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

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?

Co-author Chance Decker

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules”. The Joker to Batman, The Dark Knight

Subject-to, reservations-from, and exceptions-to problems have been lurking in the shadows of Texas jurisprudence for a while now, and the courts have been all over the map in recent holdings (Title nerd and proud of it? Compare this example with this one.)

In Wenske v. Ealy, the Supreme Court channeled our superhero’s painted friend, essentially jettisoning the old rules and confirming the new rule in deed construction cases: There are no “rules”.  Continue Reading Does Texas Have a New “Rule” in Conveyancing?

Co-author Brooke Sizer

Prevails over what, you ask? In Gladney v. Anglo-Dutch Energy, LLC, a conditional allowable from the Office of Conservation didn’t supersede lease royalty obligations.

How did we get here?

Anglo-Dutch completed a gas well on the Gladneys’ lease and then filed a pre-application notice for a compulsory drilling and production unit and applied for a conditional allowable. On May 17, 2012, the application was granted:

All monies generated from the date of first production, the disbursement of which is contingent upon the outcome of the current proceedings before the Office of Conservation for the Frio Zone will be disbursed based upon results of those proceedings.

The next day Anglo-Dutch began sales of production from the well and later submitted a formal unit application. Order No. 124-Y established the unit, effective on and after October 30, 2012.

Perhaps to the surprise of Anglo Dutch, but certainly to its chagrin, the Gladneys demanded payment of the full one-fifth royalty for production from the well prior to October 30th, rather than settle for their share of production on a unit basis.

Anglo-Dutch refused, relying on the conditional allowable which, it said, superseded its lease obligations.

The trial court ruled for Anglo-Dutch, holding that the “allowable covers the royalty payments” because the allowable dated back to first production. The court found no provision in the lease which would require that the Gladneys be paid more than that provided by the commissioner under the allowable and the unitization order.

Reversal from the court of appeal

The court of appeal reversed. “The Mineral Lease … clearly provided Plaintiffs were to get lease-basis royalties on all production from the well and that lease governed the parties’ relationship prior to the unitization order, which was not effective until October 30, 2012.”

Under the Order, the effective date of the unit was October 30, 2012, not the first date of production. The Gladneys were entitled to a full one-fifth royalty from first production until the effective date of the Commission’s Order.

The Gladneys argued, and the court agreed, that the Office of Conservation can’t impede private contract rights. According to an affidavit from a long-time Office of Conservation representative, the conditional allowable was not meant to abridge privately negotiated contract rights. That is consistent with settled Louisiana jurisprudence that meddling in private contracts is beyond the Office of Conservation’s authority.

The court helps those who help themselves

 The court was unpersuaded by Anglo-Dutch’s plea that it had no choice other than to pay royalty on a unit basis because otherwise it would have had to pay double royalties. Anglo-Dutch could have amended its lease obligations through a royalty escrow agreement. The Gladneys noted that they suggested this alternative and it was rejected, and that such an arrangement is a common practice in these situations. The court also rejected the argument that the Gladneys were improperly attacking the Commission’s actions.

Anglo-Dutch should have listened to Alabama Shakes.

flea flickerWestport Oil & Gas Company, L.P. v. Mecom et al. presented this questionWas the lease royalty based on a gas purchase agreement formula or on the royalty clauses’s market value at the well provision?

Spoiler alert: Invoking the seminal Texas Supreme Court decision in Texas Oil and Gas Corporation v. Vela, the court went with market value at the well.

Dueling paragraphs

Under Paragraph 3, the royalty clause, gas royalty was 42 percent (not a typo!) of the “market value at the well … “.

Paragraph 17: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this lease to the contrary … a contract for the sale of gas … shall provide for the sale price computed on the average of the highest price paid by three separate Intrastate Purchasers of gas of like quality and quantity in [RRC] District 4 …”.

The court instructed the jury to compute the gas royalty’s market value based on Paragraph 17. The jury found that Kerr McGee failed to pay those royalties and awarded millions in damages and attorney fees.

The Court’s analysis

Mecom argued the significance of “Notwithstanding any other provision” language. Ignoring Paragraph 17, requiring that the three highest prices become the formula to calculate the market value, renders the paragraph meaningless.

Kerr McGee argued that the Paragraph 17 formula pertained only to future gas purchase agreements and did not alter the commonly accepted meaning of “market value at the well” as stated in Paragraph 3.

The court concluded that the royalty provision is not “contrary” to the gas purchase agreement provision and did not elevate Paragraph 17’s price mandate over Paragraph 3’s market value provision. Paragraph 3 defined the royalty owed and Paragraph 17 set a minimum contract price for future gas purchase agreements. Nothing more.

Remembering Vela

In that case the working interest owners sold gas at a price fixed by a gas sales contract. The market value of gas at the wellhead rose to be far in excess of the gas contract price.  The lease specified the royalty would be “1/8th of the market value … ”. The royalty owed was determined from the royalty provision, which was wholly independent of the gas contract. The court declined to conflate the gas contract price with the market value requirement. Victory for the royalty owner.

… and Yzaguirre

Bastard child of Vela (if you are a royalty owner). This time the market value measure worked for the lessee. The gas purchase price was far in excess of the market value.

What did we learn?

  • The lease dated to 1974. As with Godzilla, leaky shower pans, and a flea flicker in the fourth quarter, dangerous situations can lie dormant for a long time, bringing misery when the victim least expects it.
  • Despite the lessors’ best efforts to protect themselves, the case turned on one short phrase in a comprehensive, three-page royalty clause.
  • “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary … ” is a favored device for scriveners. Make sure it addresses that which you are trying to protect. What if Paragraph 17 had addressed the market value clause directly?

Merry Christmas.

It’s a multiple choice question:

a.  The royalty interest reserved by the lessor.

b. The drillbit, courtesy of fearless, risk-taking entrepreneurs, the backbone of the great American free enterprise system and the sworn enemies of collectivism.

c.  A cache of DNC emails, discovered by Vladimir Putin himself.

d.  The working interest.

e. It doesn’t matter. Trump won. Get over it.

Can’t stand the suspense? It’s “d”. If the override doesn’t spring from the working interest, you don’t have it.

How did this happen?

EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) et al v. Brammer Engineering et al involved a Power of Attorney under which Brammer would manage minerals for the mineral owners. Terms in the POA regarding Brammer’s compensation:

  • “. . . mineral leases executed in the future by Agent . . . will provide for the reservation of an additional free overriding royalty interest on behalf of the lessors.”
  • Brammer’s compensation would be “on . . . leases under the terms of which not less than 1/16th override royalty is reserved, [Brammer] shall be entitled to 1/32nd free overriding royalty”.

WW&M represented other mineral owners. With Brammer’s permission WW&M negotiated a lease with EnCana with a 1/4th royalty. The lease did not include overriding royalty language Brammer believed it was entitled to, so Brammer executed the lease and an assignment of a 1/32nd override in favor of itself out of the lessor’s royalty.

Then, the litigation 

The mineral owners’ point: Brammer didn’t carve the override out of the working interest and thus was not entitled to it.

Brammer’s response: The additional override was a contractual obligation payable to Brammer from the total royalty reserved in the lease.

The court decides

If Brammer obtained any lessor’s royalty greater than 1/8th, was it entitled to an override, or was Brammer required to expressly reserve an additional free override for itself?

Brammer had to expressly reserve an additional royalty interest for the mineral owners in order to trigger its right to the override. To the court, Brammer redefined “royalty” to mean the standard royalty, whatever that standard might be at any given time. This would require the court to look beyond the words of the unambiguous contract. Further, to the court, “additional” means an override in addition to the lessor’s royalty.

Stated another way: Brammer argued it was entitled to a 1/32nd override anytime that it acquired, in favor of the mineral lessors, at least 1/16th more than the “typical” 1/8th. This, it did not do. Brammer did nothing to obtain the 1/4th royalty in WW&M’s bid package. Judgment for the mineral owners.

What is an overriding royalty anyway?

The Mineral Code does not expressly define an override. Citing plenty of authority, the court concluded that the term describes a royalty carved out of the working interest, different from and in addition to the lessor’s royalty.  This is acknowledged in Brammer’s assignment language:  “It is hereby reserved in favor of Brammer . . . from the Lessors’ royalty . . . a free overriding royalty 1/32nd of  . . .  .”

Have a happy holiday.

Fractions


“Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both.”  J. R. Ewing.

This family dispute among Ethel’s descendants arose when Ethel’s will employed double fractions in bequeathing royalty interests to her children. Did the instrument create a fixed fractional royalty or a floating fraction of royalty?

Straight to the takeaway

Don’t like math? Avoid a pop quiz by remembering, when describing a royalty conveyance:

  • Do not convey a fraction of a fraction unless that is what you intend to do. Why let ambiguity and confusion ruin your carefully crafted document?
  • Use language appropriate for the time and circumstances, but think ahead. Is change foreseeable in a way you can plan for?

If you don’t believe me read Hisaw v. Dawkins, from the Texas Supreme Court.

Times were different then

When Ethel’s will was written in 1947 Jackie Robinson was a rookie, LSU beat Texas A&M 19-13 (some things never change), and the standard royalty was 1/8th. Was that figure in Ethel’s will a synonym for the lessor’s royalty, or was the royalty interest fixed without regard for the possibility of a higher royalty in the future?

There were three separate parcels of land and each child received the surface and executive rights to one. Ethel’s will contemplated three scenarios for the royalty under all the tracts. Each child would receive:

  • an NPRI of an undivided 1/3rd of an undivided 1/8th of all oil, gas ….
  • 1/3rd of 1/8th royalty  …
  • 1/3rd of the remainder of the unsold royalty, if a conveyance occurred while she was alive.

Clarity from the Supreme Court

The court said it would not embrace a “mechanical approach” to a royalty conveyance that would require “rote multiplication of double fractions”. Bright line rules are arbitrary and will not always give effect to what the conveyance provides as a whole. The court of appeals erred in construing each royalty provision in isolation.

In what it called an analytical approach, the court applied the four corners rule, and attempted to harmonize all provisions of the document. The court reaffirmed its commitment to a “holistic” approach to contract construction by ascertaining the parties’ intent from all words and all parts of the instrument. To harmonize would resolve apparent inconsistencies or contradictions in the document.

The third royalty clause governed. It clearly showed Ethel’s intention to equally divide the royalties among the three children. Each would receive a 1/3rd floating royalty, not a 1/24th fixed royalty (that is, 1/3rd of 1/8th).

The antiquated assumption that all future royalties would be 1/8th did not evidence Ethel’s intent. This is not to say that reference to 1/8th won’t ever mean just that. It might, if the language is clear and unambiguous.

 Prince RIP. His voice and an acoustic guitar are all you need to see what a force he was.

production paymentMust a production payment out of four oil and gas leases be proportionately reduced if two of the leases expire because production ceased? In Apache Deepwater, LLC v. McDaniel Partners, Ltd., the Texas Supreme Court says yes. Absent express language in the assignment to the contrary, this general rule applies:  When an assigned lease terminates, a production payment (like an override) created in that lease is extinguished.

The instrument

A 1953 assignment of a production payment to McDaniel’s predecessor covering four leases in Upton County was a 1/16th of 35/64ths of 7/8ths in all four leases. Apache Deepwater acquired the four leases (after a wrong turn at Sabine Pass?). By the time of the acquisition two leases were of a 35/64ths mineral interest and two others were 3/64ths.

Tracts on two leases had expired for lack of production. Apache reduced the payment proportionately.

McDaniel’s losing proposition

The equation, 1/16th of 35/64ths of 7/8ths, states the production payment as a percentage of the cumulative working interests. This indicates the parties’ intent to burden the individual leases jointly with a production payment based upon the original cumulative working interest conveyed. The production payment was reserved from the conveyance as a whole, binding all of the leases jointly.

The result, and why

The production payment must be reduced when a lease expires. Neither the inclusion of four leases in a single instrument nor the instrument’s statement of the cumulative interest as a single fraction demonstrates that the parties intended the production payment to be carved from other than each lease. To the contrary, the phrase following the fraction ties the reservation to the assigning party’s interest in the “respective” leases. The court referred to Webster’s for the meaning of “respective’ and concluded it means “particular” or “separate”. This indicates that the interest pertains to each lease separately. The assignment neither states, implies, nor suggests the production payment would be unaffected by the termination of the leaseholds from which it was carved.  The assignment fixed the dollars in volume of oil to be delivered but that does not necessarily inform the rate at which it was to be delivered.

Takeaways

  • If the remaining leases hold up McDaniel will get his money, just not as quickly;
  • The parties could have written the assignment differently to achieve a different result;
  • Title examiners: Study the language carefully but keep the general rule in mind;
  • Everybody else: Hand off an instrument like this one to your title examiner.

Musical interlude

Many great song covers vary so much from the original as to be almost unrecognizable. For example, here is the original. Here is the cover. NOT SO FAST!  Having squandered so much of your precious allotment of waking hours reading this far, take a moment to waste a little more.  Go to the second cover; obscure enough of the screen so you can’t see the title (use that notepad where you’re recording your post-rebound getting-rich fantasies); hit “play”; see how long it takes to recognize the tune.

Or just forget it and get back to work.