Saunders said he's had a number of clients who lost the leases they signed when the drillers simply decided to let them lapse.
"Given the low price of gas now, a lot of these companies are really looking closely at where their dollars would best be spent," he said, adding that it's "a real tricky call" for drillers to determine whether to hold onto acreage in the Northeast without immediately commencing production.
"If you're not in a real high-producing dry gas county or township, there's a good chance your property's going to sit if it's been under lease," Saunders said of landowners in Northeastern Pennsylvania. "If the property hasn't been under lease, you're probably going to have to wait awhile" for an opportunity.
But, according to Saunders, the shift in the industry away from dry gas and toward wet gas is likely to have "zero effect" on industry counsel in Northeastern Pennsylvania since there continues to be so much drilling-related litigation in the region.
Likewise, he said, the only attorneys on the landowner side who are likely to be affected by the shift are those with little expertise in oil and gas law beyond simple lease negotiations.
Now that the transactional work is slowing, Saunders said, what's left is a lot of mineral rights litigation and lease disputes, not to mention legal malpractice claims filed by landowners whose lawyers improperly represented them in lease negotiations.
"To be honest with you, I never looked at transactional work as anything that would be a very long play here for attorneys," he said. "You had to figure after two or three years leasing would dry up and, probably a year or two after that, so would a fair amount of the pipeline agreements. If you're not prepared to get into oil and gas law at a really deep level, in a year or so you'll find it's time to get out and go back to your real estate practice."