Author: Austin Brister

Austin represents oil and gas exploration and production companies and landowners in a wide variety of complex commercial litigation matters, including contract and property disputes, royalty disputes, breach of lease cases, lease termination/perpetuation disputes, and an array of other issues in the upstream oil and gas sector. Austin has prosecuted and defended claims in state courts and federal courts. Austin strives to find practical business solutions to complex issues, but if necessary, he works hard to implement effective strategies in the courthouse.
8Aug

Appellate Court Holds that Landowner’s “Course of Dealing” Leads to Waiver

In June 2018, the Dallas Court of Appeals issued its memorandum opinion in Tollet v. Surface, holding that an ambiguous royalty provision in a groundwater lease, when read in light of the parties’ course of dealings, allowed the lessee to make royalty payments once per month with a 90-day grace period. The court also reviewed the landowner’s “course of conduct,” including a “continual failure” for four years to demand strict performance of royalty timing and metering provisions, and held that this resulted in a waiver of the lessee’s breach of those provisions.

Water companies and oil and gas operators alike may be interested in this case, as it underscores the importance of carefully drafting royalty and metering provisions, and illustrates the use of a “waiver” defense in a breach of lease case.

Read More »

5Jun

Tex. Supreme Court Splits Over Meaning of “Offset Well” in Shale Plays

The Texas Supreme Court issued a narrow 5-4 opinion in Murphy Exploration & Production Co. — USA v. Adams on June 1, 2018, interpreting a common “offset” clause contained in a 2009 oil and gas lease.  The majority held that the phrase “offset well” in that clause does not necessarily refer to a well that would protect the leasehold against drainage, but instead referred to a well drilled anywhere on the leased premises that was drilled to a depth required by the lease. The Court reached this conclusion based on interpreting that phrase in light of “surrounding circumstances” evidence of the discovery of the Eagle Ford and drainage patterns of horizontal shale wells.  Four justices dissented in an opinion that, among other things, criticized the majority opinion for disregarding the commonly understood meaning of the phrase “offset well,” which is a well designed to protect the leasehold from drainage.

Read More »

26Aug

Schlumberger to Buy Cameron – What does this Mean for A&D?

The world’s largest oilfield service company, Schlumberger Ltd., and one of the largest providers of oilfield equipment, Cameron International Corp., announced today in a joint press release that the parties have executed an Agreement and Plan of Merger under which Schlumberger will buy Cameron in an all-stock deal valued at $14.8 billion.

The parties held a teleconference this morning, as announced in their 8K filing. Under the Merger Agreement, Schlumberger Holdings will acquire Cameron in a transaction in which Rain Merger Sub LLC, a Delaware limited liability company and a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Schlumberger Holdings, will merge with and into Cameron, with Cameron as the surviving entity, and with Schlumberger Holdings acquiring all of the stock of Cameron. Read More »

5Aug

Case Law Update: ConocoPhillips Must Release 15K Acres

Texas Case Law Update: On August 5, 2015, the San Antonio Court of Appeals released its opinion in ConocoPhillips Company v. Vaquillas Unproven Minerals, Ltd., [1] No. 04-15-00066-CV (San Antonio – August 5, 2015).  affirming the trial court’s order declaring ConocoPhillips breached two oil and gas leases in Webb County by failing to release all acreage in excess of 40 acres for each producing and shut-in natural gas well capable of producing in paying quantities. As a result, ConocoPhillips was ordered to release an additional 15,351 acres. The issue on appeal was whether the retained acreage clauses allowed ConocoPhillips to retain 40 acres per gas well or 640 acres per gas well.

This case illustrates how appellate courts can interpret acreage perpetuation and release language in a lease in conjunction with regulatory rules. As such, this case underscores the importance of lease language that references regulatory rules, which may provide for spacing or proration units of a greater or smaller size than the default acreage provided within the lease.

Read More »

Footnotes   [ + ]

3Aug

Anderson v. Dominion – JOA AMI, Pref Right, Contract Area and Term

In Anderson Energy Corp. v. Dominion Oklahoma Texas Exploration & Prod., Inc., [1] 04-14-00170-CV, 2015 WL 3956212 (Tex. App.—San Antonio June 30, 2015, no. pet. h.) the San Antonio Court of Appeals answered the following questions involving a 1977 AAPL JOA, with a printed Pref Right, and a typewritten AMI:

  1. Whether the  AMI and Pref Right clauses covered interests acquired after execution of the JOA, based largely on the extent of the “Contract Area;”
  2. The Term of the JOA where the parties failed to select one of the printed options;
  3. Whether the above claims were precluded by the Statute of Frauds; and
  4. Whether the affirmative defenses of waiver or laches precluded the plaintiff’s claims described above.

Read More »

Footnotes   [ + ]

18Jun

TX Supreme Court: Chesapeake May Not Deduct Post-production Costs from Overriding Royalty

In a 5-4 decision, the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. v. Hyder, 14-0302, 2015 WL 3653446 (Tex. June 12, 2015), holding that Chesapeake is prohibited from deducting postproduction costs from an “overriding royalty interest” described in a lease. The Majority noted that while overriding royalty interests are generally subject to post production costs, the language used in the lease creating the Hyder overriding royalty shifted the burden of paying these postproduction costs to Chesapeake, alone.

Read More »

17Sep

The 1989 JOA: Horizontal Modifications and Other Crucial Updates

The 1989 JOA is one of the most common O&G forms. However, updates are need in response to 25 years of case law and continually evolving custom & practice.

Introduction

As we discussed in the last article pertaining to Oil and Gas Joint Operating Agreements, the JOA is one of the most commonly used instruments in the oil and gas industry today.  A JOA provides the crucial foundation upon which multiple leasehold cotenants can cooperate in the joint exploration, development, and production of oil and gas properties. For example, JOAs cover the terms and conditions under which the operator is to conduct operations, such as drilling the initial well, it provides a voting mechanism for future operations, and establishes a basis for which the costs of operations are to be paid.  In addition, the Form 610 describes how the cost and revenue sharing percentages of the parties are to be calculated, how the operators and non-operators will handle title issues, and also covers the potential future acquisition and/or disposition of interests within the contract area.

By far the most common form is the AAPL Form-610.  However, the last major revision of the Form-610 was made in 1989.  THerefore, this form simply does not take into account the last 25 years of crucial case law updates and changes to industry custom and practice.  As a result, many believe an update is sorely needed.

Recently, as will be discussed below and in future articles on this blog, the AAPL has created a new committee to update and revise the JOA to create a new major revision. Perhaps it will be referred to has the “2014 Form-610” or the “2015 JOA.” As of the date of this article, the committee has not yet finished this revision.

However, the committee has created and published a new minor revision to the 1989 JOA, designed to cover crucial aspects relating to horizontal operations.  In the next article in this series, we will cover many of the modifications introduced by  the committee in the Horizontal version of the 1989 Form 610 JOA.  Then in later articles, we will cover several important cases that have been decided in the last 25 years, many of which are routinely addressed in the Additional Provisions section of most JOAs today.
But for the topic of this article, what is this history of the AAPL Form 610 JOA? Why did AAPL publish a Horizontal version? Why has the AAPL formed a committee to produce a new major revision? Does it need a major overhaul? What are some shortcomings that have been experienced over the past 25 years?

Read More »

1Sep

Introduction to Joint Operating Agreements

The joint operating agreement (“JOA”) is the most commonly used instrument in the oil and gas industry, surpassed only by the oil and gas lease. [1]Scott Lansdown, B. Reeder v. Wood County Energy LLC and the Application by Texas Courts of the “Exculpatory Clause” in Operating Agreements Used in Oil and Gas Operations, 8 Tex. J. Oil Gas & Energy L 202 (2013).   A JOA provides the contractual basis for the cooperative exploration, development, and production of oil and gas properties among multiple leasehold cotenants. [2]Exxon Corp. v. Crosby-Miss. Resources, Ltd., 775 F. Supp. 969, 971-72 (S.D. Miss. 1991).  By and large, the most commonly used JOA form is the “Form 610,” curated and published by the American Association of Professional Landmen (“AAPL”). [3]3 Ernest E. Smith & Jacqueline L. Weaver, Texas Law of Oil and Gas §17.1[A] (2d ed. 2012).  Several other JOA forms have been adopted by the oil and gas industry, typically designed for use in specific circumstances, including (1) the Model Form of Offshore Operating Agreement AAPL Model Form 710-2002, and Model Form of Offshore Deepwater Operating Agreement AAPL-810 (2007), both designed for offshore oil and gas operations, (2) the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation Rocky Mountain Unit Operating Agreement Form 2 – Divided Interest, designed for use in Federal Exploratory Units, and The American Petroleum Institute Forms, which are generally used for enhanced recovery operations as to fieldwide units. However, the AAPL Model Form 610 remains the most common JOA form for domestic onshore oil and gas production.

In this multi-part series, we will explore many areas of JOAs, from basic to advanced.  In this first article, we will take a look at the basic purpose and function of a JOA. Read More »

Footnotes   [ + ]

9Aug

Wyoming: Can Lessees Pool Overriding Royalty Interests?

There is a debate among Wyoming oil and gas attorneys, and I wanted to weigh in.  Some (maybe even many) Wyoming lawyers believe an overriding royalty interest simply cannot be pooled in Wyoming without the owner’s direct and express consent. Of course, this is only a debate in the context of voluntary pooling.  However, I believe this issue is, at best, unsettled.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

The Framework in Texas

Of course, Wyoming is not Texas.  However, many states look to Texas law for guidance in oil and gas issues, simply due to the vast number of reported oil and gas cases in Texas over the last 100 years. So how have Teas courts weighed in on this issue?

The General Rule

In Texas, the general rule is that a lessee has no power to pool any type of royalty interest without consent of the owner. [1]PYR Energy Corp. v. Samson Res. Co., 456 F. Supp. 2d 786, 791 (E.D. Tex. 2006) clarified 470 F. Supp. 2d 709 (E.D. Tex. 2007).  This would include overriding royalty interests as well. [2]Id. Therefore, in order to pool an overriding royalty interest, a working interest owner will need to either (1) obtain consent of the overriding royalty interest owner, or (2) fit into an exception to this general rule.

Read More »

Footnotes   [ + ]

19Jun

Legalese: Standard Interpretive Boilerplate

“Legalese Schmegalese.” I first started reviewing contracts back in my days working with TIC Wyoming, Inc., a subsidiary of the Kiewitt  Corporation, reviewing large scale heavy industrial construction contracts for construction jobs such as oil refineries, natural gas compressor stations, and coal mine facilities.

I’ll be honest with you: my first impression of all the boilerplate legalese at the end of a contract was that it was totally unnecessary. I had the impression that these provisions were not ‘essential deal terms,’ and were drafted by some uptight committee of scholars.  This attitude is not uncommon amongst transactional attorneys – they are often concerned with ‘getting the deal done’ and making sure the ‘deal works.’

Since then, however, I have developed a different attitude. While the essence of the deal may be encapsulated in the other provisions of the document, subsequent dispute negotiations, arbitration, mediation, and litigation almost always involves the boilerplate language in one way or another. Read More »

© Copyright 2012-2018, McGinnis Lochridge LLP. All Rights Reserved. DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is for general information purposes only. This article should not be substituted for legal advice and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or reading this article does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You are encouraged to contact an attorney for legal advice concerning the information provided in this article.
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