« AnteriorContinuar »
Opinion of the Court.
subject to these limitations, his power as an owner is absolute until the legislature shall, in the interest of the public, as consumers, restrict and regulate it by statute."
Again, in Jones v. Forest Oil Company, (January, 1900,) 44 Atl. Rep. 1074, the same subject was once more considered. The complaint was filed by one land owner having a gas well on his land to enjoin the owner of adjoining property from using in a gas well thereon a pump which was asserted to have such power that its operation would draw away the oil and gas from the well of the complainant to that of the defendant. Reviewing the cases to which we have just referred, and after quoting the language of Chief Justice Agnew, in Brown v. · Vandegrift, supra, wherein as we have seen oil and gas were by analogy classed as "minerals feræ naturæ," the court decided:
"From these cases we conclude that the property of the owner of lands in oil and gas is not absolute until it is actually in his grasp, and brought to the surface."
Again, applying the consequences of the doctrine just stated,
the court declared:
"If possession of the land is not necessarily possession of the oil and gas, is there any reason why an oil and gas operator should not be permitted to adopt any and all appliances known to the trade to make the production of his wells as large as possible?"
A brief examination of the Indiana decisions, on the subject of oil and natural gas, and the right to acquire ownership thereto, will make it apparent that from the peculiar nature of these substances courts of that State have announced the same rule as that recognized by this court in Brown v. Spilman, supra, and which has been applied by the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania. In State ex rel. Corwin v. Indiana & Ohio Oil, Gas & Mining Co., 120 Indiana, 575, a law of the State of Indiana which made it unlawful for any person to conduct natural gas beyond the State, and imposing penalties for so doing, was assailed as unconstitutional because repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. The court held the statute to be void for the asserted cause. The
Opinion of the Court.
property in natural gas when reduced to actual possession was decided to be like any other property, and therefore the subject of commerce, and within the protection of the Constitution of the United States. In Jamieson v. Indiana Natural Gas & Oil Company, 128 Indiana, 555, a law of that State which prohibited the transportation of natural gas through pipes at a greater pressure than three hundred pounds per square inch, or otherwise than by its natural flow, was attacked not only on the ground of its interference with the right of property which sprang into existence with the possession of the gas, but because also the act in question was a regulation of interstate commerce. Both contentions were decided to be without merit, substantially on the ground that the dangerous nature of the product, its susceptibility to explosion and the consequent hazard to life and property which might arise from its movement through pipes, made the act of transmitting a fit subject for police regulation. In the course of its opinion the court said:
"The local character of such a substance as natural gas is, we repeat, marked and peculiar. It is a natural product, and its source is in the soil or rocks of the earth. It is as.strikingly local as coal or petroleum; and yet no one has ever questioned the power of a State to enact laws governing mining.
It is so essentially local that only local regulation can be effective or appropriate. It is found in very few localities, and the character of locality is impressed upon it more clearly and strongly than upon almost any other natural product in the world."
Again, said the court:
"The local and peculiar character of natural gas makes it almost impossible that it should be the subject of general national regulation. Upon this point we affirm that natural gas is characteristic and peculiarly a local product; that its production is confined to a limited territory; that because of its local characteristics and peculiarities it is a proper subject for state legislation, and cannot, so far as regards local production, be made the subject of general legislation by Congress."
In People's Gas Company v. Tyner, 131 Indiana, 277 and
Opinion of the Court.
280, the controversy was this: A lot owner in a town filed a bill for an injunction to prevent a neighboring lot owner from using nitro-glycerine "to shoot" a gas well on his property. The court refused the injunction. In the course of the opinion it was said:
"It has been settled in this State that natural gas when brought to the surface of the earth and placed in pipes for transportation, is property, and may be the subject of interstate commerce. State v. Indiana & Ohio Oil Gas & Min. Co., 120 Indiana, 575. Water, petroleum, oil and gas are generally classed by themselves as minerals possessing in some degree a kindred nature."
After quoting authorities relating to subterranean currents of water, and treating gas and oil before being reduced to possession as of a kindred nature, the court said:
"Like water it is not the subject of property, except while in actual occupancy, and a grant of either water or oil is not a grant of the soil or of anything for which ejectment will lie."
The case of Brown v. Vandegrift, 80 Penn St. 142, from which we have previously quoted, was then referred to, and the analogies between oil and gas and animals feræ naturæ were approved and adopted. In Townsend v. State, 147 Indiana, 624, the constitutionality of a statute forbidding the burning of natural gas in flambeau lights was attacked because it was asserted to violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and various provisions of the constitution of the State of Indiana. The court held that the statute was not amenable to the assaults made upon it. In a full opinion reviewing the nature of the ownership in oil and natural gas, the power of the State to regulate and control their use and waste in the interest of all those within the gas field and of the public at large was elaborately considered. Reviewing its own previous adjudications, which we have cited, and those of the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania, to which we have also referred, it was decided that the owners of the surface of the land within the gas field, whilst they had the exclusive right on their land to sink wells for the purpose of extracting the oil and gas, had no right of property therein
Opinion of the Court.
until by the actual drawing of the oil and gas to the surface of the earth they had reduced these substances to physical possession. It was further held that in consequence of the nature of the deposits, of their transmissibility, of their interdependence, of the rights of all and of the public at large, the State could lawfully exercise the power to regulate the right of the surface owners among themselves to seek to obtain possession, and to prevent the waste of the products in which all the surface owners within the area wherein the gas and oil were deposited, as well as the public, had an interest, because in the preservation of these substances the well-being and prosperity of the entire community was largely involved. And it was upon the opinion announced in that case that the court rested its decree in the case now under review.
Without pausing to weigh the reasoning of the opinions of the Indiana court in order to ascertain whether they, in every respect, harmonize, it is apparent that the cases in question, in accord with the rule of general law, settle the rule of property in the State of Indiana, to be as follows. Although in virtue of his proprietorship the owner of the surface may bore wells for the purpose of extracting natural gas and oil, until these substances are actually reduced by him to possession, he has no title whatever to them as owner. That is, he has the exclusive right on his own land to seek to acquire them, but they do not become his property until the effort has resulted in dominion and control by actual possession. It is also clear from the Indiana cases cited that, in the absence of regulation by law, every owner of the surface within a gas field may prosecute his efforts and may reduce to possession all or every part, if possible, of the deposits without violating the rights of the other surface owners.
If the analogy between animals feræ naturæ and mineral deposits of oil and gas, stated by the Pennsylvania court and adopted by the Indiana court, instead of simply establishing a similarity of relation, proved the identity of the two things, there would be an end of the case. This follows because things which are fera natura belong to the "negative community;" in other words, are public things subject to the absolute control
Opinion of the Court.
of the State, which, although it allows them to be reduced to possession, may at its will not only regulate but wholly forbid their future taking. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U. S. 519, 525. But whilst there is an analogy between animals feræ naturæ and the moving deposits of oil and natural gas, there is not identity between them. Thus, the owner of land has the exclusive right on his property to reduce the game there found to possession, just as the owner of the soil has the exclusive right to reduce to possession the deposits of natural gas and oil found beneath the surface of his land. The owner of the soil cannot follow game when it passes from his property; so, also, the owner may not follow the natural gas when it shifts from beneath his own to the property of some one else within the gas field. It being true as to both animals feræ naturæ and gas and oil, therefore, that whilst the right to appropriate and become the owner exists, proprietorship does not take being until the particular subjects of the right become property by being reduced to actual possession. The identity, however, is for many reasons wanting. In things feræ naturæ all are endowed with the power of seeking to reduce a portion of the public property to the domain of private ownership by reducing them to possession. In the case of natural gas and oil no such right exists in the public. It is vested only in the owners in fee of the surface of the earth within the area of the gas field. This difference points at once to the distinction between the power which the lawmaker may exercise as to the two. In the one, as the public are the owners, every one may be absolutely prevented from seeking to reduce to possession. No divesting of private property, under such a condition, can be conceived because the public are the owners, and the enacting by the State of a law as to the public ownership is but the discharge of the governmental trust resting in the State as to property of that character. Geer v. Connecticut, supra. On the other hand, as to gas and oil, the surface proprietors within the gas field all have the right to reduce to possession the gas and oil beneath. They could not be absolutely deprived of this right which belongs to them without a taking of private property. But there is a co-equal right in them all to take from a common source of supply, the two VOL. CLXXVII-14