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decided: April 9, 1900.



Author: White

[ 177 U.S. Page 200]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The assignments of error all in substance are resolvable into one proposition; which is, that the enforcement of the provisions of the Indiana statute as against the plaintiff in error, constituted a taking of private property without adequate compensation, and therefore amounted to a denial of due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

When this proposition is analyzed by the light of the facts which are admitted on the record, it becomes apparent that the foundation upon which it must rest involves two contentions which are in conflict one with the other; in other words, the argument by which alone it is possible to sustain the claim becomes,

[ 177 U.S. Page 201]

     when truly comprehended, self-destructive. Thus, it is apparent, from the admitted facts, that the oil and gas are commingled and contained in a natural reservoir which lies beneath an extensive area of country, and that as thus situated the gas and oil are capable of flowing from place to place, and are hence susceptible of being drawn off by wells from any point, provided they penetrate into the reservoir. It is also undoubted that such wells, when bored from many points in the superincumbent surface of the earth, are apt to reach the reservoir beneath. From this it must necessarily come to pass that the entire volume of gas and oil is in some measure liable to be decreased by the act of any one who, within the superficial area, bores wells from the surface and strikes the reservoir containing the oil and gas. And hence, of course, it is certain, if there can be no authority exerted by law to prevent the waste of the entire supply of gas and oil, or either, that the power which exists in every one who has the right to bore from the surface and tap the reservoir involves, in its ultimate conception, the unrestrained license to waste the entire contents of the reservoir by allowing the gas to be drawn off and to be dispersed in the atmospheric air, and by permitting the oil to flow without use or benefit to any one. These things being lawful, as they must be if the acts stated cannot be controlled by law, it follows that no particular individual having a right to make borings can complain, and thus the entire product of oil and gas can be destroyed by any one of the surface owners. The proposition, then, which denies the power in the State to regulate by law the manner in which the gas and oil may be appropriated, and thus prevent their destruction, of necessity involves the assertion that there can be no right of ownership in and to the oil and gas before the same have been actually appropriated by being brought into the possession of some particular person. But it cannot be that property as to a specified thing vests in one who has no right to prevent any other person from taking or destroying the object which is asserted to be the subject of the right of property. The whole contention, therefore, comes to this: that property has been taken without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, because of the fact that the thing taken

[ 177 U.S. Page 202]

     was not property, and could not, therefore, be brought within the guarantees ordained for the protection of property.

The confusion of thought which permeates the entire argument is twofold: First, an entire misconception of the nature of the right of the surface owner to the gas and oil as they are contained in their natural reservoir, and this gives rise to a misconception as to the scope of the legislative authority to regulate the appropriation and use thereof. Second, a confounding, by treating as identical, things which are essentially separate, that is, the right of the owner of land to bore into the bosom of the earth, and thereby seek to reduce the gas and oil to possession, and his ownership after the result of the borings has reached fruition to the extent of oil and gas by himself actually extracted and appropriated. In other words, the fallacy arises from considering that the means which the owner of land has a right to use to obtain a result is in legal effect the same as the result which may be reached. We will develop the misunderstanding which is involved in the matters just stated.

No time need be spent in restating the general common law rule that the ownership in fee of the surface of the earth carries with it the right to the minerals beneath, and the consequent privilege of mining to extract them. And we need not, therefore, pause to consider the scope of the legislative authority to regulate the exercise of mining rights and to direct the methods of their enjoyment so as to prevent the infringement by one miner of the rights of others. Del Monte Mining Co. v. Last Chance Mining Co., 171 U.S. 55, 60. The question here arising does not require a consideration of the matters just referred to, but it is this: Does the peculiar character of the substances, oil and gas, which are here involved, the manner in which they are held in their natural reservoirs, the method by which and the time when they may be reduced to actual possession or become the property of a particular person, cause them to be exceptions to the general principles applicable to other mineral deposits, and hence subject them to different rules? True it is that oil and gas, like other minerals, are situated beneath the surface of the earth, but except for this one point of similarity, in many other respects they greatly differ. They have no fixed situs

[ 177 U.S. Page 203]

     under a particular portion of the earth's surface within the area where they obtain. They have the power, as it were, of selftransmission. No one owner of the surface of the earth, within the area beneath which the gas and oil move, can exercise his right to extract from the common reservoir, in which the supply is held, without, to an extent, diminishing the source of supply as to which all other owners of the surface must exercise their rights. The waste by one owner, caused by a reckless enjoyment of his right of striking the reservoir, at once, therefore, operates upon the other surface owners. Besides, whilst oil and gas are different in character, they are yet one, because they are unitedly held in the place of deposit. In Brown v. Spilman, 155 U.S. 665, 669, 670, these distinctive features of deposits of gas and oil were remarked upon. The court said:

"Petroleum gas and oil are substances of a peculiar character, and decisions in ordinary cases of mining, for coal and other minerals which have a fixed situs, cannot be applied to contracts concerning them without some qualifications. They belong to the owner of the land, and are a part of it, so long as they are on it or in it, or subject to his control, but when they escape and go into other land, or come under another's control, the title of the former owner is gone. If an adjoining owner drills his own land and taps a deposit of oil or gas, extending under his neighbor's field, so that it comes into his well, it becomes his property. Brown v. Vandergrift, 80 Penn. St. 142, 147; Westmoreland Nat. Gas Co.'s Appeal, 25 Weekly Notes of Cases, (Penn.) 103."

In Westmoreland & Cambria Natural Gas Co. v. De Witt, 130 Penn. St. 235, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania considered the character of ownership in natural gas and oil as these substances existed beneath the surface of the earth. The court said:

"The learned master says gas is a mineral, and while in situ is part of the land, and therefore possession of the land is possession of the gas. But this deduction must be made with some qualifications. Gas, it is true, is a mineral; but it is a mineral with peculiar attributes, which require the application of precedents arising out of ordinary mineral rights, with much more

[ 177 U.S. Page 204]

     careful consideration of the principles involved than of the mere decisions. Water, also, is a mineral, but the decisions in ordinary cases of mining rights, etc., have never been held as unqualified precedents in regard to flowing or even to percolating waters. Water and oil, and still more strongly gas, may be classed by themselves, if the analogy be not too fanciful, as minerals ferae naturae. In common with animals, and unlike other minerals, they have the power and the tendency to escape without the volition of the owner. Their 'fugitive and wandering existence within the limits of a particular tract was uncertain,' as said by Chief Justice Agnew in Brown v. Vandergrift, 80 Penn. St. 147, 148. . . . They belong to the owner of the land, and are a part of it, so long as they are on or in it, and are ...

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