Cris Mooney
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"Of course, that's just my opinion, and I may be full of shit"
- Dennis Miller -

Since this opinion was considered in great detail, it will be difficult to change my mind. However, it's not impossible. I am always open to reason. I welcome well thoughtful, logical, response.

Recorded Aug 22, 2010

Mining in Pennsylvania

with special attention to Marcellus Shale (gas)

Rising fuel prices together with advancement in mining technologies in the first decade of the 21st century has spurred a lot of investment and media speculation in Pennsylvania. Suddenly, the underground here is valuable again. This is because of Marcellus Shale, which can now be profitably mined for natural gas.

Who owns what?

With lower populations in the past, this question concerned average folks little. Land owners were relatively few, with most of those left so poor they did not matter. However these days there are more land owners, with higher stakes, who expect corresponding rights to their immediate surroundings.

However, it turns out that legal activities in another era may have put most of us unknowingly at a disadvantage. Most of us consider land ownership as "flatlanders", but in fact the property inches below you may belong to someone else. Is this a case of buyer beware, or a systematic mistreatment of society? You will have to be the judge, but unless you are a speculator you are unlikely to be happy.

In Pennsylvania it seems there are at least: surface, support, mineral, and oil & gas ownership - and they don't always go hand in hand. One can own a house and surface, but not own anything below it (including "support"). Depending on deeding, one could mine under your house today to the point it collapses (they may own "support"). I am not talking about your house collapsing because it was built on an old unknown mine; this is a mine being built today under your house. In some cases I also believe someone can come right onto the surface property you own and start drilling down to their assets, and you are powerless. Moreover, I gather it is a serious task for a title research "abstracter" to figure out current rights - by researching back to the 1800s in many cases.

Who cares?

Perhaps when laws were passed allowing separate ownership everyone was aware. However, as mining in the area decreased, and cities have grown, any awareness of such a concept has been largely forgotten. While I recall being told I might want "mine subsidence" insurance because there might be a dead mine under my house, no one ever hinted I did not own the property below my house and I might get shafted.

The problem now is that mining is increasing since valuable assets are being recognized under homes that will now be less valuable than the ground under them. But, since most own only the home surface on top, their fate may be controlled by another unknown to them. And, as far as I could determine, I believe it is very expensive to research to find out who you might be at the mercy of.

My opinion:

As far as I could see it would be beyond my reasonable means to determine my risk (to hire an advanced title search by an "abstracter" if I could find one I trust to reliably resolve ownership). It is unfortunate; it seems these records should have been better kept. More organized, accessible, and public.

Quite likely if I am subject to another owner's whims, they are a large speculator that has my neighbors under their thumb as well. So, this is a social issue that should have been handled on a community level. We agree on laws, including laws of ownership, to benefit all of us. The vast majority of us should not be held potentially hostage to someone who was fortunate enough discover (or have been part of implementing) what I consider to be un-intuitive and unfair obscure laws that give them a stealthy, and in my opinion unearned, advantage over our livelihood. And, each of us should not have to spend loads of time and money finding that info out.


I've collected the following links in examining this issue. But, I've stopped short of accomplishing much. Perhaps these will help you start here and get farther, rather than wasting as much time as I did getting here. If they do, and you learn more, please share with me (I am "csm" within my home domain "forus").