The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers recently published its “Texas Rural Land Value Trends” for 2021. According to its website “Chapter members from all the regions of Texas provide data to develop the annual market study.” The study is a good source for current land values, leasing rates and even hunting lease rates. You can download a copy of the study without charge at the ASFMRA website.
The Texas Supreme Court recently decided a case involving a covenant to protect against drainage. In Rosetta Resources Operating, LP v. Martin, the Court considered several issues, one of which was whether the covenant had been triggered by language in the addendum to the oil and gas lease.
Rosetta and two other companies drilled a well on property that was near but not adjacent to the pooled unit that contained a portion of the Martin’s property. The Martins sued, based on language in the addendum, claiming Rosetta and another oil company failed to protect them from drainage by the nearby well. The Court held that the covenant in the addendum was subject to competing reasonable interpretations as to when the covenant was triggered and reinstated the trial court’s ruling denying relief to the Martins for violation of the covenant.
All of this underscores how important clear and unequivocal language in the oil and gas lease is.
There are no doubt a number of honest and reputable companies installing residential solar systems in Texas. However, based on the number of folks who call me each month about problems with the company they dealt with, there are a certain number of dishonest and disreputable companies as well.
Residential solar systems are incredibly expensive, often costing between $25,000 and $35,000. Before you spend or finance this kind of money, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you’re dealing with one of the good guys:
- Check out the company’s rating and complaint history at the Better Business Bureau website. In each case where I’ve handled a complaint for a client against a solar system company, that company had numerous complaints listed on the BBB website.
You can’t watch a newscast these days without seeing a Senator or Congressman or some other talking head insist that the actions of the current Administration in curtailing domestic oil and gas production and pipelines were unwise and that oil and gas production must be restarted immediately.
The posture of the current President towards domestic oil and gas production has certainly been irrational, to say the least. In attempting to appease the far left of the Democratic Party, Biden has not only crippled energy production, he has created devastating inflation and a critically dangerous national security situation. Oil and gas is not just essential for transportation, it is a component of many of the products we use on a daily basis. In addition, people may not realize that natural gas is essential for creating fertilizer. American farmers have begun publicly warning of food shortages beginning this summer and fall because of the inability to obtain fertilizer. Since Biden is doing this while importing Russian oil and refusing to ban the import of Russian oil as a sanction for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one might logically ask just who side he is on?
The problem is that even if Biden woke up tomorrow and removed all the impediments to domestic oil and gas production, there is no switch that gets thrown which results in sudden production. Instead, there is a substantial lead time to bring wells back online and into production. Drilling new wells, especially horizontal wells, takes time. More importantly, domestic oil and gas producers don’t trust the dementia-fueled irrationality of Biden and his advisors. They are not going to incur the considerable expense of drilling new wells, much less bringing existing wells back online, until there is someone with a logical and coherent and rational energy policy in the White House. Finally, even if and gas wells were to be allowed to be restarted and new wells could be drilled, we do not have sufficient pipeline capacity to get the oil and gas to refineries.
In a recent case decided by the Eastland Court of Appeals in Texas, Foote v. Texcel Exploration, Inc., the Court held that the operator of an oil well was not liable for cows apparently killed by an oil and salt water spill.
The Plaintiff leased property for grazing 650 head of cattle. Texcel Exploration Inc. operated an oil and gas lease on the property. The lease did not require Texcel to fence off the well and associated equipment, however Texcel had installed an electric fence around the tank battery (where produced oil and gas and salt water produced along with the oil and gas were stored). There was evidence that the cattle were breaking the fence each day and getting inside the fenced area and ultimately broke a PVC pipe on one of the tanks. Salt water and oil was found on the cows and eventually 132 cows died. The Plaintiff requested reimbursement for the value of the 132 dead cows, veterinary bills, special feed costs, shipping cost to relocate cattle, and lost profits from the surviving cattle being sold under expected weight.
The Court first sets out what is pretty well settled law in Texas for this situation: “[T]he owner/lessee of the surface estate in order to recover against the mineral lessee or operator for injury to his cattle must plead, prove and obtain a jury finding on one of the following:
The Texas Supreme Court recently issued its decision in Nettye Engler Energy L.P. v. BluStone Natural Resources II, LLC, Cause No. 20-0639, which has added to the Texas jurisprudence on the frequently litigated subject of post-production costs that can be deducted from a royalty interest.
The deed that conveyed the mineral interest to the grantee reserved a nonparticipating royalty interest “in kind,” which as the Court notes, differs from the standard monetary royalty because the grantor retained ownership of a fractional share of all minerals in place. The deed required delivery
of the grantor’s fractional share “free of cost in the pipe line, if any, otherwise free of cost at the mouth of the well or mine”. The question became which pipeline does the deed refer to: the gathering lines or the interstate transportation line?
The Fifth Circuit recently denied a landowner damages in their suit against a pipeline company. In Mary v. QEP Energy Co., No. 21-30195 (5th Cir. 2022) the Louisiana landowner had given the pipeline company an easement on their property. The easement had a right angle turn in it. Hard to imagine why the pipeline company agreed to this since pipelines really can’t be installed at right angles. At any rate, when the pipeline was laid, it “cut the corner” at the right angle and was laid partially outside the easement. 31 feet of one pipeline and 15 feet of the other were outside the easement.
The landowner sued for removal of the encroaching pipelines and disgorgement of all profits the pipeline company made from the gas that flowed through the pipeline. The Fifth Circuit held that the landowner could request removal of the pipelines or claim ownership of the portion of the pipelines outside the easement, subject to the pipeline company’s right to receive reimbursement for the current value of the materials and labor or the enhanced value of the land. However, regarding disgorgement of profits, the Court held that “Disgorgement in this circumstance is limited to the additional profits QEP earned, if any, as a direct result of installing the … (p)ipelines partly outside the servitude boundary, as compared to the profits QEP would have earned if it had installed the pipelines entirely within the servitude. ” The Court refused to hold that the landowner was entitled to all profits from gas flowing through the pipelines. Since the landowner did not offer any evidence of additional, incremental, profit due to the misplaced pipelines, the landowner’s claim for disgorgement was denied.
The case is Miles v. Tex. Central R.R. & Infrastructure, Inc., 2020 WL 2213962 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg 2020), pet. granted, (Oct. 15, 2021) [20-0393]. As you may recall, Texas Central wants to build high speed passenger rail service between Dallas and Houston. To do that, while some land may be purchased voluntarily, it will probably need to use eminent domain to obtain most of the land needed for the railroad.
The Plaintiff, Miles, claims that Texas Central has not shown a reasonable probability of project completion, as required by Texas Rice Land Partners, LTD. v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC, 363 S.W.3d 192, 198, 202 (Tex. 2012). Miles asserts that the Denbury decision requires entities show a reasonable probability that a project will be completed before obtaining eminent domain power.Miles contends that Texas Central has not met this standard, and so it does not have eminent domain authority. For example, Miles points out that Texas Central has not yet laid any track or done anything else that could be called operating a railroad. In fact, the Texas Central website admits they have not even bought any land yet, but instead “have control over” about 600 acres of land” (probably through options to purchase).
The National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture has recently published its Cash Rents survey. According to USDA, “NASS conducts the county-level Cash Rents survey every year in all states except Alaska. U.S. and state estimates are released in August every year. All qualifying counties in these states are represented in the sample. The target population is all farms and ranches that have historically rented land on a cash basis for any of the three land use categories. Land rented for a share of the crop, on a fee per head, per pound of gain, by animal unit month (AUM), rented free of charge, or land that includes buildings such as barns are excluded from the survey”.
You can access the survey for reported Texas counties here. The average asset value in Texas for an acre of pasture is $1800.00 according to NASS. The value of pasture and cropland as well as current rents can be important information in the event you are negotiating a surface use agreement with an oil company or negotiating a pipeline or utility easement.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas recently approved a settlement in the case of Regmund v. Talisman Energy U.S., Inc. You can review pleadings in the case here. Three royalty owners filed the class action lawsuit in 2016 alleging that Talisman Energy was under-reporting royalties and was improperly calculating royalties from 2013 to 2016. Talisman was acquired by Repsol S.A. in 2015. The suit claimed that the oil company paid royalties based on estimated sales of oil and gas rather than the actual volume of oil and gas produced and sold.
Talisman and later Repsol had become active in the last few years in the Eagle Ford Shale play area.
In the settlement documents, Repsol denies any wrongdoing. However, it certainly says a lot that they have agreed to repay all $24 million in royalties that the Plaintiffs claim are due.in addition, if Talisman or Repsol were under-reporting royalties to the Texas Railroad Commission, they certainly are going to be in hot water with that agency.