Articles Posted in Oil and Gas Law

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Texas mineral owners contact me from time to time and ask why an oil company is drilling on their land when they haven’t signed an oil and gas lease. The answer to these questions lies in the Texas law regarding co-tenants. An interesting opinion was recently issued in the case of Radcliffe v. Tidal Petroleum, Inc. that addresses Texas co-tenancy law and how it relates to oil and gas leases.

Law of Co-Tenants

With respect to oil, gas, and minerals, the law of co-tenancy in Texas strongly favors exploitation and extraction of the natural resources. As a result, it has long been the law that a co-tenant has the right to extract minerals from property owned jointly by one or more co-tenants without first obtaining the consent of all co-tenants. The rule goes back to a case decided in 1912 and affirmed by the Texas Supreme Court in 1917.  The oft-quoted rationale is this:

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The staff of the Texas Railroad Commission is proposing amendments to the pipeline safety rules for oil and gas and other pipelines in Texas. These amendments will affect rules 18.1, 18.4 and 18.11. The amendments remove a reference to “intrastate” pipelines to make clear that the Commission now has safety jurisdiction over interstate (between states) as well as intrastate (within the state of Texas) pipelines. Additional amendments to bring the rules into compliance with federal law are new requirements that required excavator who damages a pipeline to notify the pipeline operator at the “earliest practical moment” but not later than one hour after the damage, and a requirement that the excavator must report any release of product from a damage pipeline by calling 911. The full text of the amendments can be viewed here.

The amendments are expected to appear in the Texas Register on November 24, 2017 and there will be a two week public comment period.

The Commission has been especially attentive to pipeline safety in Texas, given the highly publicized pipeline breaks in Texas and other states over the past few years.

 

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Given the increase in production of natural gas in Texas, some residents end up living close to a gas compressor stations. These stations are necessary to pump natural gas under pressure over long distances, but they can be large, noisy and produce offensive odors. Some Texans who live close to these stations have sued the oil and gas producers claiming nuisance or trespass.

In Texas, the elements of a trespass cause of action are: (1) the claimant has a lawful right to possess the property, (2) the defendant physically enters the property, (3) the entry was intentional and voluntary, and (4) the defendant‟s trespass causes an injury to the claimant‟s right of possession.  The Texas Supreme Court has noted a trespass of aerial space above the complainant‟s property may be committed by causing something to physically enter or crossover the land, such as the discharge of pollutants, soot, or carbon.

A cause of action for nuisance requires evidence of  a regularly recurring condition that “substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance to a person of ordinary sensibilities.”

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Collecting royalties from oil and gas production is one of the ways that a Texas landowner can generate revenue from their real estate.  Texas property owners who own their minerals can sign an oil and gas lease so that oil and gas can be produced from the land, in exchange for regular monetary payments, or royalties. However, oil and gas reservoirs are not often confined to just a single individual’s property, but instead  often stretch across multiple surface boundaries. When disputes arise over royalty payments, there is a sometimes an issue as to whether a lawsuit can be brought by just one individual landowner, or if neighboring owners who are also collecting royalties from the same oil and gas producer must necessarily be a part of the lawsuit as well. The Texas Supreme Court considered this very issue in the case of Crawford v. XTO Energy which was been appealed from the Amarillo Court of Appeals.

Why Must All Necessary Parties Be Joined in a Lawsuit?


The problem with not joining all necessary parties to a lawsuit is that a defendant could be exposed to conflicting judgements. For instance, if landowner A sues oil and gas producer X, and there is a specific outcome, and later adjacent landowner B sues oil and gas producer X, but there is a different second outcome, and the two outcomes may be inconsistent. Failure to join all necessary parties in a lawsuit can also be judicially wasteful since the court has to revisit the same issues in more than one case.

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As we discussed recently regarding the Texas Supreme Court case of Hysaw v. Dawkins, 483 SW 3d 1 (2016), old deeds, oil and gas leases, and other documents containing “1/8th royalty” clauses continue to be the source of confusion among the public, lawyers, and sometimes courts.

For decades, the standard oil royalty in Texas was one-eighth of the total royalty. The standard was so prevalent that the words “one-eighth” or “one-eighth royalty” came to be synonymous with — and a proxy for — “the total royalty interest.” In the Hysaw case, decided in 2016, the Texas Supreme Court held that the words “1/8 royalty” was used in this historical manner to mean the “total of the royalty.”

The San Antonio Court of Appeals reached a similar result in the case of Kardell v. Acker, 492 S.W.3d 837 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2016).

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The question of “fractional royalty” vs “fraction of royalties” has historically been the source of enormous confusion for Texas mineral owners and oil and gas attorneys. The Texas Supreme Court recently provided more guidance on the question in the case of Hysaw v. Dawkins, 483 SW 3d 1 (2016). This case involved a will written in 1947, but the lessons of the case apply equally to deeds, oil and gas leases and other forms of conveyance.

The teaching provided by Hysaw concerning these “1/8th royalty” clauses is that courts and lawyers must use a case-by-case and fact specific approach to resolving questions of fractional vs. fraction of royalty questions. The courts are to effectuate the intent of the drafters; not apply a mechanistic “multiplication of double fractions” formula.

Why is This an Issue?

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When you ask a Texas oil and gas or real estate attorney to draft a deed for you, one of the first things they will ask you is just what do you want to convey: the surface, the water rights, the mineral interest, only royalties from the mineral interest or some combination of these? The reason is that a properly prepared deed must be specific about what is conveyed, and must use the correct language to do so. Otherwise, you or your heirs could end up in court over the deed’s meaning. Recently, the Texas Court of Appeals decided a case that demonstrates the confusion that occurs when the language in the deed is not clear.

In Reed v. Maltsberger/Storey Ranch, LLC, the court examined a 1942 deed in order to determine whether it meant to convey a mineral interest or simply a royalty interest.The deed said it conveyed “an undivided one-fourth (1/4) interest in and to all of the oil, gas and other minerals in and under and that may be produced from” certain lands in LaSalle County, Texas. The 1942 deed acknowledged that, at the time the deed was signed, the described lands were subject to an existing oil and gas lease:

And said above described lands being now under an oil and gas lease originally executed in favor of L.V. Chenoweth, Trustee and now held by said L.V. Chenoweth, Trustee, it is understood and agreed that this sale is made subject to said lease, but covers and includes one-fourth (1/4) of all the oil royalty and gas rental or royalty due and to be paid under the terms of said lease, insofar as it covers the above described property. (Emphasis added)

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In a case that is probably a recurring nightmare for oil and gas attorneys, the Texas Court of Appeals recently addressed the question of what constitutes a material change to a written agreement involving the purchase of oil and gas leases in the case of Ranger Energy LLC v. Tonya McCabe Trust et al. In 2008, Mark III Energy Holdings purchased eight oil and gas leases from Tomco Energy. Mark III Energy paid for the leases with a $4 million dollar loan from Peoples Bank. However, two of the leases were accidentally left out of the assignment to Mark III Energy from Tomco Energy. The mortgage lien also failed to include the same two leases. In 2011 and 2012, certain trusts purchased overriding royalty interest in these leases. One of the assignments to the trusts also omitted reference to the same two leases.

Mark III Energy defaulted on the loan and Peoples Bank sued. In settlement of that litigation, Mark III conveyed the leases to Peoples Bank in lieu of foreclosure and gave the Bank a modified deed of trust. Later, the Bank discovered that two leases were missing from the mortgage lien and modified deed of trust, so they took it upon themselves to unilaterally file a corrected mortgage and deed of trust which added the missing leases. Neither the Bank nor Mark III Energy signed the revised agreements. Instead the Bank just added the signature pages from the old documents. In 2013, the Bank sold the lien and indebtedness to an affiliate, Ranger Energy, who then proceeded to foreclose on the loan.

Ranger Energy filed suit to extinguish the overriding royalty interest in the eight leases. The litigation centered on the “correction instrument” statute in the Texas Property Code §§ 5.027–.031. Specifically, the Texas Property Code permits “a nonmaterial change that results from a clerical error,” [§5.028(a)], “a nonmaterial change that results from an inadvertent error,” [§ 5.028(a-1)] and in certain cases “a material correction” to a recorded instrument of conveyance. (§5.029). The statute also allows correction of nonmaterial clerical errors by a person who has personal knowledge of the facts relevant to the correction and the kinds of errors that can be corrected include “a legal description prepared in connection with the preparation of the original instrument but inadvertently omitted from the original instrument”.

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Texas oil and gas lawyers occasionally find themselves representing non-executive mineral owners. A non-executive mineral or royalty owner is someone who owns oil or gas royalty rights to a particular area of land, but who does not have the right to negotiate or sign a lease for the minerals and who usually does not have the right to receive bonus payments. The executive rights owner is the person who is has the exclusive right to execute oil and gas leases on a particular area of land and to receive bonus. Commonly, these relationships are created by a reservation in a deed, such as when someone sells their surface and mineral rights, including the right to negotiate an oil and gas lease, but reserves a non-participating royalty interest.

Recently, the Texas Supreme Court considered what duties are owed by the owner of an executive interest in minerals to the owners of the non-executive interests in the case of KCM Financial LLC v. Bradshaw. In this case, Bradshaw was the non-executive royalty owner and KCM Financial was the executive.

In this case, two deeds were executed in 1960 that reserved a non-participating royalty interest for Bradshaw of an undivided one-half of any future royalty, but not less than one-sixteenth share of gross production. In 2005, the executive KCM bought the land, and in 2006 KCM leased the land to lessee Range Resources for a one-eighth royalty interest and a 13 million dollar bonus. Nice payday for KCM!

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Texas oil companies, mineral owners and oil and gas attorneys are all familiar with the Texas Railroad Commission. The Commission regulates oil and gas drilling and production and oil and gas pipelines in Texas. The Commission is pretty diligent in making sure abandoned wells are properly plugged. Unfortunately, on one occasion, they apparently plugged the wrong well!

The well was located on a tract owned and operated by American Coastal Energy. American Coastal Energy filed for bankruptcy. Gulf Energy held a lease on the area containing  the well and reached an agreement with the Commission to take over the well. In exchange, Gulf Energy provided $400,000 to cover the cost of eventually plugging the well if and when Gulf Energy decided to abandon the well. The Commission agreed to postpone plugging the well.

The Commission hired Superior Energy Services, LLC to plug other abandoned wells in the same tract as the Gulf Energy well. While plugging the other wells in the area, Superior Energy also plugged the Gulf Energy well, apparently at the specific instruction of the Commission staff. Due to a clerical error, someone at the Commission transposed the coordinates for the Gulf Energy well with another well.