Texas House Bill 2207, effective January 1, 2016, statutorily subordinates certain real estate mortgages to oil and gas leases, introducing an interesting tweak to the long-standing and well-established “first in time, first in right” rule. However, this statute is not without its limitations. For example, it only applies to foreclosure sales for which the foreclosure notice occurs or the judicial foreclosure action commences on or after January 1, 2016. Additionally, the statute goes on to clarify that, although the lease is to survive the foreclosure, the right to use the surface estate may be terminated and extinguished by the foreclosure to the extent the security interest had priority over the lessee.
Oil and gas price volatility is as much a part of the energy business as drill bits. Few predicted that the current down-cycle would be as long or as deep as it is proving to be. While global events could turn and prices improve, lower prices seem to be a reality for now. Lower prices impact the finances of everyone in the energy industry. Insolvencies, business failures, and bankruptcies are inevitable in this environment; and when they occur, they affect everyone, at all levels and in all aspects of the industry. Though industry participants can’t change the price of oil, they can protect their interests in other ways. In times like this, fortune favors the prepared.
Law360, New York (September 25, 2015) — Over the last five years, American shale production has more than tripled. Since last October, however, the oil and gas industry has trudged through a long and pronounced slump in crude oil prices in what has been termed the “Oil Bust of 2015.” Oil prices dropped below $40 a barrel last month for the first time in over six years, and major relief from this slump may be distant as EIA recently announced that it expects crude to average $59 per barrel in 2016.
This low-price environment has been unfavorable for most royalty owners, as low oil prices generally lead to proportionately low royalty payments. It has also lead to a slow-down in additional drilling and development activity as many oil and gas companies slashed budgets for 2015 and 2016. Drilling contractors have stored hundreds of rigs, and oil and gas companies have drastically reduced their workforces. A strong indicator of this slow-down can be found in the Texas Railroad Commission drilling statistics, showing 964 permits issued last month in Texas, compared with 2,440 in August of 2014. Read More »
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.
Effective January 1, 2010, the SEC adopted amendments to its oil and gas reporting requirements for publicly traded exploration and production companies. Among the amendments was the expansion of the definition of “PUD” (proved undeveloped reserves). Under the new rules, E&P companies are allowed to include in their reserve report PUDs that they were not able to disclose under the previous rules. The catch is that if an E&P company does not timely develop its PUDs, it may be forced to write them off.
Fast forward five years: 2015 – The price of oil has dropped dramatically causing E&P companies to significantly reign in their operations. But what about developing those PUDs that E&P companies listed on their reserve report five years ago? This article will address how changes to the SEC disclosure rules five years ago are impacting E&P companies today. Read More »
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.”
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 »
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,  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 »
|1.||↑||Opinion not yet published, San Antonio Court of Appeals (4th Dist.), August 19, 2014.|
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.,  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.
|1.||↑||No. 04-15-00066-CV (San Antonio – August 5, 2015).|
In Anderson Energy Corp. v. Dominion Oklahoma Texas Exploration & Prod., Inc.,  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:
- Whether the AMI and Pref Right clauses covered interests acquired after execution of the JOA, based largely on the extent of the “Contract Area;”
- The Term of the JOA where the parties failed to select one of the printed options;
- Whether the above claims were precluded by the Statute of Frauds; and
- Whether the affirmative defenses of waiver or laches precluded the plaintiff’s claims described above.
|1.||↑||04-14-00170-CV, 2015 WL 3956212 (Tex. App.—San Antonio June 30, 2015, no. pet. h.)|