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.


Mineral Buyer Unable to Demand Prior Unclaimed Royalties From Comptroller

Enerlex, Inc. v. Hegar, No. 03-18-00238-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6771 (Tex. App.—Austin Aug. 7, 2019, pet. filed)

In Enerlex, the Austin Court of Appeals held that a mineral buyer could not demand payment from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts for prior unclaimed royalty payments relating to the purchased royalty interest, because those royalty payments were turned over to the Comptroller under the prior owner/grantor’s name.

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Texas Courts Continue to Analyze Oil and Gas Cases Under the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act

McDonald Oilfield Operations, LLC v. 3B Insp., LLC, No. 01-18-00118-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6400 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] July 25, 2019, no pet.) and Pearl Energy Inv. Mgmt., LLC v. Gravitas Res. Corp., 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 6833 (Tex. App.—Dallas Aug. 7, 2019, no pet.)

In this business torts case between pipeline monitoring companies, Houston’s First Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred by denying a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA). At issue were causes of action for defamation, business disparagement, tortious interference with contract, and tortious interference with prospective business relations. Each of these causes of action centered around an alleged conversation where Kelly McDonald contacted a former client of 3B Inspection, and said 3B was “not a real company” and its principal “did not know what he was doing.” 3B also asserted that McDonald Oilfield intentionally cancelled sponsorship of federal “Operator Qualifications,” allegedly with “malicious intent to shut down the project and cause harm to 3B Inspection’s business relationship with its client.”

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Mineral Lien Claimant Must Establish Materials Were “Used In” Mineral Activities

ELG Oil, LLC v. Stranco Servs., LLC, No. 04-19-00088-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 8946 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Oct. 9, 2019, no pet.)

In this case, the San Antonio Court of Appeals held that a mineral subcontractor claiming a mineral lien must conclusively establish that its labor, materials, machinery, and supplies were “used in” mineral activities, not merely “related to” mineral activities.

ELG entered into a contract with Turn-Key Specialists, Inc. to add natural gas bullet storage tanks to a treatment facility. Turn-Key then subcontracted to Stranco. Stranco was presumably not paid for its work, and Turn-Key filed for bankruptcy. Stranco filed suit against ELG, and moved for a partial summary judgment on its claim to foreclose on its alleged mineral lien. The trial court granted Stranco’s motion and awarded Stranco attorney’s fees.

Stranco contended that it was only required to prove that its labor and services were “related to” mineral activities. The court acknowledged that Section 56.002 of the Texas Property Code provides for mineral liens “to secure payment for labor or services related to the mineral activities.” However, the appellate court pointed out that Stranco must qualify as a “mineral subcontractor” in order to claim a lien, and the statutory definition of “mineral subcontractor” requires a mineral subcontractor “conclusively establish the labor and services it provided were ‘used in’ mineral activities.” The court also pointed out that “mineral activities” is defined, in pertinent part, as certain types of work “on oil or gas pipelines.”

The appellate court then turned to Stranco’s summary judgment evidence. Stranco primarily relied upon an affidavit from its owner, stating that Stranco performed mineral activities on ELG’s property, including work on the “pipelines and the pipeline terminal station” and furnishing materials “used in connection with … pipelines and the pipeline terminal station.”

The appellate court characterized Stranco’s affidavit as conclusory because it failed to provide any facts showing how Stranco’s work and materials on the bullet storage tanks were connected to the oil and gas pipelines. The court acknowledged that, to be “used in” mineral activities, the work did not have to be performed directly on the pipelines themselves, but Stranco’s summary judgment evidence failed to establish a link between the bullet storage tanks and the pipelines.

The failure to link Stranco’s work to the pipelines themselves was further exacerbated by ELG’s summary judgment evidence. ELG submitted two affidavits which described the work Stranco performed as being limited to the addition of bullet storage tanks within the facility, and not work on pipelines themselves. ELG’s affidavits further indicated that no pipelines that combine in the facility and the pipelines were actually segregated from the facility. The court explained that “we must resolve all doubts in favor of ELG.”

As a result, the San Antonio Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Stranco, reversed the trial court’s judgment, and remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings.


Class Certification Denied in Royalty Class Action Suit

Regmund v. Talisman Energy USA, Inc., No. 4:16-CV-02960, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110363 (S.D. Tex. 2019)

The Plaintiffs, a putative class of lessors under oil and gas leases, brought claims against Talisman Energy USA, Inc. (“Talisman”) relating to Talisman’s “volumetric” method of calculating royalties. Some of the gas produced is “wet gas,” which requires stabilization prior to sale, which results in a reduction or “shrinkage” of the volume sold. Talisman commingled the production from numerous leases for processing at the stabilization facility, and then allocated the sales volumes back to individual leases on the basis of wellhead metered volumes (a “volumetric” allocation), and applied an estimate of overall shrinkage.

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Reworking Operations Held Not to Satisfy Continuous Development Clause

HJSA No. 3, Ltd. P’ship v. Sundown Energy Ltd. P’ship, No. 08-18-00113-CV, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 7254 (Tex. App.—El Paso Aug. 16, 2019, no pet. h.)

This oil and gas lease termination dispute centered on a disagreement as to what type of “drilling operations” constituted “continuous drilling operations” under a continuous development clause. The court held that the lessee’s reworking of existing wells did not satisfy the continuous development clause, resulting in a partial termination of the lease. The court held that, while the lease contained a definition of “drilling operations” that expressly included “reworking,” that was a general definition that did not control over the more specific terms in the continuous development clause. In reaching its conclusion, the court analyzed the role of several lease provisions, including the continuous development clause, retained acreage provision, temporary cessation clause, and an agreed definition of “drilling operations.”

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Employment Law Update: The Fifth Circuit Addresses Day-Rate Compensation Schemes Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

This summer, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed an often used and hotly litigated compensation  practice adopted  by oil and gas companies—day rates. Commonly utilized in the energy sector, companies engage highly skilled workers (such as drilling or well consultants) through an independent contractor arrangement and pay a “day rate” for the services of those individuals—a predetermined amount paid based on each day worked, regardless of the number of hours actually worked. Recently,  this  day-rate  compensation  scheme has spawned legal challenges across the United States. Specifically, in these lawsuits, workers allege (i) they were incorrectly classified as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and (ii) they are owed unpaid overtime compensation for hours worked over forty (40) per week.

In August 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) granted a “win” for employers adopting the day-rate compensation  structure. Specifically, the Fifth Circuit  in  Faludi v. U.S. Shale Solutions, L.L.C. held a worker paid a day rate was exempt as a Highly Compensated Employee (“HCE”) under the FLSA, and, therefore, was not entitled to overtime compensation. Although the court’s holding in Faludi was limited to whether workers paid pursuant to a day-rate scheme are paid on a “salary basis” as required for the HCE exemption, the Faludi decision marks an important shift in wage and hour litigation facing the energy sector.

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Texas Supreme Court: Executive Duty Breached by Refusing to Lease

Texas Outfitters, Ltd., LLC v. Nicholson, 572 S.W.3d 647 (Tex. 2019)

The Texas Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in Texas Outfitters v. Nicholson, addressing the duties an executive mineral owner owes to non-executive owners. The case focused on when an executive owner has a duty to sign a lease and to what extent efforts to protect or benefit the surface estate can impact this duty. The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment holding that the executive breached its duty and affirmed the trial court’s award of $867,654.32 plus interest and costs.

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Post-Production Cost Fights Continue: Supreme Court Holds the Phrase “Into the Pipeline” Set a Valuation Point for “Amount Realized” Royalties

Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co LP v. Texas Crude Energy, LLC, 2019 Tex. LEXIS 196 (Tex. March 1, 2019)

In Burlington Resources, the Texas Supreme Court held that an oil and gas royalty assignment that required the royalty to be delivered “into the pipeline” permits the payor to deduct post-production costs from the royalty owners’ payment, even if the agreement purports to prohibit such a deduction.

For years, Texas courts have found that when an oil and gas lease provides that royalty will be paid “at the well” or “at the mouth of the well,” the lessee generally can pay royalties net of all reasonable postproduction costs — even if the lease purports to prohibit such deduction. The reasoning has been that such language places the “valuation point,” (ie, where the production must be valued for royalty payment purposes) at a point before any post-production costs would have been incurred. In leases with a valuation point “at the well,” the Supreme Court has held that language prohibiting deductions for post-production costs as “surplusage” — or meaningless. In Burlington Resources, the Supreme Court held that the phrase “into the pipeline” mirrors the “at the well” designation and requires the same result.

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Offset Obligations: Court Holds Offset Obligation Not Dependent on an Expectation of Profit or Actual Drainage

Bell v. Chesapeake Energy Corp, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 1978, 2019
WL 1139584 (Tex.Civ.App.—San Antonio, 2019, no pet)

In the last edition of Producer’s Edge, we surveyed several recent offset cases. Those cases illustrate that horizontal shale plays have brought several unique twists and complications, which can significantly alter the traditional notion of an “offset well.” In addition, Texas courts focus on a careful reading of the actual language within an offset provision when determining both when and how to drill an offset well.

A recent case out of the San Antonio Court of Appeals, Bell v. Chesapeake Energy Corp, continues this trend of offset lawsuits. The Bell case addresses whether two different offset provisions required the lessors to prove the reasonable prudent operator standard, and how to calculate compensatory royalties for an adjacent horizontal well.

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Supreme Court Splits Over Use of Expert Testimony and Other Extrinsic Evidence When Construing Obligations in Oil and Gas Agreements

Barrow-Shaver Res. Co. v. Carrizo Oil & Gas, No. 17-0332, 2019 Tex. LEXIS 688 (June 28, 2019)

On June 28, 2019, a divided Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in Barrow-Shaver Resources Company v. Carrizo Oil & Gas, LLC, a decision that will impact what evidence a court can consider in oil and gas contract disputes and possibly how oil and gas agreements are negotiated and drafted. The Court discussed the line between admissible evidence of “surrounding circumstances” and inadmissible parol evidence, when prior drafts and the use of expert testimony regarding industry custom and usage is offered to construe an unambiguous agreement. The Court also discussed the use and function of “consent-to-assign” provisions and the inability to rely on oral representations that conflict with the terms of a written agreement.

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