situate in Gibson Township, Cameron County, Pennsylvania.
"TOGETHER with the right to enter upon the said land and lay out, construct, maintain and operate a railroad over and across the lands belonging to the parties above mentioned, taking and using such earth, stones and gravel, as may be needed for grading and filling such road, and hereby fully releasing said railroad company, its successors and assigns, from all liability by reason of the location, construction and operation of the said railroad.
"A good farm crossing and cattle guard on each side thereof to be built and maintained by said Company.
"IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the parties first above named hereunto set their hands and seals the Seventh day of January, 1903.