Exclusive: Referees gather after Cowboys – Packers

Have you ever wondered about the original purpose of the retained acreage clause? According to Professor Kramer, it was “to prevent the lessee from losing those portions of a lease that had productive wells thereon if the rest of the lease terminated”. The term has been expanded “to include clauses that require the release of all acreage that, at the end of the primary term, is not within a drilling, spacing, or proration unit.”*

To the Point – The Lessons

  1. Lease clauses evolve over time. Before you march off to the courthouse armed with righteousness, mean lawyers, and a full head of legal steam, read the lease carefully to determine what it says about your problem. An old case addressing, for example a retained acreage clause, might not yield the same result if yours is written in a different way.
  2. A position based on an interpretation of a lease that is not consistent with the plain language will fail. If the parties intended a certain purpose they would have said so, but if they didn’t, it’s not up to the court to rewrite the lease.
  3. Inequitable or not, the language of the lease controls.

Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. v. Energen Resources Corporation involved the retained acreage clauses of two oil and gas leases.  According to the leases, when continuous development ends, the lease terminates, except as to acreage for “each proration unit established under … [the] rules and regulations [of the RRC … ] or upon which there exists (either on the above-described land or on lands pooled or unitized therewith) well capable of producing oil and/or gas … “.

Under the pooling clauses, drilling and production anywhere on pooled acreage is treated as if it were on the land described in the lease, regardless of where the well is located.

The two leases covered Section 25, 80 acres of which was pooled with 560 acres in adjacent Section 18 to form the Cadenhead No. 1 Pooled Gas Unit. The well was drilled and completed on Section 18 and has continually produced. The Cadenhead No. 2 Pooled Gas Unit consisted of 560 acres in Section 25 and 80 acres in Section 18. That well was also on Section 18. The operator designated all of Section 25 as the proration unit for No. 2. Two months later continuous development ended on the leased premises. The No. 1 continues to produce, the No. 2 was P&A’ed. Energen drilled a well on the 560 -acre portion of Section 25 that had been pooled with the 80 acres of Section 18.

The Issue and the Result

Did the leases remain in effect as to all of Section 25 or only as to an 80 acre portion? The court concluded that the leases remained in effect for all of Section 25. Because the Cadenhead No. 2 was capable of producing, the lease was preserved as to its designated proration unit, all of Section 25, a portion of which had previously been pooled with Section 18.

The plain grammatical language of the retained acreage clauses do not provide for rolling termination of non-producing proration units, as argued by Chesapeake. Instead, production anywhere on Section 25 or land pooled was sufficient to maintain the leases as to the entirety of Section 25 as long as a well capable of producing was on the land or land pooled therewith. Under the __ clause, the leases continued as to all the leased land beyond the primary term as long as oil or gas was being produced from anywhere on the property.

Chesapeake argued that the parties could not have intended for production on a single unit to maintain the entire lease indefinitely after continuous development ceased. The court acknowledged the equitable appeal of this argument, but it was refuted by the language of the lease. Operations anywhere in the unit are treated as if they have taken place on each tract within the unit.

Is This Ruling Correct?

I’m not so sure it is, but this post is already too long. I might revisit it in the future.

I admire lawyers who make it look easy. Stevie Ray Vaughn had a way of doing that with a guitar.

*Bruce M. Kramer, Oil and Gas Leases and Pooling: A Look Back and A Peek Ahead, 45 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 877, 881 n.28 (2013)