Fracking in Pennsylvania leads to legal issues for property owners

The U.S. is experiencing a huge energy boom as hydraulic fracturing - also known as "fracking" - is used to extract oil and gas from shale formations far below the surface of the earth. There is a lot of money to be made when energy companies come calling, looking for their next place to drill, and developers and builders are wise to retain mineral rights to the properties they develop.

However, when a property sells, buyers often overlook the contract provisions disclosing who actually owns the mineral rights to their properties. A recent special report from Reuters revealed that many property owners across the country did not know they do not own any underlying mineral rights associated with their properties. A review of property records in housing communities in 25 states revealed that many homeowners only own their houses and the shallow bits of land their homes sit on.

Radioactive water in Pennsylvania

Last month, scientists from Duke University reported a link between fracking and radioactive river water in Pennsylvania. A lot of fluid is used during fracking operations, creating vast quantities of wastewater that must be treated to remove dangerous chemicals. Downstream from a treatment center in western Pennsylvania, researchers from Duke University found radium levels 200 times higher than those above the discharge location.

While many residential homeowners may think they are safe from these potential dangers, more drilling is taking place near homes, schools and public areas across the state, despite a reported slowdown in the industry in Pennsylvania. To compound the concerns, residents are finding out - too late - that they cannot stop the drilling under their own neighborhoods since they do not own the mineral rights.

Disclosing mineral rights

Many states do not require property sellers to disclose that subsurface rights are not passing to buyers. While Pennsylvania real estate law now requires an addendum to sales contracts disclosing issues of oil, gas and mineral rights, the addendum does not actually transfer or reserve these rights. Therefore, it is vitally important for buyers and sellers to have subsurface rights addressed in their deeds.

Consult a real estate lawyer

If you own, buy or sell real property in Pennsylvania, it is important to consult a real estate attorney regarding aspects of your ownership rights and transactions. A lawyer knowledgeable about mineral rights, property disputes and commercial and residential property issues may be able to help you retain or obtain rights necessary for the enjoyment and safety of your property.