trumpYou do, whether you are a vendor or an operator. Matador Production Company vs. Weatherford Artificial Lift Systems, Inc. is a treatise on what can go wrong with a frac job: Failure of pumps, worker inexperience, failure of the “delayed release gel breaker”, failure to clean gel hoses, failure to pump enough gel and proppant, loss of materials, profuse apologies, invoices, refusal to pay invoices, and … litigation. It also suggests what you need for an enforceable MSA and the likely result if you don’t have one.

The Lessons

If you are trying to enforce an MSA:

  • Disclaimers and exculpatory clauses in six point font on the last page of a six-page stimulation recommendation will not satisfy the conspicuousness requirement of the express negligence rule (about which, see below).
  • Terms and conditions to be found on the vendor’s web site, if the customer bothers to look, are insufficient.
  • Between two parties who had never before worked together, an MSA signed three months after the FUBAR is not admissible at trial.
  • A properly prepared and administered MSA can save a party – the vendor in this case – lots of time, money and grief.

The Trial

Weatherford sued on a sworn account alleging $314,000 due on invoices. Matador counterclaimed for economic damages of $2,300,000. after summary judgment for Weatherford on the sworn account, the jury found that Weatherford failed to use reasonable skill and diligence and breached its implied warranty of a good and workmanlike performance of services. But Weatherford’s breach was excused because Matador waived compliance with the contract and released Weatherford from liability arising from the contract. It did this in the Master Service Agreement.

The Appeal

Reversed. Weatherford could not rely on the MSA (see the lessons). In the MSA Matador released Weatherford for Weatherford’s negligence, agreed that acceptance of delivery indicates inspection and approval of the equipment, and waived its right to consequential damages. A release by one party of another for the released party’s own negligence must be CONSPICUOUS IN THE CONTRACT (this is the express negligence doctrine). As a result of Weatherford’s failure to properly prepare and administer its MSA Weatherford’s home run at trial morphed into a bases-loaded strikeout on appeal.

What to Do?

Am I suggesting that a MSA is more important for the vendor than the customer? No. The purpose of an MSA is peace of mind brought about by certainty, to establish from the outset – before there is a disagreement having major financial consequences – who will be liable for acts and omissions and who will be responsible for damages. Get your MSA in place, whether you are a vendor or producer. Take care of potential exposure with proper and sufficient insurance coverage.

Au Contraire

Didn’t the customer benefit from not having an MSA? Yes, but if he had been the negligent party, maybe not.

Donald Trump is My Favorite!

Favorite what, I didn’t say. But, “Why”? you ask.

Because of his unparalleled ability to prance, preen and posture.

What others say about him.

How he sees himself

Who should decide when, where, how, and even if, hydraulic fracturing should occur?

The locals: “You hypocrites Our good public servants in Austin want ‘local control’ when its against Washington, but deny us the same right.  We know better than you about what’s best for our community. To hell with catastrophic litigation exposure and declining tax revenuesIf you didn’t get a regular royalty check and had to Live next door to a loud, stinky, dangerous industrial operation and then tell me how you’d vote”.

The Lege: “A few ignorant and misguided socialists well-meaning local leaders, abetted by left-wing, Gore-ite, out-of-town agitatorsdispense lies are misinformed, deprive the state of much-needed revenues, and steal private property rights from our campaign contributors brave and visionary explorationists. What’s next, plastic bags?

Austin Doing What It Does – Legislation

Rep. Phil King has introduced two bills relating to fracking. House Bill 539 would add requirements for municipalities that propose petitions or ordinances that will affect oil and natural gas production. The Bill would require cities to make up for any lost revenue as a result of passing a municipal oil and gas ordinance affecting production. Cities would also have to provide a fiscal impact note and an equalized education funding impact statement detailing all associated lost revenue and would be required to reimburse the state for the cost of the measure for a five year period.

Not everyone is enchanted with the bill, especially the Texas Municipal League, who says the bill essentially precludes local governments from regulating oil and gas activities.

House Bill 540 would require a municipality to send any proposed petition that would enact or repeal an ordinance to the Attorney General for review. The AG would determine whether any portion of the proposed measure violates the Texas or federal Constitution, a state statute, a rule, or if it would be considered a governmental taking of private property. If a violation exists, then the petition would not be placed on the ballot.

Even Gov. Abbott has stepped into the fray, admonishing municipalities who have exerted local control over not only fracking, but tree-cutting, bag-banning and gun control.

In Denton – Amending the Drilling Ordinance

The City of Denton has published proposed amendments to their drilling ordinance.

Proposed changes include:

  • Require inspections to be performed by a third party to determine if equipment is properly functioning;
  • Grant authority to the city to map gas pipelines in Denton and its extraterritorial jurisdiction;
  • Increase disclosure requirements of the location of the pad site, existence of wells, possibility of new wells, possibility of more hydraulic fracturing and/or drilling, and possibility of re-working;
  • To minimize surface impact, an operator would be required to select the optimum surface site location within a leased acreage, then capitalize on technological advances to utilize co-location of multiple wells on a single site. Afterwards, the land would be reopened for other development; and leased acreage would be restricted from future gas well drilling;
  • Increase insurance coverage requirements for operators.

The City Council has added this recommendation to their priority legislative issues agenda, aimed at resolving the issue of “vested rights”: “support legislation that would clarify that the state’s vested rights law does not apply to subsurface mineral development as it relates to permits issued by the municipality for oil and gas development activities”.

Which Side Are You On?

An unscientific sample of Dallas Business Journal readers believe, by a 76% to 23% vote, the legislature should be able to limit a city’s ability to regulate oil and gas drilling in its local jurisdiction.

Here is today’s Musical Interlude.

As you probably know, the Denton City Council denied a petition signed by several thousand citizens to ban hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. The denial sent the question to the November 4 general election ballot.  Here is the proposition, its legalese in full bloom:

SHALL AN ORDINANCE BE ENACTED PROHIBITING, WITHIN THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF THE CITY OF DENTON, TEXAS, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING, A WELL STIMULATION PROCESS INVOLVING THE USE OF WATER, SAND AND/OR CHEMICAL ADDITIVES PUMPED UNDER HIGH PRESSURE TO FRACTURE SUBSURFACE NON-POROUS ROCK FORMATIONS SUCH AS SHALE TO IMPROVE THE FLOW OF NATURAL GAS, OIL, OR OTHER HYDROCARBONS INTO THE WELL, WITH SUBSEQUENT HIGH RATE, EXTENDED FLOWBACK TO EXPEL FRACTURE FLUIDS AND SOLIDS

The players

Supporters and detractors of the ban are divided into two predictable groups: Local and national environmentalists on the one hand and producers and local royalty owners on the other. Who’s who and what they say can be seen from their websites:

In support of the ban you have FrackFree Denton.

Against the ban you have Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy.

Dig a little deeper, say into campaign finance filings, and you can see whose money is behind the campaigns.  Here is the local Denton Record Chronicle on where the bulk of the money is coming from on both sides.

In the news

Want news on the election? The Denton Record Chronicle evaluates the claims of both sides.

Here is a report from StateImpact, a publication of National Public Radio member stations.

And a comprehensive and pretty fair article from the New York Times.

There is no shortage of opinions

Here is one from the Dallas Morning News.

In another, Eagle Ridge Energy presents a forceful case for the benefits of hydraulic fracturing. They have every reason to have an opinion. Eagle Ridge has been the target of litigation by homeowners and opprobrium by bloggers for their operations in the city limits.

Here is one from Energy in Depth, a non-local group with an interest in fracking everywhere.

The Texas Railroad Commission also has an opinion.

In the spirit of open debate, on these web sites you can read about the “evils” of fracking. I’m not of this mindset, but it’s helpful to know what the uninitiated are hearing.

One from “Texas Sharon“.

And from the environmental group Earthworks, which is working hard in Denton and worldwide to pass the  ban. (Disclaimer:  The photo is Earthwork-like in its extremism, but it is not from Denton.)

Let’s have a live debate?

A debate is scheduled in Denton between FrackNation Producer Phelim McAleer and environmental activist Calvin Tillman on Monday, October 27. Here is the link.

What does it mean?

If the ban passes, litigation.

Failure would be a retreat from overreaction, and maybe a debate about whether Denton needs more neighborhood-friendly drilling oversight.

In the spirit of universal suffrage …

Today’s musical interlude has nothing to do with the topic, unless it’s divine guidance you are seeking (in which case, why are you reading this blog?).  We all get to vote. How do you like your Amazing Grace, … Celtic, …  African, … or Country?

Special thanks to Tricia Davis of the Texas Royalty Council for her help on this post.

Invoking the spirit of Emily Litella, the Environmental Protection Agency offered a govenmental “never mind” when it withdrew its emergency order that attempted to hold Range Resources responsible for contamination of drinking water on Parker County, Texas, well sites under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

 Those who have followed this case know that several investigations into the EPA’s assertions showed no link between Range’s operations and water contamination. For example, a Texas Railroad Commission investigation more than a year ago concluded that Range did not contaminate the water wells.

This retreat should have happened a long time (say, about $4.2 million in Range legal fees) ago, but be assured this action is no indication that the EPA intends to abandon its efforts to regulate fracking.  Nor, one could suspect, does it signal the end of the EPA’s resolve to challenge oil and gas production. So much for “science-based regulation”.

For contrasting viewpoints on the subject, see the Wall Street Journal article, and especially the 127 (at last count) comments, and a Texas blogger with a decidedly different – one could say hysterical – sentiments about this case and fracking in general.

If you were wondering whether the debate over the safety and effectiveness of hydraulic fracturing has entered our national conciousness, check this out: 

 

In a serious approach to the issue, the opinion magazine National Review recently joined in the conversation in a piece by Kevin Williamson, The Truth About Fracking – What the Protestors Don’t Know.  The focus is on the Marcellus Shale, but his thesis applies everywhere there is horizontal drilling and fracking.  These days, that is a lot of places. 

Among his observations:

  •  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection receives high marks for competence and its application of common sense in regulating the handling of frack water.
  • On the other hand is the fear that the EPA will adopt a top-down, one-size-fits-all aproach to fracking and frack-fluid regulation, ignoring the differences in geology and other factors in different producing areas.
  • The industry is addressing the troublesome aspects of fracking.  Frack water is being treated in innovative ways by companies like TerraAqua Resource Management. 
  • Producers like Fort Worth-based Range Resources are recognized for responsible environmental practices and efforts to minmize the impact of drilling on local communities.   
  • George Mitchell, and not your federal government, gets the credit for having the vision, conducting the research, and taking the enormous financial risks necessary to develop modern fracking techniques.
  • He reveals distortions of fact presented in Gasland, the documentary allleging that a Colorado farmer’s tap water caught fire because of fracking. In fact, tap water in that community has been catching fire since at least the 1930’s.
  • Natural gas development is responsible for thousands of new jobs in areas that need them, a fact that we Texans and our neighbors in Louisiana and Oklahoma have known for decades.