Co-author Chance Decker

The Texas Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in three intriguing oil and gas cases.  Here’s what you need to know about two of them (We’ll address the third case soon).

Adams v. Murphy Exploration & Production Co. USA

Did lessee Murphy comply with an offset-well clause that doesn’t state where the offset-well must be drilled?  When a well was drilled on an adjacent tract, Murphy drilled its offset-well more than 2,000 feet from the triggering well.

The lessors argued the offset-well clause requires Murphy to drill its offset close enough to the triggering well to actually prevent drainage, which Murphy’s well won’t accomplish. Murphy argued all it has to do is drill on the lessors’ property – anywhere.  Whether it actually prevents drainage doesn’t matter.

The San Antonio court of appeals sided with the lessors.  “Offset-well” is understood in the industry to be a well that protects against drainage.  Thus, Murphy must drill a well close enough to the triggering well to actually prevent drainage from the lessors’ tract—and Murphy must prove it.

Predicting a “flood of litigation” if the lessors prevail, Murphy argues this interpretation is a “profound legal error”, noting it is next to impossible to prove an offset-well actually prevents drainage. In response, the lessors argue the court of appeals merely enforced the lease as written, and if oil and gas producers don’t like it they should draft leases with more flexibility.

See the briefs.

ConocoPhillips Co. et al v. Koopmann, et al.

Does a term NPRI for 15 years “and so long thereafter… ” violate the Rule Against Perpetuities?  Grantor the Strieber Estate and its lessees ConocoPhillips and Burlington say yes; this type of reservation creates a “springing executory interest” for the grantee when the production stops at some potentially distant time in the future, thus violating the Rule.  The grantees – Koopmann – argue no; instead, a conveyance with this reservation conveys a future interest in the property subject to the NPRI in the grantees, which vests immediately even if they are not yet entitled to possession.

The two lower courts sided with the Koopmanns on the Rule of Perpetuities claim.

The Strieber parties argue the court of appeals “eviscerated” the Rule and invented a “legal fiction” to avoid enforcing the Rule, and Supreme Court’s acceptance of Strieber et al’s contention that term NPRI reservations like this one violate the Rule would be a watershed opinion “potentially opening the floodgates of litigation.”  Predicting a lawsuit tsunami isn’t a bad pitch to this court, given its makeup ever since way back when, when Jimmy Johnson gave way to Barry Switzer.

Incidentally, when the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed an amicus brief against them the Koopmans alleged the Association is “controlled by, funded by, and biased” in favor of the industry! Wow! Now we understand Captain Renault!

See the briefs.

Merry Christmas. Have it your way: Holy or otherwise.

 


Co-author Trevor Lawhorn

*Kind of; this is a federal court predicting what the Ohio Supreme Court would do.

In Ohio, in calculating royalties in a market-value-at-the-well lease (as distinguished from a “proceeds” lease), post-production costs are to be shared proportionately by the working interest and royalty owners. The lessee’s duty to market does not extend to expenses incurred in sales not at the well-head. This is consistent with other producing states such as Texas and Pennsylvania.  Continue Reading Ohio Takes a Position on Market-Value-at-the-Well Royalty Clauses*

Co-author  Chance Decker

What does it take these days to get money from a Texas jury? Not much, it seems; in XTO v. Goodwin the trick was convincing a higher court that you should keep it.

Let’s start with the minefield that is the law of evidence:

  • Expert opinion testimony must be based on facts, and sound reasoning and methodology.
  • Conclusory or speculative opinion testimony is not relevant.
  • An opinion with no factual substantiation is speculative or conclusory.
  • Expert testimony based on unreliable data or flawed methodology is unreliable and does not satisfy the relevancy requirement.
  • Unreliable expert testimony is legally no evidence.

Continue Reading Trespass But no Damages in a Texas Case

Updated for a math infraction, thanks to several astute readers.

In Glassell Producing Company v. Naquin, the question was:

Did a conveyance among siblings create a real right in property, or was it an appendage of a lease that ceased to burden the property once that lease was terminated? Continue Reading An “Appendage” Determines a Louisiana Royalty Dispute

Co-author Chance Decker

How many times must an operator suffer for a mistake in a unit declaration? Samson Exploration LLC v. T. S. Reed Properties Inc. makes it twice. (See Hooks v. Samson Lone Star for the first round). The Texas Supreme Court ruled that a lessee could not avoid a contractual obligation to pay royalties from a zone shared by two pooled units. Continue Reading Unit Operator Pays For a Problem of its Own Making

Conoco Phillips Company v. Ramirez et al is a helpful reminder when preparing a document transferring title:

  • “Family vernacular” is a great way to communicate in wedding toasts and funeral eulogies, not so much in land conveyances.
  • Absent an express reservation, a conveyance of land includes both the surface and the underlying minerals.
  • When there is a claim of ambiguity, extrinsic evidence may not be used to create doubt as to the plain meaning of the words.

Continue Reading Informal Description Dooms Oil and Gas Leases

Co-author Chance Decker

You’ve seen the headlines.  The portrait is complete; the verdict is in; the clock has run down to zero. The devastation of Harvey is “unprecedented” and it’s all because of climate change. That’s not necessarily so, thanks to Powerline and Dr. Roy Spencer.  Read it and reach your own conclusion.

And now, on to the the law

Apache Deepwater, LLC v. Double Eagle Development, LLC asked whether a retained acreage clause provided for “rolling terminations” after the primary term or “snapshot termination”. As you might expect, the result depended on the language of the lease. Continue Reading Harvey and Climate Change, and Consideration of a Retained Acreage Clause

Like Les, except with an offense, Coach O congratulates the Tigers for subscribing to Energy and the Law

Lenders to Louisiana operators are likely to be reconsidering their business practices in light of Gloria’s Ranch v. Tauren et al.

A rather ordinary lease termination suit resulted in the lender Wells Fargo being solidarily liable with the lessees for $22.8 million in lost leasing opportunities, $242,000 in unpaid royalties, $484,000 in statutory damages, and almost $1 million in attorneys’ fees.

Here’s why: Continue Reading A New Day for Louisiana Oil and Gas Lenders?

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

confusedCo-author Chance Decker

Here is what we believe is an unusual situation: A gas unit is formed. The gas well ceases to produce. Another gas well produces from an oil unit, but the lease at issue is not included in the oil unit. Is the lease perpetuated by production from the second gas well?

In Yarbrough v. ELC Energy, LLC The answer is, in Texas, Yes.  Read on for why, and decide for yourself  if this result makes sense. Continue Reading An Unusual Way To Hold an Oil and Gas Lease