The growth of the domestic gas and oil drilling industry has brought economic benefits to many mineral-rights owners who agree to leases that allow the companies to drill on the owners’ land.
However, not everyone has been so keen to sign on, and that’s left the oil and gas companies searching for a way to access the minerals underneath the land of those who refuse to lease. Unfortunately, those companies seem to have found it in a new interpretation of eminent domain.
Public vs. Private
Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private land away from owners for use in public projects. A classic example would be using eminent domain to seize land for a paved highway that will connect previously isolated towns to a city. However, court-ruled precedents have now established that private companies can take private land for projects that really aren’t public. Oil and gas companies have taken these rulings and run with them, requiring landowners to participate in something called forced pooling.
Forced Participation and Owner Rights
When these companies have leases to drill on some parcels but not others, they often resort to what is known as forced pooling (also occasionally called compulsory integration). This is just what you think it is — land owners are forced to let the companies drill on their parcels as part of a whole neighborhood unit. Landowners who resist are taken to court, where the eminent domain excuse and precedents are brought in. Landowners often lose if they aren’t careful and don’t have good legal representation.
Lots Could Go Wrong
It is possible for the drilling to be done in an isolated area that doesn’t affect residents. The drilling doesn’t always go that well, however. In one case, an East Texas family reported that the drilling company working on their land had ripped up their septic tank on one day and blocked their outflow pipe on another, flooding their home with sewage and making the family sick. And this was a family who had cooperated with the company.
Stories like this abound, leading landowners to try to fight back. A few municipal remedies may help, such as deed restrictions, but landowners facing the seizure of their land by drilling companies should approach the situation with extreme caution. Oil and gas companies have very good lawyers. If you’re facing a potential eminent domain seizure by these companies, you may want to contact lawyers yourself. A law firm that specializes in fending off fuel companies is better able to find precedents and other remedies to stop the companies from tearing up your land.