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Landowners Question Who Owns Natural Gas Under Their Land

Duke Energy's coal gasification plant rises above corn in Edwardsport.

Landowners in Southwest Indiana have been leasing their land to coal mining companies for nearly a century. But now that coalbed methane and other natural gases are valuable, many companies want to extract those natural resources as well.

As that process occurs, farmers and landowners are trying to figure out what rights they are giving up when they lease their land to drilling companies and what rights they may have already given up with previous leases.

Sullivan County farmer Rusty Deckard says since he only leased off the mineral rights to his land that should not include the gas deposits that have been found there.

“Of course I think I should have that right because it’s a gas,” he says “It’s not a solid, so it should come under the gas rights I feel like.”

Deckard was one of more than 100 landowners who attended a seminar in Vincennes Thursday aimed at explaining mineral rights.

Penn State Law Professor Ross Pifer, who spoke at the seminar, says Indiana is 4 to 5 years behind Pennsylvania when it comes to the extraction of natural gas. Natural gas drilling began taking off in that state about five years ago in the Marcellus Shale, a large natural gas deposit that covers about half the state.

“Because shale gas development has occurred in other places that gives Indiana landowners an opportunity to learn some of the lessons from Pennsylvania on shale gas development,” he says.

Pifer says landowners need to be very specific in their contracts with drilling companies so they do not give up too many of their rights or are left with damaged land that can no longer be used for farming.

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