Welcome to the binary edition, where you have a choice: An informative and engaging stroll through the history of the oil and gas business in Texas, or a wonkish and also informative legal analysis.

First, at the recent summer meeting of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners, TIPRO (and Drilling Info) president Allen Gilmer presented Texas Oil and Gas: Sustainable, Clean and MAGNIFICENT. In it Allen summarizes the history of oil and gas production in Texas from 1866, the economic impact of the industry, and improvements in environmental stewardship. A video would be better but the slides tell the story well enough.

For practitioners looking for an excellent summary of recent oil and gas cases from the Supreme Court of Texas, my Gray Reed partners Chance Decker and Ryan Sears offer Top 10 Supreme Court Cases of 2017 (So Far).

And if you prefer your information in pictures, here is the PowerPoint to accompany the written material.

Speaking of choices (binary plus? Sounds like gender options on a California college student application), how do you like your Corrina, Corrina? The Boz Skaggs Memphis blues way, a Wynton Marsalis (featuring Taj Mahal and Eric Clapton) Dixieland version, or Asleep at the Wheel Texas Swing style?

UPDATED

In light of the adverse effects the storm, floods and tornadoes will have on oil and gas production, transportation and processing operations, we offer several bits of advice:

Force majeure

Winds and floods are among the very reasons for the seldom-invoked force majeure provisions of your oil and gas leases, operating agreements, transportation agreements and other contracts. If your operations are affected by the storm, study your contracts and be mindful of what you will need to do and when in order to invoke the protections force majeure clauses offer. Continue Reading Hurricane Harvey and Oil and Gas Operations – What To Do

Suggestions to Texas lessors after ExxonMobil v. Lazy R Ranch, et al:  Claiming that you were not aware of contamination from oil spills you’ve known about for 20 years is a tough sell, and suing your long-time lessee for millions right after it sells your lease looks a wee bit opportunistic.

For nearly 60 years Exxon operated wells on the 20,000 acre Lazy R Ranch before selling the lease in 2008. The Ranch hired an environmental engineer who identified a total of 1.2 acres in four areas where hydrocarbon contamination exceeded levels set by state law.

In 2009 the Ranch sued Exxon for contamination and sought damages for remediation of the 1.2 acres that would cost $6.3 million. (At least they waited to bite until the hand was no longer dispensing the groceries).

The damage claim presented a problem for the Ranch. Under Texas law the recovery for damages for a permanent injury to real property is generally limited to the difference in value of the property before and after the injury. Continue Reading Another Oil Field Contamination Plaintiff Waits Too Long

There’s no better place in the oil patch to play the blame game than 10,000 feet of leaky wellbore.

What went wrong?

In Justiss v. Oil Country Tubular Corporation, Justiss, a drilling contractor, entered into an IADC model turnkey drilling contract for a well in Beauregard Parish. The contract specified 12,500 feet of intermediate casing to be LTC pipe with buttress threads. The contract depth was 15,000 feet. Justiss purchased the casing from OCTC.

The operation was star-crossed. Justiss discovered a hole in the surface casing, which it repaired by cementing the casing in place. This made it impossible to remove the intermediate casing string when things got bad. Beginning at 3,500 feet the casing wouldn’t maintain adequate pressure and Justiss performed 13 squeeze jobs in an effort to remedy the problem. These and other efforts to fix the leaks lasted five weeks and cost millions of dollars.  At 13,596 feet the casing would not maintain pressure and, for fear of losing well control, the operation was terminated.

Read this if you sell a product or a service Continue Reading Blame Game Fails Louisiana Casing Vendor

Yellow KEEP OUT Barrier TapeCo-author Chance Decker

We know that in Texas the mineral owner has the right to explore for and produce the minerals. What does that leave for the surface owner? In Lightning Oil Company v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC the Texas Supreme Court tells us he owns the right to possess the specific place or space where the minerals are located. Absent pooling or some other contractual arrangement, with that comes the right to grant (for a price) or deny an off-lease operator the right to drill through the mineral estate to reach minerals under an adjacent tract. Continue Reading Texas Subsurface Trespass Law Clarified

A Black Rhino running towards the camera, Kruger National Park

Forest Oil Corporation v. El Rucio Land and Cattle Inc. et al deserves your attention for four reasons:

  • You won’t see another one involving damage to a rhinoceros pen.
  • It confirms that the Texas Railroad Commission does not have exclusive or primary jurisdiction over private claims for environmental contamination. Welcome to the courthouse.
  • The South Texas redistributionist approach to civil justice includes arbitrations.
  • For once, the Texas Supreme Court declined to eviscerate a multi-million dollar plaintiff victory.

Continue Reading Oil Field Contamination Award Upheld

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.

The litigation

The crawfisherpersons sued a number of oil and gas companies claiming that dredging activities caused damage to fisheries in the Atchafalaya Basin (Non-natives: Impress your friends by reminding them the emphasis is on the “cha” not the “Atch”). The question was whether the complaints stated a cause of action for a maritime tort. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Florida Gas Transmission Company and Southern Natural Gas Company, finding no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendants’ activities constituted dredging.

Summary judgment affirmed

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment for Florida Gas. The company said all it did was place a pipeline into an existing canal, which is insufficient to support a maritime tort claim . The plaintiffs did not produce any evidence to create an issue of fact. A Corps of Engineers permit application and other circumstantial evidence was not enough to sustain plaintiffs’ burden to create a fact issue that dredging occurred.

Summary judgment reversed

The court reversed as to Southern Natural. A company representative testified in a deposition that they engaged in dredging activities in connection with spoil banks, and the company admitted in responses to requests for admission to using dredging vessels in the construction of a canal.

The problem was with the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider its original order. To understand why the Fifth Circuit reversed see the analysis of Federal Rule 59(e) addressing newly discovered evidence and who should be suffer when the judge is unaware of a revised scheduling order (spoiler: not a party; the district court should have considered evidence that was timely filed under the revised order). Worrisome for lawyers is why the district court had to be admonished over its refusal to consider the evidence on a motion to reconsider.

And of course, our musical interlude

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.

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.   

 

 

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.