An energy company had carried out activities relating to the extraction of oil beneath a property without the title owner’s permission. The issue raised was whether this constituted a trespass, and to what extent does the owner of the surface land also own the substrata which lie beneath. Star Energy had a statutory licence to perform acts necessary for the extraction of oil, and the works underneath the landowner’s property were performed from adjoining land and did not cause any damage to the land. Nevertheless, the landowner asserted that he was entitled to a ‘share of the spoils’ from any extraction.
The Court held that a landowner owns all substrata which lie beneath his property up to a undefined depth where the notion of ownership becomes absurd. The works involved in this case would not be so deep to render the notion of ownership absurd, and hence a trespass had occurred. However, the Court held that the correct measure of damages was not a ‘fair share of the spoils’, but rather adequate compensation for the act of performing the operation (in this case installing pipes). This compensation was measured at £1,000.