Co-author Kelley Clark Morris

Suing a state and its public officials is difficult because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. There are exceptions. State of Texas v. Signal Drilling, et al. presents several of them.

The rules

The State and its agencies are immune from:

  • Suits seeking to construe or enforce contracts to which the State is a party,
  • Declaratory judgment actions,
  • Ordinary trespass to try title suits.

There are exceptions. For example:

  • Claims against a state official in his representative capacity for non-discretionary acts unauthorized by law (the ultra vires exception).
  • Claims for an unconstitutional taking of property without adequate compensation.
  • Suits to require state officials to comply with statutory or constitutional provisions.


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Quick answer: It depends on what the lease says.  Last week featured a tug-of-war between a producer and the community in which it operates; this week in HJSA No. 3 LP v. Sundown Energy LP  it’s the producer and the lessor.

HJSA owns the mineral estate under 30,540 acres in Ward County, Texas. Sundown is the lessee. After six years the lease could be maintained only as to individual tracts from which there was production in paying quantities and as to other tracts only if Sundown was engaged in a “continuous drilling program”.

Dueling lease provisions (emphasis mine)

Paragraph 7B says:

The first such continuous development well shall be spudded in on or before the sixth anniversary of the Effective Date, with no more than 120 days to elapse between completion or abandonment of operations on one well and the commencement of drilling operations on the next ensuing well.

Paragraph 18 is a 90-day temporary cessation clause that defines drilling operations as:

“ … actual operations … (spud-in with equipment capable of drilling to Lessee’s objective depth); reworking operations, including fracturing and acidizing; and reconditioning, … “.
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Co-author Paul Yale

What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander, at least in some places. It appears that the North Dakota Supreme Court has adopted the minority “ Marketable Product Rule” in connection with a 1979 North Dakota state oil and gas lease. We say “it appears” because not so long ago, in its 2009 decision in Bice v. Petro-Hunt, LLC, the Court held that North Dakota was an “at the well” state, like Texas and the majority of other oil producing states. This latest decision is Newfield Exploration Company, et al v. State of North Dakota et al.

The difference between the “Marketable Product Rule” and the “at the well” rule has to do with the deductibility of post-production costs of transporting, compressing, treating and processing from royalty payments. In an “at the well” state such costs are charged proportionately against the royalty owner. In a “Marketable Product” state they are not.
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Co-author Ethan Wood

Let’s begin with a quiz. True or false:

  • Apache Resources, LLC (n/k/a “Pueblo Resources, LLC.” Wonder why?) is Apache Corporation.
  • Plains Natural Resources, LLC is Plains Exploration & Production Company.
  • Ridge Natural Resources, LLC is Oak Ridge Natural Resources, LLC.
  • Range Royalty, LLC is Range Resources Corporation.

If you answered “false” to all four, congratulations. In each category the latter companies are reputable independent oil and gas producers. The former are … well, let’s just call them “mineral buyers” (seemingly coordinated in their efforts in some murky way), one of which was the winner – for now – in Ridge Resources, LLC et al v. Double Eagle Royalty, LP
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Co-author Chance Decker

Is an overriding royalty interest lasting beyond the term of a lease-now-in-effect impossible to create?  You saw the recent Texas Supreme Court opinion invalidating an anti-washout clause in TRO-X v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Now, you see Tommy Yowell et al v. Granite Operating Company et al.  In light of these opinions one could wonder if an override is as valuable a tool in an oil and gas trade as it used to be.

An assault on overrides?
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Co-author Brittany Blakey*

Louisiana practitioners and their clients tend to know this particular point of Louisiana law, but it could surprise out-of-staters (known in their native habitat as “Texans”), so it’s worth a reminder:

Under Louisiana Mineral Code art. 122 and art. 129, a lessee in a mineral lease is not relieved of its statutory duty to perform the lease as a reasonably prudent operator unless the lessor has expressly discharged the lessee in writing. The original lessee, along with all assignees and sublessees, are solidarily liable to the lessor for the whole performance of the obligations imposed by the lease.
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Co-author Ethan Wood

Coke or Pepsi? Elvis or the Beatles? Should there be a designated hitter? Fixed or floating royalty? Among the great debates of recent decades, few have proven quite as frustrating as the great “Fixed v. Floating” royalty debate in Texas jurisprudence.

A royalty can be conveyed or reserved in two ways: as a fixed fraction of total production (fractional royalty interest) or as a fraction of the total royalty interest (fraction of royalty interest). The fractional interest is “fixed” because it is untethered to the royalty in a particular oil and gas lease. A fraction of royalty is “floating” because it varies depending on the royalty in the lease.
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Co-author Chance Decker

In Murphy Exploration & Production Co. — USA v. Adams the Texas Supreme Court held that an offset well clause in an oil and gas lease did not require the lessee to drill wells calculated to protect against drainage. Four dissenting justices believed the majority disregarded the well-established meaning of “offset well” used in the oilfield for decades.
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