Walls v. Midland Carbon Co. - 254 U.S. 300 (1920)
U.S. Supreme Court
Walls v. Midland Carbon Co., 254 U.S. 300 (1920)
Walls v. Midland Carbon Company
Argued October 13, 1920
Decided December 13, 1920
254 U.S. 300
1. As applied to the facts of this case, the statute of Wyoming which prohibits, as wasteful, the burning and consumption of natural gas for its products without fully and actually applying and utilizing its heat for other manufacturing or domestic purposes, and which forbids owners or lessees of gas wells to sell or dispose of such gas for the manufacture of carbon or other resultant products in the making of which its heat is not so utilized for other manufacturing or domestic purposes, and which limits the prohibition to cases where the gas wells or sources of supply are within ten miles of any incorporated town or industrial plant, and penalizes infractions as misdemeanors, is a legitimate exercise of the police power, and is not constitutionally objectionable as taking property without due process or as an unreasonable or arbitrary discrimination. Pp. 254 U. S. 313 et seq.
2. So held where it was objected that enforcement of the statute would destroy a heavy investment in a plant for the manufacture of carbon black, a substance of great utility, the value of which, with that of the gasoline also produced in the process, was claimed to exceed any other value obtainable from a like quantity of gas, and the manufacture of which, it was claimed, would be impracticable if the heat from the gas must be utilized as the statute prescribed. Id.
3. The statute seeks merely to prevent the selection of products the
production of which will tend to the rapid exhaustion of the gas supply, and it is not to be construed a demanding that the heat be utilized further than natural laws and existing instrumentalities allow. P. 254 U. S. 325.
4. Owing to the fact that natural gas has no fixed situs in the earth, but moves from place to place, possession of land is not possession of the gas within it, and the landowner does not gain an absolute property in the gas until he has captures it. P. 254 U. S. 316.
5. From this also it result that a state may interpose it police power to prevent a waste or disproportionate use of the gas by a particular landowner in order to protect the equal right of other owners and to conserve the gas as a resource of the state. Pp. 254 U. S. 316-319, 323. Ohio Oil Co. v. Indiana, 177 U. S. 190.
6. In confining its application to cases where the source of the gas is within ten mile of an incorporated town or industrial plant, the Wyoming statute is within the limits of classification permissible under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 254 U. S. 314, 254 U. S. 324. Bacon v. Walker, 204 U. S. 311.
7. The validity of the regulation cannot depend upon the relative values or importance of the industries favorably and unfavorably affected by it, or their relations to the welfare of the state, these being matters for the judgment of the state legislature. P. 254 U. S. 322.
8. The fact that plaintiffs' products -- carbon black and gasoline -- may be sold for more than the gas consumed in making them would bring for fuel purposes is not a ground for denying the state the power to prevent the disproportionate use and rapid depletion of the natural gas supply involved in the process. Id.
The case is stated in the opinion.