Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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In this case involving competing claims to mineral-lease interests in two tracts of land, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court and court of appeals that the acreage Endeavor Energy Resources, LP and Endeavor Petroleum, LLC (collectively, Endeavor) retained under “retained-acreage clauses” in expired leases did not include the two tracts at issue. Discovery Operating, Inc., which drilled producing wells on the two subject tracts, claimed the mineral-lease interests based on leases acquired directly from the mineral-estate owners. Endeavor based its claim on prior leases with the same owners covering land that included the two subject tracts. Endeavor never drilled on the tracts, and Endeavor’s leases’ terms had expired. However, the leases included “retained-acreage clauses” providing that the leases would continue after they expired as to a certain number of acres associated with each of the wells Endeavor drilled on adjacent tracts. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the lower courts, holding that “a governmental proration unit assigned to a well” refers to acreage assigned by the operator, not by field rules. View "Endeavor Energy Resources, LP v. Discovery Operating, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in this case requiring interpretation of retained-acreage provisions in oil-and-gas lease instruments, holding that acreage “included within the proration unit for each well…prescribed by field rules” refers to acreage set by the field rules, not acreage assigned by the operator. XOG Operating, LLC conveyed to Chesapeake Exploration Limited Partnership and Chesapeake Exploration, LLC (collectively, Chesapeake) its rights as lessee under four oil-and-gas leases in three sections of land. Under a retained-acreage provision, the assigned interest would revert to XOG after the primary term. As relevant to appeal, Chesapeake would retain for each well drilled the acreage “included within the proration…unit” “prescribed by field rules.” The acreage not retained by Chesapeake would revert to XOG on termination of the assignment. Chesapeake completed six wells during the primary term of the assignment, five of which were located in an area for which the Railroad Commission had promulgated field rules. The sixth well was located in an area for which there were no field rules. In Chesapeake’s view, it retained all of the assigned acreage. XOG sued Chesapeake to construe the retained-acreage provision. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision that the none of the land at issue reverted to XOG under the retained-acreage provision. View "XOG Operating, LLC v. Chesapeake Exploration Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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The common law rule against perpetuities does not invalidate a grantee’s future interest in the grantor’s reserved non-participating royalty interest (NPRI). In addition, section 91.402 of the Texas Natural Resources Code does not preclude a lessor’s common law claim for breach of contract. The court of appeals concluded that the rule did not bar the grantees’ future interest in the NPRI. The court, however, found that the reservation’s savings clause was ambiguous and remanded the case for a jury to determine the proper interpretation. The court held that section 91.402 does not bar a claim for breach of contract. Finally, while determining that several of the grantees’ claims failed as a matter of law, the court of appeals upheld the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees against the grantor pursuant to Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a. The Supreme Court affirmed. View "ConocoPhillips Co. v. Koopmann" on Justia Law

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The lessee of certain mineral interests could not justifiably rely on extra-contractual representations by the lessor’s agent despite “red flags” and a negation-of-warranty clause in the sales documents explicitly placing the risk of title failure on the lessee. In its complaint, the lessee alleged breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. Following a pre-trial conference, the trial court issued an order under Tex. R. Civ. P. 166(g) disposing of all of the lessee’s claims, concluding (1) the unambiguous terms of the letter of intent and leases precluded the lessee’s contract claim; and (2) as a matter of law, the lessee could not establish the justifiable-reliance element of its fraud and negligent-misrepresentation claims. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling regarding the contract claim but reversed on fraud and negligent misrepresentation. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, holding (1) justifiable reliance was an essential element of the lessee’s remaining causes of action; and (2) as a matter of law, the lessee could not show justifiable reliance. View "JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Orca Assets G.P., LLC" on Justia Law

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In this dispute involving mineral interests pooled for natural gas production, lessors and other stakeholders alleged that the lessee underpaid royalties owed to them under their mineral leases and pooling agreements. The issues presented in this appeal centered on the lessee’s efforts to avoid a contractual obligation to pay royalties to the overlapping unit stakeholders for production from a zone shared by the two pooled units. The lower courts held that the agreement to pay royalties was enforceable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) ineffective conveyance of title does not preclude the lessee’s liability under a contract theory; (2) the lessee’s quasi-estoppel and scrivener’s error defenses to contract enforcement failed as a matter of law; and (3) the lessee was not entitled to recoup royalty payments from stakeholders in another pooled unit; (4) this court’s decision in Hooks v. Samson Lone Star, Ltd. Partnership, 457 S.W. 3d 52 (Tex. 2015) precluded the unpooling stakeholders’ claims; and (5) the court of appeals properly construed a proportionate-reduction clause to award royalties owed to the overlapping unit stakeholders in accordance with their fifty percent mineral-interest ownership. View "Samson Exploration, LLC v. T.S. Reed Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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In construing an unambiguous deed, the parties’ intent is paramount, and that intent is determined by conducting a careful and detailed examination of a deed in its entirety rather than applying some default rule that appears nowhere in the deed’s text. In this case, the Supreme Court construed a deed that conveyed a mineral estate and the surface above it. At issue was whether the language of the deed passed the entire burden of an outstanding non-participating royalty interest (NPRI) to the grantees or whether the NPRI proportionately burdened the grantor’s reserved interest. The trial court ruled that the deed burdened both parties with an outstanding NPRI and that the parties must share the burden of the NPRI in proportion to their respective fractional mineral interests. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the only reasonable reading of the deed in this case resulted in the parties bearing the NPRI burden in shares proportionate to their fractional interests in the minerals. View "Wenske v. Ealy" on Justia Law

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ConocoPhillips Co. and Alma Energy Corp. exchanged oil and gas interests under an exchange agreement in which each indemnified the other for any environmental claims related to the properties received. Alma later filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thereafter, Noble Energy Inc. agreed to by the properties Alma had received from Conoco under the exchange agreement. After the bankruptcy proceeding concluded, an environmental contamination suit was filed against Conoco, and Noble refused to indemnify Conoco under the exchange agreement. Conoco filed suit against Noble alleging breach of the exchange agreement and seeking to recover the $63 million it paid to settle the suit. The trial court granted summary judgment for Noble. The court of appeals reversed and entered summary judgment for Conoco, concluding that the exchange agreement was an executory contract that was assumed by Alma and assigned to Noble in the bankruptcy proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the terms of the bankruptcy court order confirming the plan of reorganization and the agreement for sale of Alma’s assets, Noble was assigned an undisclosed contractual indemnity obligation of Alma. View "Noble Energy, Inc. v. Conocophillips Co." on Justia Law

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Respondent was a party to an oil and gas lease that restricted its use of the surface estate and required it to drill from off-site locations when feasible. Briscoe Ranch, Inc. owed an adjacent surface estate and agreed that Respondent could use horizontal drilling to drill from the surface of the Ranch in order to produce minerals from Respondent’s lease. The lessee of the minerals underlying the Ranch (Petitioner) was not a party to the agreement and sought to enjoin Respondent from drilling on the Ranch and asserted claims for both trespass and tortious interference with a contract. Petitioner claimed that its consent was necessary before Respondent could drill through the Ranch’s subsurface covered by its mineral lease. The district court dismissed the claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the loss of minerals Petitioner will suffer by a well being drilled through its mineral estate is not a sufficient injury to support a claim for trespass; and (2) Respondent’s drilling plans did not tortiously interfere with Petitioner’s contractual lease rights. View "Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC" on Justia Law

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After BP America Production turned of the well valve to a gas well, Red Deer Resources, LLC, the top-lease holder, filed suit, asking the trial court to declare that BP’s lease had terminated. The jury found that the well was incapable of production in paying quantities the day after BP closed the valve and eight days after the last gas was sold or used. Based on these findings, the trial court declared that BP’s lease had lapsed and terminated, thus terminating BP’s lease in its secondary term. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered a take-nothing judgment in favor of BP, holding that because Red Deer never obtained a finding that the well was incapable of production in paying quantities on the material date under the plain language of the lease, BP’s lease remained valid. View "BP America Production Co. v. Red Deer Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

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Respondent, who owned a ranch, sued Petitioner, which produced natural gas on the ranch, for underpayment of royalties and underproduction of its lease. The parties resolved their dispute with two agreements that contained an arbitration provision. Respondent later sued Petitioner for environmental contamination and improper disposal of hazardous materials on the ranch. Before arbitration commenced, Respondent asked the Railroad Commission (RRC) to investigate contamination of the ranch by Petitioner. Meanwhile, an arbitration panel awarded Respondent $15 million for actual damages and $500,000 for exemplary damages. At issue on appeal was whether the RRC had exclusive or primary jurisdiction over Respondent’s claims, precluding the arbitration, and whether the arbitration award should be vacated for the evident partiality of a neutral arbitrator or because the arbitrators exceeded their powers. The Supreme Court answered in the negative, holding (1) because Respondent’s claims were inherently judicial, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction did not apply, and vacatur was not warranted for failure to abate the arbitration hearing; and (2) the arbitrators did not exceed their authority. View "Forest Oil Corp. v. El Rucio Land & Cattle Co." on Justia Law