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52 U. Louisville L. Rev. Online 81 (2014)
Coalbed Methane Ownership in Kentucky: Setting a Basis of Expectations
Lacey Napper*
Abstract

Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad caelum et ad inferos. Meaning “[w]hoever owns land owns it up to heaven and down to hell,” this ancient legal maxim provides merely a starting point for the laws surrounding property ownership. This clear-cut principle does not fully explain the complex boundaries drawn in American property law. According to Jeremy Bentham’s view, property is a “’basis of expectations’ founded on existing rules; that is to say, property is the institutionally established understanding that extant rules governing the relationships among men with respect to resources will continue in existence.” But if property law is meant to provide a “basis of expectations,” then Kentucky’s law surrounding the issue of coalbed methane ownership currently falls short of providing a guide for those expectations. The issue of determining coalbed methane ownership arises “whenever a transfer of mineral interests has resulted in separate ownership or ‘severance’ of the coal rights from the gas rights.” Thus, it is when two separate people or parties own coal and gas rights that the question of ownership becomes problematic. Failing to provide guidance to the parties involved in such a dispute, neither Kentucky’s judiciary nor its legislature has elected to decide the issue of coalbed methane ownership where conveyances of rights are ambiguous. While many states have explicitly addressed the issue of ownership of coalbed methane because of the need for uniformity in this sector, neither the state legislature nor Kentucky courts have taken similar steps to clear up the confusion surrounding ownership disputes.

* J.D. Candidate, May 2014, Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville.