Kenneth J. Witzel
Ken represents businesses in a range of litigation matters, such as commercial contracts, unfair competition, commercial real estate leases, trade secrets and non-compete agreements, employment law and construction law. He has successfully represented numerous businesses, including publicly traded corporations, and individuals in federal and state court and in alternative dispute resolution proceedings.
Ken's practice is primarily focused on oil and gas and natural resources law and litigation. Many of his cases are on the forefront of Pennsylvania and West Virginia oil and gas law. He has represented clients in disputes involving farmout agreements, interconnection agreements, leasehold acquisitions, oil and gas leases, oil, gas, and coal ownership rights, tax sale deeds, surface/mineral rights, rights of way, and investments in oil and gas drilling programs. Several of his natural resources cases have involved claims in the tens of millions of dollars.
Ken also frequently counsels businesses and mineral rights owners on matters pertaining to their property interests and rights. He regularly speaks on oil and gas topics.
Ken received his law degree from the Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University in 1998, where he served as an Articles Editor for the Dickinson Law Review. During law school, he authored the comment, “Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr and the Power of Preemption: A Pennsylvania Guide to the Preemption of Common Law Tort Claims by the Medical Device Amendment of 1976,” 102 Dickinson Law Review 865 (1998). He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Utah in 1995.
Immediately after law school, Ken served as a law clerk for the Honorable Zoran Popovich of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. He moved to Pittsburgh and entered private practice with the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP in 1999. Ken joined the firm from the law firm of Barnes Dulac Watkins, a boutique oil and gas law firm, where he had been a principal for approximately 10 years.
Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer in proceedings concerning oil and gas lease with a value to client in excess of $50 million.
- Obtained federal court jury verdict in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer on claims brought by landowner/lessor who alleged that producer had tortiously interfered with his employment; and secured judgment in favor of producer following bench trial on claims by the landowner/lessor under a “dual purpose” oil and gas lease that the production rights under the lease had terminated because the lease had only been used for storage. Mason v. Range Resources—Appalachia, LLC, 120 F.Supp.3d 425 (W.D. Pa. 2015).
- Obtained summary judgment in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer on claims by the lessors under three oil and gas leases that their leases terminated at the end of their primary terms where the producer did not exercise its option to extend the leases while they were in their primary term and the lessors did not afford the producer the requisite notice and opportunity to cure specified in the leases.
- Obtained summary judgment in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer on claims by oil and gas lessors that the lessees’ assignments of their leases were improper under the terms of the oil and gas leases. Stricklin v. Fortuna Energy, Inc., Civil Action No. 5:12CV8, 2014 WL 2619587 (N.D. W.Va. Jun. 12, 2014).
- Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer in litigation involving nine separate cases pertaining to a total of 17 separate oil and gas leases and 1,600 acres, in which the lessors asserted numerous claims against the producer including fraud, slander of title, improper notarization, and trespass.
- Obtained summary judgment in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer against oil and gas lessors who sought a judicial declaration that their oil and gas lease was invalid as to the shale gas. Affirmed on appeal.
- Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer in litigation brought by overriding royalty interest owner who claimed the producer was not entitled to deduct post-production costs from the overriding royalties.
- Obtained AAA arbitration award in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer on trespass claims brought by a landowner/lessor under a temporary water storage and staging lease agreement. Arbitrator awarded attorney’s fees and costs to natural gas producer.
- Obtained unanimous ruling by panel of three arbitrators (one of whom was appointed by the claimant) in favor of publicly traded natural gas producer on claims brought by a landowner/lessor who sought to compel the producer/lessee to exercise its option to extend oil and gas lease’s primary term for an additional five years.
- Obtained dismissal of all claims (including claims for fraudulent inducement, improper notarization, injunction, declaratory judgment) brought by oil and gas lessors against publicly traded natural gas producer. Dwyer v. Range Resources—Appalachia, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:14CV21, 2014 WL 1648272 (N.D. W. Va. Apr. 24, 2014).
- Obtained preliminary injunction on behalf of a privately held oil and gas company to prevent landowner/lessor from removing production-related equipment from property and declaring oil and gas lease to be invalid. Affirmed on appeal.
- Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer and a former landman-employee against claims brought by landowner/lessor; all claims against former employee dismissed, with prejudice, and all claims against natural gas producer dismissed due to arbitration provision. Holmes v. Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC, Civil Action No. 5:11CV123, 2012 WL 3647674 (N.D. W.Va. Aug. 23, 2012)
- Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer in arbitration proceedings initiated by another producer seeking approximately $5 million in damages for claims involving alleged breaches of drilling commitments under a farmout agreement.
- Successfully represented publicly traded natural gas producer in ligation brought by landowners who owned “oil” but not “gas” underlying their property and contended that natural gas producer was wrongfully producing “oil” by means of a horizontal Marcellus Shale well that traversed the property.
- Obtained summary judgment from trial court in favor of clients/owners of 16,000-acre coal mine property as to claims raised by individual who claimed ownership of the property under an alleged settlement agreement. Affirmed on appeal.
- Successfully represented privately held oil and gas/coal owner in proceedings brought against the estate of former business partner.
- Successfully represented privately held coal company in litigation against major utility which prematurely terminated coal supply agreement for one of its power plants.
- Secured dismissal of quiet title action against owner of coal mine on preliminary objections.
Highlights & Recognitions
- Recipient of the Eric W. Springer Professionalism Award from the W. Edward Sell American Inn of Court, January 2018
Memberships & Affiliations
- W. Edward Sell American Inn of Court, President, 2012-2014
- Energy & Mineral Law Foundation, Member
- Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), Associate Member
- J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Member
- Pennsylvania’s New Revised Statutory Arbitration Act: What the Oil and Gas Industry Needs to Know
- West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Issues Opinions Addressing the Rights of Surface Owners and Oil and Gas Operators
- Beware the Ides of March – Pa. Appellate Court Allows AG to Pursue UTPCPL Claims Against Oil and Gas Operators
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Give Trespass by Hydraulic Fracturing a Closer Look
- The Intersection of Gas and Coal in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Superior Court Recognizes Claims for Hydraulic Fracturing Trespass
- W. Va.’s Legislature Giveth and Taketh Away: Two New Laws Affecting Oil and Gas Operations
- Pennsylvania Addresses Uncertainties Arising from Temporary Cessation of Oil and Gas Production
- One to Keep a Close Eye On – Bradford County Permits the Pennsylvania Attorney General to Proceed with Novel Claims against Two Oil and Gas Operators
Non-FBT Publications and Events
Co-presenter, “Oil and Gas: Briggs and the Unsettled State of the Law of Capture,” Washington County Winter Bench Bar, March 1, 2019
Co-presenter, “Emerging Issues in Energy Litigation, Briggs and Beyond,” The Center for American and International Law, 9th Law of Shale Plays Conference, September 6, 2018
Co-author, “The Intersection of Gas and Coal in Pennsylvania”, The Pennsylvania Bar Association Quarterly, July 2018
Moderator and panelist, “What Do You Mean We Can’t Do That? – Antitrust Law Implications for Upstream Joint Development Arrangements,” Energy & Mineral Law Foundation, 39th Annual Institute, June 19, 2018
Co-author, “What Do You Mean We Can’t Do That? Antitrust Law Implications for Upstream Joint Development Arrangements”, 39 Energy & Min. L. Inst. § 8 (2018)
Co-presenter, "Briggs: Game-Changer for Subsurface Trespass?", Pennsylvania Bar Institute, May 3, 2018
Author, “One to Keep a Close Eye On – Bradford County Permits the Pennsylvania Attorney General to Proceed with Novel Claims Against Two Oil and Gas Operators”, The Energy Law Advisor, March 2018
Moderator and panelist, “Bad Faith Pooling and Unitization in the Development of Shale Formations,” Energy & Mineral Law Foundation, 36th Annual Institute, June 30, 2015
Regular guest lecturer on oil and gas law, University of Pittsburgh, Katz School of Business, 2011-present
Speaker, “Lease Challenges, Disputes and Negotiations,” National Business Institute, 2014
Speaker, “Pipeline Agreements and Storage Leases,” National Business Institute, 2013
Co-instructor, “Advanced Legal Drafting for Pennsylvania Paralegals and Basic Legal Drafting for Pennsylvania Paralegals," 2001-2004
Co-author, “Flat-rate Royalty Leases and Section 34 of the Oil and Gas Lease Act," the PIOGA Press, February 2014
Co-author, “Public Employees, Expert Testimony and the First Amendment, First Amendment & Media Litigation," Winter 2004, Vol. 9, No. 2, at 15
“Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr and the Power of Preemption: A Pennsylvania Guide to the Preemption of Common Law Tort Claims by the Medical Device Amendment of 1976,” 102 Dickinson Law Review 865, 1998