Co-author Ethan Wood
Yet another entry in the Strip and Gore universe (2012’s “Beware of Strips and Gores”, and 2019’s “Strip and Gore 2: The Sequel”) comes to us from Fort Worth Court of Appeals: Richard D. Crawford v. XTO Energy, Inc.
Those of you following along with each chapter of the saga know the drill by now (pun is intended): The strip-and-gore doctrine acts to pass title to lands in addition to lands described in a conveyance when: (1) the “strip” is relatively narrow, small in size and value in comparison to the expressly conveyed land, and no longer important or valuable to the grantor of the larger tract; (2) the “strip” was not included in the property description at issue; and (3) no other language in the deed indicates the grantor intended to reserve an interest in the “strip.” In this case—like those before it—the minerals underlying the 8.235-acre tract passed with a conveyance of the 76 acres to the north and south because said minerals were inaccessible and therefore valueless at the time of conveyance.
In 1964, Mary Ruth Crawford conveyed the 8.2355 acre tract to Texas Electric Service Company with the following reservation:
“Grantors reserve unto themselves, [and] their heirs and assigns, the right to all oil and gas in and under the lands herein conveyed but expressly waive all rights of ingress and egress for the purpose of drilling for or producing oil and/or gas from the surface…; provided that wells opened on other lands may be bottomed on the [8.2355 acre tract]”
In 1984, Mary conveyed 76 acres to the north and south of the 8.2355 acre tract without reserving any oil and gas interests or mentioning her previously reserved right to the oil and gas under the 8.2355 acre tract. XTO and its predecessors obtained leases from Mary and the owners of the adjacent 76 acres and pooled all of the leases into the Eden Southwest Unit. XTO’s title opinion credited the adjacent landowners and not Mary’s successor-in-interest, Richard. Richard sued to recover royalties.
The question for the Court … and the answer
The primary question was whether the 8.2355 acre tract had “ceased to be of any benefit or importance” to Mary. The court held that although Mary had reserved right to bottom wells on the 8.2355 acre tract in 1964, she effectively stranded her “strip” when she conveyed the 76 acres to the north and the south of it in 1984.
Strip-and-gore cases in from the Barnett Shale era may in fact be inevitable, but to that we say, “I am Iron Man.”