crawfishIn Re Louisiana Crawfish Producers arises out of the collision between two of Louisiana’s favored enterprises: crawfish and hydrocarbons.

Takeaways

There is lots of legalese, of interest primarily to lawyers who practice in federal court. So, we’ll start with a few things to remember:

  • The mudbug, specifically Procambaras charkii, is Louisiana’s official state crustacean.
  • Louisiana is the only state with an official crustacean.
  • The court cited Wikipedia for the first two takeaways.
  • The Wikipedia cite could have been a bit in jest. Federal courts are loath to rely on Wikipedia for anything important to the case because, according to the courts, it is inherently and admittedly unreliable, is written by volunteers from anywhere, and can be changed on a whim anytime.
  • To be serious for a moment, in this dispute the tension between oil and gas operations and other competing and potentially incompatible land uses is displayed. This tension has always existed and is not going away.

Continue Reading Hydrocarbons Win One and Lose One in Battles With Crawfish

Empty tomb with three crosses on a hill side.

Co-author Lydia Webb

One of the hottest issues from 2016 was whether an E&P debtor can reject, under section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code, an above-market midstream contract. Given the potential for a “no-win” situation, in all but one case where the issue arose E&P debtors and midstream companies were able to settle, often by entering into new midstream contracts upon mutually agreeable terms that take into account the changed market conditions since the downturn in commodity prices.

However, the bankruptcy judge in Sabine Oil and Gas Corp. held that an E&P debtor could reject its gas gathering agreements because its midstream counter-parties could not establish that their agreements were covenants running with the land under Texas law. The midstream companies appealed to the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, hoping for a better answer. They did not get their wish.

Many were surprised by the opinions, given the billions of dollars invested in necessary midstream infrastructure that was built under the assumption that gathering, processing and transportation agreements would bind the producer’s successors. The Sabine court was unsympathetic, and last month affirmed the bankruptcy court’s rejection orders. The midstream companies’ primary argument was that the dedication language in the agreements were analogous to the conveyance of a royalty interest in minerals “produced and saved”.  Thus, Sabine’s dedication must have conveyed a real property interest. The district court was not impressed, and held that the gathering agreements were mere service contracts, and Texas law did not support a finding that they constituted a conveyance of mineral rights or otherwise burdened the underlying leases.

The debate will continue. Sabine is not the end of the argument that interests created by midstream oil and gas agreements are covenants running with the land that can survive a producer’s bankruptcy. Why?

  • A Texas court has not yet ruled on the issue, although at least one Houston bankruptcy judge has commented that he would love the opportunity to set the record straight for his New York colleagues. Given the complex issues of state law involved in the interpretation of these agreements, there is reason to believe that a Texas judge experienced in Texas property law would rule differently.
  • Energy companies continue to construct creative arguments that these agreements create real property interests that cannot be shed in bankruptcy. Most recently, in the Vanguard Natural Resources Corp. bankruptcy it has been argued that the right to drill and develop acreage assigned under a farmout agreement creates a covenant running with the land that burdens the entirety of the lessee/farmor’s undeveloped acreage (Caveat: This is not a midstream situation).

Stay tuned. Whether these arguments hold water, and in which contexts, is yet to be seen. What is clear is that midstream companies will continue to innovate in their effort to protect agreements in which they have invested millions of dollars, and the producers will respond.

It’s Holy Week, a time for musical interludes, one Jesusy but not churchy, one churchy. See you there.

perpuitiesWe have a new format. And we’re still gluten free!

Co-author Alexandria Twiss

In BP America v. Laddex, Ltd.  the Texas Supreme Court affirmed that in a lease termination case the trial court cannot limit the jury’s consideration of production in paying quantities to an arbitrary time period. The court also applied the Rule Against Perpetuities.

Production in paying quantities

See this entry for our discussion of the court of appeals’ ruling.

In March 2007 the lessors under the BP lease entered into a top-lease with Laddex covering the same property as the BP lease. Laddex sued, alleging that the BP lease had terminated for failure to produce in paying quantities in 2005 and 2006. A jury found that the BP lease had terminated for failing to produce in paying quantities. BP appealed.

The trial court incorrectly charged the jury on production in paying quantities by limiting the inquiry to a specific 15-month period in which production slowed. The controlling issue was whether the well failed to produce over a reasonable period of time determined by the jury, not a specific period chosen by the court.

The Rule Against Perpetuities

Despite the boredom that may result, you need to know about the Rule. BP argued that the top-lease on which Laddex’s standing depended was void as a perpetuity.

The Rule: “No interest is valid unless it must vest, if at all, within twenty-one years after the death of some life or lives in being at the time of the conveyance.”

The BP bottom-lease was a conveyance of the mineral estate (less portions expressly reserved, such as royalty) as a determinable fee. A it possibility of reverter is the interest left in a grantor after the grant of a fee simple determinable. The possibility of reverter is presently vested at the time the lease is executed.

A top-lease conveyance on expiration of a bottom-lease, without more, generally violates the Rule. However, the court looked to Laddex’s lease. Its primary term commenced on the date that either (1) releases of the BP lease executed by all owners of record are filed in the real property records, or (2) a final judgment terminating the BP lease.

The Laddex lease further stated that is “is intended to and does include and vest in Lessee any and all remainder and reversionary interest and after-acquired title of Lessor in the Leased Premises upon expiration of any prior oil, gas or mineral lease . . . .” The Court concluded that a plausible interpretation of this language was that the Laddex lease is a present “partial alienation” of the lessors’ possibility of reverter under the BP lease, to the extent that what Laddex has acquired “is capable of ripening into a fee simple determinable interest upon expiration of the [BP] lease.” BP’s interpretation was also plausible, but where an instrument is equally open to two constructions, the one will be accepted which renders it valid rather than void.

I denied my heritage by failing to feature a Mardi Gras song on Mardi Gras day. I’ll make up for it with one you’ve heard and one, maybe not.

james-cottonHow to distinguish an oil and gas lease from a mineral deed? In Richardson v. Mills, it was a deed when the instrument uses words like “forever” and imposes no duty to explore for and develop minerals.

An instrument from 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt was busting trusts and creating national parks, was between Mills on the one hand and Lindsey and Harris on the other. The document referred to the parties’ “desire” for “development, tests and demonstrations” and for Lindsay and Harris to manage the property so it would be developed for oil and gas or be sold.

The granting language referred to “an undivided one half interest in the oil, gas and other minerals … “ to Harris and Lindsay, and further rights and privileges necessary and proper for the performance of the work of prospecting, testing, operating, etc.

A 1908 release referred to “said contract or lease the time for said development has expired rendering null and void said lease.” There was a relinquishment of any right or claim held by Nacogdoches Land Company.

Trial and the clairvoyant expert – it’s a lease

Mills offered the opinion of an attorney who reviewed the contract (over 100 years after it was executed) and opined about what the (deceased!) parties possibly intended. It’s unknown whether his conclusion was absorbed from the cosmos or the result of a séance with the spirits of the dead.

The trial court determined that the instruments were ambiguous and allowed extrinsic evidence to determine the parties’ intent. Alternatively the 1906 instrument was released when Lindsay and Harris did not perform their obligations.

On appeal – it’s a deed

Reversed and rendered. The 1906 instrument was not ambiguous. It was a deed:

  • Harris and Lindsay had the right but not the duty to develop the minerals.
  • There was no time within which actions must be taken.
  • The consideration was services rendered.
  • The granting clause said “grant, bargain, sell and convey … ”.
  • The habendum and warranty clauses specified “forever”.

This was language of an unconditional conveyance, not for exploitation of minerals.

What about the 1908 release?

The 1908 release referred to an instrument dated July 9, 1907, whereas the document in question was dated July 9, 1906. The 1908 release described the document as a “contract or lease” but not as a deed. There were other discrepancies. No recording information for the 1906 document was mentioned in the 1908 release. Mills argued that there was a latent ambiguity (an ambiguity appearing by reason of some collateral matter). Mills contended that reference to 1907 really meant 1906.

Mills’ efforts were rejected, including the testimony from the lawyer. The 1908 release was unambiguous and there was no connection between the two instruments.

In an odd twist, the parties stipulated that if Mills lost they would nevertheless own a small interest in the property. Thus, Mills took nothing from the court but ended up with four percent of the minerals from the stipulation.

RIP, harmonica great James Cotton. He could do it with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters or his own band.

work-on-wellShould the sufficiency of reworking operations under the cessation-of-production clause of an oil and gas lease be limited to the producing well?  Crystal River Oil and Gas, LLC et al v. Patton was a suit to terminate an oil and gas lease due to cessation of production. The case addressed this question, which you would think had been considered in all the years of lease termination disputes in Texas.

The clause at issue was pretty “standard”:

If, … after discovery of oil, or gas the production thereof should cease from any cause, this lease shall not terminate if Lessee commences additional drilling or re-working operations within sixty (60) days thereafter … .”

The well produced 2,000 barrels of saltwater for each barrel of oil. The saltwater disposal well servicing the producing well became inoperable in September 2011 and was repaired in late October. The jury was asked whether the defendants failed to commence drilling or reworking operations on the producing well. The lessee complained that the question should have allowed the jury to consider work performed on the disposal well. The court agreed.

Lawyers: Pay attention to the Texas Pattern Jury Charge at PJC 303.16. Others: You need not go to that trouble.

The lease didn’t define “reworking operations”.  Lessor Patton contended that reading was required by the habendum clause.

Courts in Texas have used this definition for the term:

“… any and all actual acts, work or operations in which an ordinarily competent operator under the same or similar circumstances, when engaged in a good faith effort to cause a well or wells to produce oil or gas in paying quantities.”

Williams and Meyers (see §618.1) cites the difficulty in defining the term “because of the many ancillary activities that are required in order to operate an oil and gas well” and concludes that whether any particular operation falls under the definition of “reworking operations” depends upon the facts peculiar to that operation.

Prohibiting the jury from considering operations on the salt water disposal well was reversible error. The result will be a do-over at the trial court with a more expansive jury question.

I know you know this, but to appreciate Chuck Berry you have to listen to his songs as if it is 1956: Something you never heard before. RIP.

maneiri-1A phrase currently in common usage begins with “‘cluster” and ends with a vulgarity that has been around for centuries. Saheid v. Kennedy presents facts that pretty much exemplify the meaning of the phrase:

  • While living in England, start out to buy a hotel in New Orleans,
  • have no experience in Louisiana mineral transactions,
  • when the hotel falls through, buy 1096 acres with 500 wells in northernmost Caddo Parish,
  • do zero title due-diligence,
  • memorialize the $4 million transaction with a one-page handwritten document,
  • close the deal three weeks later with an Act of Credit Sale,
  • pay royalties for four years and then dispute the obligation,
  • when disagreement ensues sign another “contract” that doesn’t really help,
  • sum it all up by testifying as to your “confusion” about the transaction.

The one-pager for the 1096 acres provided: “Seller [Gish] to give a best effort to deliver to Buyer [Saheid] the remaining 12 ½% Gish family oil and gas lease holding.” Saheid’s purchase price would be reduced by $400,000 if Gish couldn’t deliver the minerals within five years. Saheid paid royalty to the Gish relatives for almost four years. Saheid and Gish later entered into a “contract” in which they agreed that the Saheid payment would be reduced and Gish would continue to withhold the 12.5% royalty.

What legal points are at play?

Not much about titles, a lot about parol evidence, which is admissible when:

  • the terms of a contract are susceptible to more than one meaning,
  • there is ambiguity as to its provisions, or
  • the intent of the parties cannot be ascertained from the language used.

Four witnesses sorted out the mess. And as one might expect, the testimony was confusing and contradictory. Saheid had never purchased mineral interests before and said he was unaware of the 12.5% being claimed by the family. His title-examiner expert testified that the public records showed there was no written contract for the 12.5% mineral interest. But he agreed that it was Gish’s right to sell 87.5% and keep the rest if the agreement so specified.

The court concluded that Gish did not intend to sell and Saheid did not intend to buy the entire mineral interest. Gish was selling 100% of the tract and 87.5% of the minerals, which is a reasonable concession for accepting a partial payment and owner financing. The court referred to Saheid’s “imperfect understanding” of the transaction.

Takeaways

  • Due diligence = good business, sloppiness and haste = bad business.
  • Lame, one-page agreements are seldom sufficient for anything, much less a $4 million land and mineral trade.
  • Paying royalties for four years and then saying you thought you owned the minerals = not persuasive.
  • Entering into a contract before you understand it = bad business.

If Saheid had stopped in Opelousas instead of turning north to Shreveport, maybe he could have avoided this mess.

Good - Better - Best. On the black bacground
Good – Better – Best. On the black bacground

Co-author Katie English

McCabe Trust v. Ranger Energy LLC, is the consequence of failing to comply with the Texas Property Code when correcting real property conveyances.

The simplified facts

  • In 2008, Mark III executes a mortgage granting a bank a security interest in property described in an attached exhibit which included certain oil and gas leases.
  • In 2011, Mark III assigns overrides in the leases covered by the mortgage, plus two additional leases, the McShane Fee and Brice, to the McCabe Trust and the Rochford Trust.
  • In January 2013, a revised mortgage is recorded, replacing the original exhibit with one including the McShane Fee and Brice leases. It is not executed by the bank or Mark III.
  • The bank transfers the mortgage to Ranger Energy.
  • Ranger forecloses.

Ranger asserted that the Trusts’ overrides in the McShane Fee and Brice leases were extinguished by the foreclosure sale. The trial court granted judgment for Ranger.  The appellate court reversed and remanded.

Why the reversal? Blame the Texas Property Code

A correction instrument that complies with the Property Code is effective as of the date of the original conveyance. The statutory requirements for correction instruments differ based on whether the correction is a material change or nonmaterial correction.

A nonmaterial change

Section 5.028 allows a person with personal knowledge to execute a correction instrument making a nonmaterial change of an inadvertent error, including the addition of an inadverantly omitted legal description.

A material correction

Section 5.029 allows the original parties to the transaction or their successors to execute a correction instrument making a material correction, including “the addition of land to a conveyance that correctly conveys other land.”

The decision

The 2013 revisions added two additional leases to a mortgage which correctly conveyed interests in other leases.  The addition was a material correction. The corrective instruments were not retrospectively valid because they were not signed by the parties who originally executed the instruments. Thus, they were not notice to subsequent buyers of the facts stated therein. Foreclosure of the revised mortgage did not extinguish the Trusts’ overrides in the two leases.

The dissent

The dissent agreed with Ranger that adding the two leases was a nonmaterial change but argued that the Trusts were not bona fide purchasers.  The dissent would say the Trusts’ interests were extinguished.

Takeaways

There are several:

  • Statutory requirements for correcting a real property conveyance differ depending on the circumstances.
  • These provisions date from 2011. If you haven’t dusted off the Code since the Longhorns were successful on the gridiron, be warned.
  • The general rule is that first in time is first in right. There will be times when you will need the correction to relate back.
  • If there is a question whether a change is material or nonmaterial, have all original parties to the original transaction (or their successors) execute the correction.

Recall my desire to criminalize lame cover songs. Immunity should be granted for good ones. For example, we have the very outstanding Curtis Mayfield original, and the almost-as-good Huey Lewis cover.

fireIs condensate a contaminant? When it spills and burns a worker, yes. In Hiland Partners v. National Union Fire Insurance Company the operator, an additional insured under a contractor’s commercial general liability insurance policy, was deprived of coverage – and a duty of the insurer to defend. We’ll get to the lessons.  But first, …

The accident

Hiland owns a gas processing facility in North Dakota and had an MSA with Missouri Basin under which MB would provide services. MB procured the insurance policy and included Hiland as an additional insured. As always, the insurer had a duty to defend. There was an exclusion in the policy for bodily injury arising out of the discharge, release, etc. of pollutants, which were defined as any “solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acid, alkali, chemicals and waste”.

Am MB employee was removing water from a condensate tank when the tank overflowed, causing a fire that seriously injured the worker. Because of the exclusion, there was no coverage for Hiland under the policy. And now, …

The lessons

Should Hiland have adjusted language in its MSA to protect itself? I don’t see how it could have. They made themselves an additional insured. The problem was with the policy exclusion. Everybody (whether contractor or operator) must be diligent in confirming that liability insurance coverage tracks – and covers – the liabilities and obligations in the MSA. But here’s the problem: It was MB’s policy. How may additional insureds study the other guy’s policy? I venture to say not many.

Then there was an administration problem: The insuror’s duty to defend was nullified by Hiland’s failure to give the court evidence that it reported the pollution claim to the insurer within 21 days of discovering it – the deadline required in the policy. Timely reporting would, perhaps, have established an exception to the exclusion. Was notice not given, or did Hiland just didn’t show it to the court? The opinion doesn’t say.

Why the exclusion applied

The definition of pollutant is not subject to strict technical usage so the court – as it should – went to the dictionary. A pollutant is something that irritates, or causes irritation, … or contaminates. The injured worker’s suit described condensate as flammable, volatile and explosive.  Cases discuss petroleum products being toxic by nature. The fact that condensate caused harm other than by contamination and is a product that causes harm in a manner other than by irritating or contaminating, didn’t matter to the court.

The court rejected Hiland’s argument that the condensate caused harm in a manner other than by contamination and thus the exclusion did not apply, and rejected the argument that condensate is not a “pollutant” under the exclusion because Hiland is in the business of selling condensate, which makes it a product.

For today’s musical interlude, more girl singers you need to know about: A black, guitar-playing, gospel singer who was around so long she’s no longer around, and a more recent underappreciated country singer.   

 

 

Co-author Brooke Sizer

Prevails over what, you ask? In Gladney v. Anglo-Dutch Energy, LLC, a conditional allowable from the Office of Conservation didn’t supersede lease royalty obligations.

How did we get here?

Anglo-Dutch completed a gas well on the Gladneys’ lease and then filed a pre-application notice for a compulsory drilling and production unit and applied for a conditional allowable. On May 17, 2012, the application was granted:

All monies generated from the date of first production, the disbursement of which is contingent upon the outcome of the current proceedings before the Office of Conservation for the Frio Zone will be disbursed based upon results of those proceedings.

The next day Anglo-Dutch began sales of production from the well and later submitted a formal unit application. Order No. 124-Y established the unit, effective on and after October 30, 2012.

Perhaps to the surprise of Anglo Dutch, but certainly to its chagrin, the Gladneys demanded payment of the full one-fifth royalty for production from the well prior to October 30th, rather than settle for their share of production on a unit basis.

Anglo-Dutch refused, relying on the conditional allowable which, it said, superseded its lease obligations.

The trial court ruled for Anglo-Dutch, holding that the “allowable covers the royalty payments” because the allowable dated back to first production. The court found no provision in the lease which would require that the Gladneys be paid more than that provided by the commissioner under the allowable and the unitization order.

Reversal from the court of appeal

The court of appeal reversed. “The Mineral Lease … clearly provided Plaintiffs were to get lease-basis royalties on all production from the well and that lease governed the parties’ relationship prior to the unitization order, which was not effective until October 30, 2012.”

Under the Order, the effective date of the unit was October 30, 2012, not the first date of production. The Gladneys were entitled to a full one-fifth royalty from first production until the effective date of the Commission’s Order.

The Gladneys argued, and the court agreed, that the Office of Conservation can’t impede private contract rights. According to an affidavit from a long-time Office of Conservation representative, the conditional allowable was not meant to abridge privately negotiated contract rights. That is consistent with settled Louisiana jurisprudence that meddling in private contracts is beyond the Office of Conservation’s authority.

The court helps those who help themselves

 The court was unpersuaded by Anglo-Dutch’s plea that it had no choice other than to pay royalty on a unit basis because otherwise it would have had to pay double royalties. Anglo-Dutch could have amended its lease obligations through a royalty escrow agreement. The Gladneys noted that they suggested this alternative and it was rejected, and that such an arrangement is a common practice in these situations. The court also rejected the argument that the Gladneys were improperly attacking the Commission’s actions.

Anglo-Dutch should have listened to Alabama Shakes.

bad-dayIt was a bad day for the Parrs in Aruba Petroleum v. Parr. The trial court judgment was against the operator for intentional nuisance. The Parrs recovered $2.9 million for pain and suffering and mental anguish and for loss of market value of their home caused by Aruba’s gas wells in Wise County, Texas. (See our erudite discussions of this case at the trial court here, here and here.)

This, along with Cerny v Marathon Oil, makes one wonder what it might take for a Texas plaintiff with a nuisance claim arising out of oil and gas activities to recover personal injury damages, especially if there are operations in the area by non-defendants (there were no wells on the Parrs’ property and 87 other wells in the area).  As you will see, litigation by ambush is not likely to work.

The Parr’s claim was for “environmental contamination and polluting events” on their property by way of, among others, air contamination, light pollution and offensive noises and odors.

Recall Crosstex v. Gardiner, in which the Supreme Court described what is required to prove an intentional nuisance:

The actor desires to cause the consequences of his act or believes that the consequences are substantially certain to result from it. It is a subjective standard. It is not enough to conclude that the defendant intentionally engaged in the conduct that caused the injury.

The Parrs relied on three categories of evidence:

  • complaints by a neighbor to Aruba,
  • complaints to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,
  • complaints by the Parrs to Aruba.

Generalized, anonymous grievances fall short

For all their complaints, the Parrs never identified themselves or their specific problems to anyone in particular at Aruba. They failed to identify evidence that Aruba knew that the Parrs were complaining to the TCEQ or that complaints were about the Parr’s property.

The jury didn’t believe Aruba’s conduct was abnormal and out of place in its surroundings. Recall that after Crosstex that is an improper jury question anyway.

My guess is that the jury was persuaded by testimony of an Aruba witness that well sites are noisy, dusty, emitted odors, and result in underground vibrations and significant lights at night, that the Parrs “probably “ had complaints, that he considers smoke plumes a health hazard and a nuisance. That all might be true, but to the court that wasn’t the issue.

It’s all about the evidence

There was no evidence to support the jury’s finding that Aruba intentionally created or maintained a condition that substantially interfered with the Parrs’ use and enjoyment of their land. The Parrs couldn’t cite any evidence that Aruba knew who placed phone calls to Aruba and complained to the TCEQ, or that complaints were specific to the Parr’s property.

For our musical interlude, happy Valentine’s Day.