In their search for Utopia, some opponents of oil and gas drilling ignore innovation … What’s harmful now will forever be that way.

The Question

That isn’t true, but it raises a question for producers: What are you doing to reduce the negative effects of your activities on the communities where you operate?

The Answers

Here are examples of the industry investing considerable time, money and effort to reduce its impact on the environment:

  • In Colorado, Anadarko is concentrating hydraulic fracturing operations in “Stim Centers”, locating those operations in a single location, thereby reducing truck traffic, and time and money otherwise spent on setting up.
  • and using pipelines instead of trucks to carry frac water.
  • Noble Energy is using “integrated development plans” to centralize facilities, reducing truck traffic and costs.
  • Marcellus shale producers are recycling 90% of their flowback water, according to Ben Seifer of Energy in Depth.
  • Statoil is reducing flaring and air emissions in the Bakken shale by testing a mobile system that converts associated gas into CNG at the well site.  The gas is then used on the well as a power source.
  • According to the Environmental Defense Fund (not the “Utopians” referred to above) there are cost-effective options to control methane, such as lower-emitting valves and other mechanical improvements.
  • Patrick Kiger in his National Geographic blog tells a similar story. I include his entry for the comments from the “Utopians”.
  • State regulators are focusing on leaking methane.

There is no doubt that many of these efforts are a response to the looming presence of regulators and regulations. That is to be expected. Industries tend to believe they are doing “enough” to satisfy their critics and would prefer to be left alone to run their business. That is not going to happen. Regulators exist to regulate, opponents live to oppose, and no industry can ever do enough to satisfy those two constituencies, even if it means more costs and burdens.

Why Does it Matter?

Why do I speak of this? “The wages of sin …” Oops, wrong venue. “The downside of rapacious destruction of Mother Earth … “ Too shrill, and generally not even true. Here you go: “Powerful forces are against you and if you don’t meet them somewhere in the middle you could be squeezed out of the process.  The result will be excessive and unreasonable regulation.”

What Would Nanook Do?

The risks of pollution could not be portrayed more forcefully than in this musical interlude.

Head-scratchers: (1) Is a mineral reservation a fraction of royalty, or a fractional royalty? (2) Is there a difference? (3) Does it matter?

Answers: (1) It depends on how you phrase it. (2) Yes. (3) Yes, if you care about being paid on production, or you are the scrivener of deeds and assignments and want to avoid big trouble, or you pay people based on your interpretation of deeds and assignments and want to avoid big trouble. Otherwise, I guess not.

Moore v. Noble Energy is about the construction of a royalty reservation in a deed executed in 1955, and therefore about the answers to the three questions.

The Grantor reserved “a one-half non-participating royalty interest (one-half of one-eighth of production)”.

The Russells (grantee’s successors) entered into an oil and gas lease with Noble Energy that provided for the payment of a 3/16th royalty. Noble drilled four wells on the property. That’s about the  time everybody started paying attention.  

The Moores (grantor’s heirs) sued, asking the court to declare that they were entitled to one-half of the 3/16th royalty. The Russells argued that the Moores were only entitled to a fixed 1/16th royalty. The court agreed with the Russells.

The court contrasted a fraction of royalty with a fractional royalty:

“A fraction of royalty entitles the owner to a share of the mineral production equal to the stated fraction multiplied by the royalty retained in the lease.”

“A fractional royalty entitles the owner to the stated fraction of gross production, unaffected by the royalty reserved in the lease.”

The court then compared the language typically used to create these interests and concluded that the deed language was typical of that creating a fractional royalty. Given the absence any language indicating that the parties intended to create a fraction of royalty, the court held that the deed was unambiguous and the Moores were only entitled to a fixed 1/16 royalty.

The parenthetical was important in the construction of this reservation. The court observed that the “one-half non-participating royalty” without more would entitle the grantor to 50% of all production, thereby making it virtually impossible to lease in the future. The “(one-half of one-eighth of production)” cleared up any ambiguity, according to the court.

I compare this week’s  musical interlude to the passing game of this year’s LSU football Tigers. Progress is not always forward.  In 1955, the year of this deed, Bilboard’s No. 1 hit was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. My October 23rd post was about a 1963 deed. Bilboard’s chart-topper that year was Sugar Shack, by one-hit wonder Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs. You decide: Which has better field position?   

Thanks to Bill Drabble for his contribution to this post.