The El Paso Court of Appeals recently decided a case that involved the use of the surface of land by a solar farm that was objected to by the Lyles, the mineral owners of the property. That case is Lyle et al v. Midway Solar LLC et al.
The Defendant Midway operated a large solar facility on the property in Pecos County, Texas under a 55 year lease with the surface owner. The solar leases designated drill sites for the benefit of future oil and gas production at either end of the property. The drill sites were about 30% of the surface area. The mineral owners claimed that the solar panels and transmission and electrical lines and cables serving the facility interfered with their ability to produce their mineral interests. At the time of the litigation, the mineral owners did not have an active oil and gas lease for the property and were not actively seeking a lease. In fact, the Court noted that “(i)t is undisputed that the Lyles have never leased out their interests to any oil and gas operators and have no current plans to lease their estate or to otherwise develop their mineral interests at this time. They have commissioned no geological studies, nor entered into any drilling contracts for the minerals. Since January 1, 2015, the Lyles had not received a single request to lease or purchase the mineral estate in Section 14. And the Lyles conceded they had no plans for drilling any wells.”
The mineral owners filed suit based on several claims, including a claim that the solar panels were a trespass, and requested that the Court order all solar panels and related lines be removed from the property. The Defendants claimed that the accommodation doctrine authorized their surface use.