In a battle between two environmental conservation organizations that co-own a piece of land in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a federal judge has ruled that natural gas drilling is not permitted under the conservation easement on the property.

In a 40-page opinion and order issued today in Stockport Mountain v. Norcross Wildlife Foundation, U.S. District Judge James M. Munley of the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted defendant Norcross Wildlife Foundation’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the conservation easement on the land it co-owned with plaintiff Stockport Mountain Corp. unambiguously bans drilling.

Munley also awarded Norcross attorney fees and costs to be determined later.

Munley said Section 4(c) of the easement, prohibiting “‘industrial or commercial uses of any kind,’” clearly precludes drilling.

Munley rejected Stockport’s argument that the parties could not have intended to ban shale gas production because they didn’t even consider it as a possibility when they executed the easement in 2002.

“The court cannot overlook the categorical prohibition in Section 4(c) simply because the parties did not envision a boom in natural gas drilling,” Munley said.

In Stockport, according to Munley, Norcross and Stockport each owned neighboring tracts of land in Wayne County, Pa.

The two entities eventually purchased a third neighboring property together and placed a conservation easement on it to ensure that it would not be developed, Munley said.

According to Munley, the two owners existed in “relative harmony” until 2007, when Chesapeake Appalachia and Hess Corp. approached Stockport about leasing the property for natural gas production.

While Stockport wanted to enter into a lease and collect rental payments and royalties from the drillers, Norcross refused on the grounds that natural gas production was banned by the easement, Munley said.

Read more in an upcoming edition of The Legal.