The Need for a Precise Description of Location When Drafting or Reviewing a Pipeline Easement
The extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale has exposed many people who own property over the Shale to legal issues that they had not anticipated. Our firm recently assisted a family who had a conflict with the gas industry over the location of a pipeline that the family had granted to a gas company by way of a pipeline easement.
In this particular case, the family was approached by a landman who was representing the gas company s interests. The landman had reached an agreement with the family who was not represented by a lawyer that the easement would run through a certain portion of the family s property. The family was satisfied with this location and with the compensation received for the easement at that particular location. The family trusted the landman and readily signed the Deed granting the pipeline easement to the gas company.
Unfortunately, the Deed granting the pipeline easement was silent as to the location of the easement. Ultimately, the gas company proposed to construct the pipeline in an area of the family s property that was not agreed upon and would cause damage to the natural surroundings that had made the property so appealing to the family. The family refused to allow the gas company to install the easement in this location and the gas company filed an Action seeking injunctive relief which would prohibit the family from precluding the gas company from construction the easement.
Despite its aggressive nature with court filings, the gas company, as owner of the dominant estate was not in a favorable position to assert that the easement should be wherever it chose because the Deed granting the easement was silent as to the location of the easement. Where a right of way is expressly granted and its precise location and limits are not fixed or defined by deed, it is competent for the parties to define the location and determine the limits of the right of way by subsequent agreement, use and acquiescence. March-Brownback Stove Co. V. Evans, 9 Pa.Super. 597, 603. Further, where a right of way is not precisely defined by deed, it is proper for the Court to hear testimony and determine same. Werry v. Sheldon, 148 Pa.Super. 13, 24 A.2d 631. Indeed in Werry, the Superior Court went further and stated, if an easement is granted in general terms which do not fix its location, the owner of the servient estate has the right, in the first instance to designate the location of such easement. This right, however, must be exercised in a reasonable manner with due regard to the rights of the owner of the easement…. Id. at 632.
Thus, the family, as owner of the servient estate has the right to decide where the easement should be located, provided that the easement is placed in a reasonable location for the gas company s purposes. Here, the originally proposed location was reasonable for the gas company s purposes, thus the family and the gas company decided to resolve the issue without an order of court. The resolution involved the payment of an additional sum over and above that originally promised under the Deed granting the pipeline easement.