In this appeal from Fayette County, the Superior Court upheld the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of Chevron Appalachia, which prevented James and Mary Porter from denying Chevron access to land owned by the Porters, and development of Chevron’s oil and gas rights.
Appellants James and Mary Porter (“the Porters”) own a 76-acre parcel of land in Lucerne Township, Fayette County, PA that is subject to an oil and gas lease originally entered between the Porters and Atlas America, Inc., appellee Chevron Appalachia’s (“Chevron”) predecessor-in-interest. In 2017, Chevron gave notice to the Porters that it intended to develop and construct a well pad on the Porters’ property to accommodate several wells located on neighboring properties. The Porters then filed a Complaint against Chevron, requesting the Court to declare that Chevron may not use the surface of their land to construct a well pad or an access road. Chevron subsequently notified the Porters that it would be visiting the site to conduct an environmental assessment in preparation for the filing of an application for a permit with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Chevron personnel attempted to access the Porters property, but found a lock on a gate that prevented their vehicles access. Mr. Porter then threatened a Chevron employee not to return to the property. Chevron then filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking to enjoin the Porters from preventing access to the land. The trial court granted the injunction, and the Porters appealed to the Superior Court, claiming that the trial court erred in finding that Chevron established all of the required elements of a preliminary injunction.
On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of the preliminary injunction. The Porters first claimed that the Court erred in finding that Chevron established immediate and irreparable harm, not compensable by monetary damages. The Court rejected this claim, agreeing with the trial court’s holding that, “in light of the unique and intrinsic value of land, interference with … contractual rights to ownership of that land must be deemed irreparable harm.” Further, the Court found that Chevron’s inability to access the land, which would cause continued delay to Chevron’s operations, was sufficient to establish irreparable harm. Second, the Porters claimed that the trial court erred in finding that an injunction would restore the parties to the status quo as it existed immediately prior to the Porters’ conduct. The Porters contended that since Chevron had never previously attempted to enter the land, the injunction actually created a new status quo. The Court again rejected this claim, finding that whether Chevron had actually exercised its rights under the lease prior to the Porter’s denying access was irrelevant. Instead, the Court found the status quo was to maintain Chevron’s contractual right of access to the land. Finally, the Porters contended that the trial court incorrectly determined that Chevron was likely to prevail on the merits by misinterpreting the terms of the lease agreement. The Court agreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the lease, and determined that Chevron presented a prima facie right to relief, as required for a preliminary injunction.
Click here to read: Porter v. Chevron Appalachia, No. 16 WDA 2018 (2019 PA Super 31).