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Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Franklin County
Legal Battle Over Wyoming County Gas Rights Looms
<a href="http://citizensvoice.com/news/legal-battle-develops-over-mineral-rights-on-wyoming-county-parcel-1.901928" target="_blank">Sherwood B. Davidge and Calvert Crary, lumber barons and landowners at the turn of the 20th century, must have had excellent foresight.
At least, they must have when they decided to sell more than 13,000 acres of land in Noxen and Forkston townships in Wyoming County in 1894, but retained the sought-after mineral rights making millionaires out of everyday farmers as gas companies snatch up land for natural gas exploration.
Inked in flowing cursive, pages 30 through 40 of book 40 in the Wyoming County Recorder of Deeds Office pass on the behemoth property - outlined by stone corners, dead spruce trees and various antiquated landmarks - from Davidge and Crary to the Union Tanning Co.
The two supposedly conveyed the rights to the company but documentation was lost during the leather companies' bankruptcy.
Now, more than a century later, the International Development Corp., the Thomas Family Trust, and the state are in a legal battle over who is the rightful owner and who has the ability to extract the natural gas from the 13,627-acre property. A wild history of bankruptcies, tax sales, and various transactions with middlemen and the state have made who owns the mineral rights somewhat of a mystery.
At the end of June, Wyoming County president judge Russell Shurtleff dismissed the international corporation's attempt to claim sole ownership of the mineral rights after the state intervened and filed objections. The company plans to appeal the judge's order to state superior court.
Each party claims the rights belong to it, and all acquired them in a different way. Whoever ends up coming away with the mineral rights can stand to make millions of dollars from the gas buried within the Marcellus Shale
International Development Corp. claims:
Crary and Davidge gave the mineral rights to the United States Leather Co. in exchange for stock, though there are no records of the transaction.
The leather company passed along the rights to Keta Realty Co, its subsidiary, which later became Keta Gas and Oil Co.
Keta passed the rights along to Astra Oil & Gas Corp. in 1966, who then transferred them to Clarence Moore in 1981. On Aug. 3, 2000, International Development purchased the deed from Clarence Moore's estate
The state argues:
Central Pennsylvania Lumber Co., owned by United States Leather Co., sold the land to the commonwealth on Feb. 11, 1931.
When Davidge and Crary died in 1911 and 1929, respectively, the mineral rights weren't included in either's last will and testament. No documentation from the leather company also means the mineral rights were deemed abandoned and unclaimed. Under the Unclaimed Property Act, those mineral rights were conveyed to the state Treasury Department and went unclaimed for the five years an owner would have to claim them.
The Thomas Family Trust claims:
Davidge and Crary gave the mineral rights to United States Leather Co.
"The surface was sold to Union Tanning and the minerals were given to the big company," trustee William Thomas said.
In the early 2000s, Thomas said, the trust bought the remainder of the bankrupt leather company, including the mineral rights.
Lester Greevy, a Lycoming County-based attorney specializing in oil and gas law and estate planning, said Central Pennsylvania Lumber and United States Leather's history of tax sales and bankruptcies make many of the deeds traced back to the companies very difficult to straighten out.
Tax sales included the mineral rights automatically unless someone came forward to claim proper ownership, Greevy said. When the lumber company sold the land to the state, odds are the mineral rights went with them.
"If I were a betting man," Greevy said, "I'd put my money on the state."
Is your position a short term gain - or a long term loss? Separate the issues.