The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 23, 2008

Some old leases give rights to coal companies

BY SUSAN EVANS

The coal mines may be closed, but coal still rules through some of the old agreements signed by farmers a century ago.

Because methane gas rights convey with coal rights, and with the growing number of coalbed-methane gas wells being drilled in this region, the old coal leases now take on a new significance.

Some leases limited what the coal companies could do.

Others, such as an 1888 coal lease that paid $1,939 for coal rights under 98 acres in northern Cambria County, gave the mining companies practically everything. It granted:

• “Full and exclusive privilege, right and liberty of entering at will upon any and all parts of said land, and searching for, quarrying, mining, raising, delivering, taking and carrying away said coal.”

• The coal company could build coke ovens on the land, and the lease authorized “taking and using stones, waters, and waterways.”

• The coal company could build “such roads and railroads for free ingress, egress, regress” in connection with coal.

• It could build and maintain “fixtures, schutes, airshafts, drifts, houses, buildings, machinery, sidings, offices, shops and all other structures necessary and convenient for mining.”

• The company could use enough surface land to mine and store coal and coke, plus “rubbish and waste of the quarries, mines, and coke ovens, and the earth, stones, refuse, timber, props, and any other material that may be removed.”

• The lease allowed company workers to dig ditches to drain all mines and quarries, and those leasing the coal rights could use the land “as fully as if they were the actual owners.“

• The coal-leasing activities could be done “without any liability for damages arising or resulting from the use and exercise of the same.”

• The company could take, for free, “so much timber and wood standing and growing upon said land as may be necessary for mine props, ties, stringers, rails and other timber and wood used in and about mines and coke ovens.”

In short, the landowner’s rights became secondary to the coal company’s.

That becomes critical now, because when methane gas drillers move onto leased land, it’s often those old leases that are presented as entry papers.