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NEW YORK STATE NATURAL GAS CORP. v. SWAN-FINCH GAS

March 31, 1959

NEW YORK STATE NATURAL GAS CORPORATION, Plaintiff
v.
SWAN-FINCH GAS DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION and Rockton Drilling Corporation, A. H. Reitz and Keta Gas & Oil Company, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLSON

In this non-jury civil action, this court must determine the ownership of the natural gas in a tract of land of approximately 1,050 acres, being Warrant 2001, Houston Township, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

The case was filed in this court because of the dispute between New York State Natural Gas Corporation, a corporation existing under the laws of the State of New York, and defendant Swan-Finch Gas Development Corporation, a Pennsylvania corporation, over which one had the right to drill for and produce natural gas from this warrant. Each corporation had started drilling operations. Defendant A. H. Reitz is an individual and claims to be the owner in fee of the natural gas. She leased the land for drilling purposes to Swan-Finch. Rockton Drilling Corporation is a Pennsylvania corporation claiming an interest in the gas through Swan-Finch. Keta Gas & Oil Company, a Pennsylvania corporation, claims to be an assignee of the interest of Swan-Finch. The matter in controversy exceeds the amount required for diversity jurisdiction. Six gas wells drilled to the Oriskany sands by plaintiff are now producing gas from this land. A preliminary injunction was granted against defendants, prohibiting them from drilling and completing a well commenced in January of 1957. Plaintiff was permitted to continue to drill the well it had started in December of 1956. The Court, however, imposed certain drilling conditions upon the plaintiff. In due course, this case came on for trial on the merits. Counsel have been heard at oral argument and briefs have been filed. Upon all of the evidence and the law applicable thereto, this court has concluded that the ownership of the natural gas is in the plaintiff.

 Since December 29, 1904, the surface of Warrant 2001 has been owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, says the plaintiff, the gas estate by the heirs of Cyrus Gordon. The Gordon heirs gave an oil and gas lease covering this warrant to Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. in 1951, which has been assigned by the lessee therein to the plaintiff in this case. It is through the Gordon title that plaintiff claims the right to produce and sell gas from this warrant. Defendants claim through a deed to the Caledonia Coal Company. For convenience, their chain of title is designated 'Caledonia Coal title.' The conveyances making up both chains of title appear in the findings of fact, but as this court holds that plaintiff has a good title to the gas, it necessarily follows that the conveyances on which defendants rely to establish their title are rejected as being insufficient in law. As no well was completed, nor was any gas produced from this warrant until 1957, and as both parties rely on paper titles, possession plays no part in the conclusion as to ownership of the gas.

 The common source of title is the ownership of this warrant on and prior to April 5, 1887, by Benjamin C. Bowman and James H. Rowland. The parties agree that the Bowman and Rowland title is good and that it was held in fee simple by the owners. On April 5, 1887, Bowman and Rowland gave a deed to the Caledonia Coal Company. The principal, if not the decisive point in this case, is whether the deed to the Caledonia Coal Company passed title to the natural gas in this warrant. The granting clause reads:

 '* * * do grant, bargain, sell, alien, enfeoff, release and convey unto the same Caledonia Coal Company its successors and assigns, All the coal, coal oil, fire clay and other minerals of every kind and character, in upon and under the following described tracts of land * * *.' (Italics are in original deed, according to the certified copy offered in evidence.)

 one of which is Warrant 2001 in Houston Township. This deed also contained the following language:

 '* * * together with the right and privilege of entering upon said land and taking away said coal, coal oil, fire clay and other minerals of every kind and character, and to erect such structures, ways, buildings, railways, and shafts thereon both up and down, to cut and fill the surface wheresoever needed for railways, for such purposes to dig ditches and channels for waste waters and to do those and such other things thereon in such manner as may be necessary in the judgment of the Caledonia Coal Company to successfully mine and take away the said coal, coal oil, fire clay and other minerals or any of them from the lands aforesaid with the right to use such timber under ten inches in diameter * * *.'

 Defendants' contentions are:

 1. That the deed to the Caledonia Coal Company passed title to the natural gas and that thereafter the 'mineral' assessments which appear in defendants' chain of title and on which certain tax sales have been based give defendants an unbroken paper title to the natural gas.

 2. That even if the Caledonia Coal Company deed does not pass title to the natural gas, then the Treasurer's deed dated September 28, 1898, granting this warrant and conveying the minerals in this Warrant 2001 to H. H. Pigott for unpaid taxes for the years 1896 and 1897, passed title to the natural gas. Subsequent to this deed, say the defendants, several tax sales based upon 'mineral' assessments and other conveyances show an unbroken chain of title in defendants' predecessors.

 Plaintiff contends that the Caledonia Coal Company deed did not pass title to the natural gas and that the 'mineral' assessments are assessments of the coal, coal oil, and other things conveyed in the Caledonia Coal Company deed, but are not assessments of the natural gas, and therefore the Treasurer's deed of September 28, 1898 to H. H. Pigott does not help defendants insofar as the gas is concerned.

 It should be stated at this point that at no time has the natural gas as such in this warrant been assessed by the Clearfield County authorities. If title to the gas passed by virtue of a Treasurer's deed, it must have passed under an assessment designated 'mineral.' It therefore becomes necessary to examine the law relative to what was conveyed in the deed to the Caledonia Coal Company and what was thereafter assessed by the authorities of Clearfield County.

 I. Caledonia Coal Company Deed and 'Mineral' Assessments Thereafter

 Defendants assert that as gas is unquestionably a mineral, title to it passed under the language or phraseology in the Caledonia Coal Company deed, '* * * and other minerals of every kind and character * * *.' The law of Pennsylvania controls the decision in this case. It appears to this court that the language used in the Caledonia Coal Company deed has been construed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in a line of cases beginning in 1882, as not including the gas: Dunham v. Kirkpatrick, 1882, 101 Pa. 36; Silver v. Bush, 1906, 213 ...


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