On January 30, 2014, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward dismissed her January 8th order agreeing to reconsider her memorandum opinion in which she granted an injunction allowing an oil and gas production company “reasonable ingress, egress, access to and use of the…properties of…sixteen (16) oil and gas leases…for the purpose of performing seismic testing.” Oral hearings are scheduled for March 13, 2014.

This dismissal order came shortly after the landowners filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the company based its claims on an unconstitutional new law enacted in July 2013 (Senate Bill 259) that allowed energy companies to forcibly pool oil and gas leases. Senate Bill 259 provides that, if “an operator has the right to develop multiple contiguous leases separately, the operator may develop those leases jointly by horizontal drilling unless expressly prohibited by a lease.”

According to the landowners, the company’s “attempt to retroactively apply Senate Bill 259 to ‘historical oil and gas leases’ violates well established law governing statutory construction.” This attempt constitutes (1) an unconstitutional abridgement of the landowners’ contractual rights under both the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 10 -“No state shall…pass any… law impairing the obligation of contracts”) and the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article 1, Section 7 - “No ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts…shall be passed”); (2) an unauthorized taking of private property without due process of law and just compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; and (3) the destruction of fundamental rights of landowners to negotiate their property rights (Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution).