Case Law Update

The in-house attorney and in-house landman’s home for commentary, insight, and analysis of case law affecting upstream oil and gas.

19May

BREAKING: ConocoPhillips v. Koopmann

The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals released its Memorandum Opinion today in ConocoPhillips Company v. Koopman, 13-14-00402-CV. The case involved a deed which reserved a term NPRI for a period of fifteen years, or until December 27, 2011 and for “as long thereafter as there is production [of oil, gas, or minerals from the land] in paying quantities.”

The deed also included a savings clause that provided as follows:

[I]f any oil, gas, or mineral or mining lease covering [the Koopmanns’ land] is maintained in force and effect by payment of shut-in royalties or any other similar payments made to [the Koopmanns] in lieu of actual production while there is located on [the Koopmanns’ land] a well or mine capable of producing oil, gas, or other minerals in paying or commercial quantities but shut-in for lack of market or any other reason, then for purposes of determining [whether Strieber’s NPRI continues beyond December 27, 2011,] it will be considered that production in paying or commercial quantities is being obtained from the [Koopmanns’ land]. (emphasis supplied)

The lessee and NPRI owner claimed that these conditions were met and that a $24,000 lease extension fee constituted a “similar payment” to a shut-in royalty. The lessor burdened by the NPRI disagreed and suit was filed.  Among the issues addressed are:

  1. Whether a lease extension fee made under a paid-up lease constituted a payment that was “similar” to a shut-in royalty within the context of a savings clause contained within a deed reserving a term NPRI.
  2. Whether the term NPRI involved in that case created a future interest in violation of the rule against perpetuities.

Stay tuned over the next few days. We will be working through this case to provide our subscribers with a summary of the court’s holding…

25Apr
The Texas Supreme Court Decides Whether “Subject To” Clause Alters Who Must Bear NPRI Burden

The Latest Shot Fired in the Fixed Versus Floating Royalty Battle

This is a deed interpretation case out ofthe San Antonio Court of Appeals, arisingfrom the 218th Judicial District Court of Karnes County, Texas.

In 1991, the Harrells executed a warranty deed (“1991 Deed”) that conveyed approximately 10 acres of land to the Dragons. The 1991 Deed was subject to prior reservations and it contained the following new reservation by the Harrells:

Read More »

25Sep
N.D. SUPREME COURT ON DUTY OWED BY FIELD LANDMEN AND COMPENSATION FOR LEASE ACQUISITION

N.D. SUPREME COURT ON DUTY OWED BY FIELD LANDMEN AND COMPENSATION FOR LEASE ACQUISITION

On September 21, 2015, the North Dakota Supreme Court issued its opinion in Border Res., LLC v. Irish Oil & Gas, Inc., — N.W.2d —-, 2015 WL 5519421, 2015 ND 238 (N.D. 2015), where it reviewed two primary issues:

(1) whether a field land services company owed a fiduciary duty to an oil and gas company, and whether such duty was breached, when the land services company acquired leases within the “review area” and did not offer those leases to the oil and gas company, and

(2) whether the price to be paid to the land services company for other leases sold by the oil and gas company in a package transaction was the “blended price” of the overall transaction, or an allocated value of the specific leases acquired by the land services company.

This case is likely of interest to in-house and field landmen, as it provides additional guidance as to the nature and scope of the relationship between an oil and gas company and field landmen.  Additionally, it provides insight into the extent the AAPL standards of ethics and conduct bind landmen, and the importance of clearly addressing parties’ relationship and payment structure in service agreements.

Read More »

13Sep

Texas Supreme Court to Determine Whether Accommodation Doctrine Applies to Severed Groundwater Estate

The Texas Supreme Court recently granted Coyote Lake Ranch’s petition to review an opinion by the Amarillo Court of Appeals in Lubbock v. Coyote Lake Ranch, holding that the “Accommodation Doctrine” does not apply to the relationship between a surface owner and the owner of a severed groundwater estate.  In the context of a severed mineral estate, the Accommodation Doctrine requires that the owner of a severed mineral estate accommodate pre-existing surface uses in certain circumstances.

By granting Coyote Lake Ranch’s petition to review, the Texas Supreme Court will have the opportunity to address whether this doctrine also applies to a severed groundwater estate.  The decision in this case could potentially answer an important question regarding conflicts between groundwater production activities and existing surface uses.  With the oil and gas industry dealing with sub-$50 oil prices, and the public’s increasing awareness of the importance of water, the Supreme Court’s holding in this case will have significant implications to the development of groundwater in Texas.  As Texas A&M University School of Law professor Gabriel Eckstein told Law 360, this case “has big implications, some of which we can’t even imagine yet.”

Read More »

19Aug

Texas Court: Lessee May Not Exclude Other Lessees from Constructing Surface Facilities Or Drilling Through Mineral Estate

The San Antonio Court of Appeals, in Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC, [1] Opinion not yet published, San Antonio Court of Appeals (4th Dist.), August 19, 2014.  held that a Texas oil and gas lease does not inherently convey a right for the lessee to control the “subterranean structures” from which hydrocarbons may be produced.  As a result, the court held that the mineral lessee of a severed mineral estate did not have the right to exclude third-parties from constructing surface facilities on the surface overlying the lessee’s mineral estate and/or exclude third-parties from drilling wells through (but was not producing from) the lessee’s mineral estate.  The Lightning court identified the “central question” as being the nature of Lightning Oil Co.’s (“Lightning”) interest as a mineral lessee.  After reviewing cases from its own court and the Texas Supreme Court, among others, the Lightning court concluded that the surface estate owner, not the mineral estate owner, controls the earth beneath the surface estate. Read More »

Footnotes   [ + ]

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   [ + ]

6Jul

William Sciscoe v. Enbridge Gathering

On June 1, 2015 the Amarillo Court of Appeals issued an opinion [1] William Scisco, et al v. Enbridge Gathering (North Texas), LP, et al 2015 WL 3463490 (Tex. App.—Amarillo June 1, 2015, no. pet. h.)  concerning whether a landowner may have a cause of action for nuisance or trespass against a company conducting regulated oil and gas operations in the vicinity.  In reversing the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the defendant-companies, the Amarillo court held that a cause of action for trespass is available when particles migrate from regulated operations onto neighboring property and that liability for nuisance will not be avoided by mere regulatory compliance.

 The plaintiffs, including the City of DISH and several residents of the City (collectively, “DISH”) filed suit against several companies who owned or performed operations collateral to the “Ponder Compression Station.”  The Ponder Compression Station began operations in February 2005 and the neighboring landowners began to complain about excessive noise and offensive odors emanating from the operations.  However, DISH claimed that they did not learn the true alleged danger of the airborne particles until the release of an environmental report prepared in 2009.  Shortly thereafter, the TCEQ and the Texas Department of State Health Services performed investigations into the air quality and the effects on the surrounding community, both finding that exposure levels were no higher in DISH than in the general population.

DISH filed suit seeking compensation for past injuries, primarily for the diminution in value of the respective properties.  No pecuniary relief was sought for personal injuries or medical expenses, nor did DISH seek injunctive relief.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, but the judgment was reversed in part on appeal.

The Amarillo court rejected the Defendants’ contention that migrating particles could never, as a matter of law, be the basis for a trespass claim.  However, while the Amarillo court found that the migrating particles could constitute a trespass, the court made clear that the plaintiff must still prove the remaining elements of the claim.  DISH’s nuisance claim was analyzed in conjunction with Defendants’ arguments that a nuisance claim was preempted by local, state, and federal regulations.  However, the Amarillo court concluded that regulatory compliance will not insulate a party from liability because “[r]egulatory compliance or licensure is not a license to damage the property interest of others.”  The court did find, however, that DISH’s demand for damages in an amount equal to $1,000 per day that operations continued, was more similar to a penalty than compensation for an injury.  The court concluded that such a “penalty” would amount to a psuedo-regulatory scheme which is preempted.

The Amarillo court’s opinion can be found here.

Footnotes   [ + ]

22Jun

Utica Update: The Supreme Court of Ohio Weighs In On the Dormant Mineral Act

The Supreme Court of Ohio has begun to resolve the confusion surrounding Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act (“DMA”) as it issued its first decision on the DMA in Dodd v. Croskey on June 18, 2015.  The Court held that, under the 2006 version of the DMA, a claim to preserve that was filed after the expiration of the 20-year window but within 60 days of service of the surface owner’s notice of abandonment was sufficient to preserve a severed oil and gas interest.

The confusion results from two very different versions of the statute that co-exist – one enacted in 1989 and the other enacted in 2006.  The main difference between the two versions, aside from each focusing on different 20-year windows to determine when a severed oil and gas interest should be deemed abandoned, is that the 1989 version provides that a severed oil and gas interest will automatically revert to the surface owner without any notice afforded to the owner of that severed interest whereas the 2006 version sets forth a procedural vehicle that the surface owner must initiate before a severed oil and gas interest can be deemed abandoned.

Read More »

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 »

© 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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