Co-author Chance Decker

 Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company, LP. v. Texas Crude Energy, LLC et al is another chapter in the back-and-forth over deduction of post-production costs from royalty payments. In “clarifying” (royalty owners might say “retreating from”) Chesapeake Exploration & Production, LLC v. Hyder, the Texas Supreme Court held that a royalty delivered into the pipeline or tanks is akin to a royalty delivered “at the wellhead.” The lessee was entitled to deduct post-production costs from its royalty calculation, notwithstanding that the calculation was based on the “amount realized” from downstream sales.

Don’t read too much into it? Continue Reading Texas Supreme Court Clarifies Hyder

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.

A Louisiana lessee does not owe its lessor royalties based on hedging profits, said a federal district court in Cimarex Energy Co. v. Chastant. Cimarex, the lessee, hedged its gas contracts and didn’t pay its lessor, Chastant, earnings from the hedge.

As the court described it, hedging involves buying and selling financial positions as a strategy to avoid the risk of a price fluctuation. The hedging party uses financial transaction derivatives to minimize the risk if/when the price of the commodity drops below a certain level. 

Cimarex Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment is a good description of the hedging process and its value to oil and gas producers.

The question for the court was whether additional royalties must paid on amounts the lessee generated by a separate, purely financial, transaction from the sale of the oil and/or gas at the property.  The answer is “no”.

Chastant’s royalty clause provided for payment by Cimarex, on gas, of 1/8 of the market value at the mouth of the well and on oil, 1/8 of the price received f.o.b. the leased property.  In Louisiana, a royalty is the “landowner’s share of production, free of expenses of production.”

Chastant argued that since Cimarex calculated the hedge price in filings with the SEC, the hedge price constitutes “market value” under the lease. Chastant cited Frey v. Amoco Prodcution, a 1992 case where the Louisiana Supreme Court held that royalties were owed on a take-or-pay case settlement because the the take-or-pay payments were part of the “amount realized” under the terms of the lease. Therefore, said Chastant, any benefit derived by the lessee because of oil and gas production, even separate transactions, should be included in the calculation of the royalties due to the lessor. 

Cimarex argued that the lease royalty provisions are in keeping with well-established Louisiana principles in which “market price” is based on the market price at the well or field for the oil and/or gas. Therefore, the market price cannot be tied to some future financial transaction because of the oil and gas produced.

The court rejected Chastant’s arguments. To agree with Chastant would overturn decades of Louisiana oil and gas law by holding that standard lease language allows royalties to be based on something other than the price or value of the oil and/or gas. According to the court, such a holding would allow royalties to be based on monies earned by any transaction remotely connected to the oil or gas. Therefore, Cimarex did not owe royalties based on its hedging profits.

Many thanks to Ann Weissman for her contribution to this post.

“How long will you torment me and crush me with words?” Job 19:3.

Much like the long-suffering Job, the defendants in  Heasley v. KSM Energy, Inc. et al, did not like the words they were hearing. In this case, the words were their own, in the sense that the words were in the oil and gas lease. The Pennsylvania court reminded litigants that the words actually used in their contract will govern disputes between them. The court held that language in a lease executed in 1942 calling for an annual rental conditioned on production did not continue the lease once production ceased.  Despite the lessees’ best arguments, the condition in the lease was not an “either/or” choice. 

The habendam clause called for a primary term of 20 years and as long thereafter as oil or gas was being produced. The royalty clause provided for a royalty on production and annual rent to the lessor on each well “while the gas from said well is so used.” Production ceased and the lessor sued to terminate the lease based on lack of production. The lessees admitted that oil or gas was not being produced off the land, but contended that annual rental, not continued production, was all that was required to maintain the lease.

The court pointed out that the duration of an oil and gas lease can be tied to the lessor’s compensation in two ways. First, where a lessor’s compensation is subject to the volume of production, the duration of the lease is determined by the period of active production. Second, where a lessor’s compensation is a fixed amount unrelated to the volume of production, the duration of the lease is determined by how long the lessee continues to pay rent, regardless of whether the wells are still producing. In this case, the lease provided for both the payment of a royalty based on the volume of production and a fixed rental per well. But the fixed rental could maintain the lease only as long as “gas from said well is so used.” Accordingly, the payment of the rental was still tied to production and could not extend the lease. Once production ceased, the lease became a tenancy-at-will subject to termination by the lessor at any time.

Incidentally, the “et als” in this case were subsidiaries of Texas-based Exco Resources and EOG Resources.

P.S.: There was no evidence that the lessees complained as much as Job did.

Thanks to Lydia Webb for her valuable assistance with this post.