Articles Posted in Legislation

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Representative Drew Darby, Chair of the Texas House Committee on Energy Resources, wrote the members of the committee to ask their input on issues that should be addressed by the committee during the interim between legislative sessions. A copy of the letter can be viewed here: Darby letter.

Of the 33 energy-related bills referred to the committee, it reported 22 favorably, nine were passed by the legislature, and two of those were vetoed by the governor – so seven became law. They are described in Darby’s letter.

Darby mentions two issues he believes should be suggested to the Speaker of the House as “Interim Charges” for the committee to study:  allocation wells and oil equipment theft. The legislature passed House Bill 3291, which would have increased penalties for oil-field theft, but the governor vetoed it, declaring it “overly broad.” Darby also reminds the committee that the Texas Sunset Commission will be reviewing the Texas Railroad Commission during the interim, and he expects the Sunset report to be a “significant focus of the Committee next session.”

Rep. Tom Craddick’s bill on allocation wells, House Bill 1552, did not make it out of the House Energy Committee, but lobbyists for the industry strenuously lobbied for the bill. Representatives of the University of Texas System and the Texas General Land Office testified that the bill would have cost UT and the State hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost revenue. Representatives of the Texas Land & Mineral Owners’ Association, the Texas Cattle Raisers’ Association, the National Association of Royalty Owners – Texas, and others testified against the bill as unnecessary and contrary to established legal precedent.

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The Texas legislative session has now ended. I followed 44 bills identified as potentially affecting the interests of mineral owners. Only two of those bills passed.

HB 40

The bill that produced the most controversy was HB 40, introduced by Rep. Darby, chair of the House Energy Resources Committee. It restricts the ability of municipalities to regulate oil and gas operations within their jurisdictions. This bill and several other bills were introduced in response to the referendum passed by the City of Denton barring hydraulic fracturing. The bill allows cities to adopt ordinances related to oil and gas activity only if the ordinance regulates “aboveground activity … at or above the surface of the ground, including … fire and emergency response, traffic, lights, or noise, or imposing notice or reasonable setback requirements,” is “commercially reasonable,” and “does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator.” The bill defines “commercially reasonable” as:

a condition that would allow a reasonably prudent operator to fully, effectively, and economically exploit, develop, produce, process, and transport oil and gas, as determined based on the objective standard of a reasonably prudent operator and not on an individualized assessment of an actual operator’s capacity to act.

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Last month I wrote about the Texas legislature’s efforts to limit cities’ authority to regulate drilling within their jurisdictions, after the City of Denton passed a ban on hydraulic fracturing. The bill that has emerged is House Bill 40, sponsored by Drew Darby, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee. It passed out of committee, but yesterday was returned to committee on a technicality. A companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 1165, has also passed out of its Natural Resources committee.

The bill would greatly limit cities’ ability to regulate drilling. It provides that cities may only regulate “aboveground activity related to an oil and gas operation that occurs at or above the surface of the ground, including a regulation governing fire and emergency response, traffic, lights, or noise, or imposing notice or reasonable setback requirements.” Any ordinance must be “commercially reasonable,” defined as “a condition that would allow a reasonably prudent operator to produce, process and transport oil and gas, as determined based on the objective standard of a reasonably prudent operator and not on an individualized assessment of an actual operator’s capacity to act.”

The bill leaves may questions unanswered. For example, Fort Worth has an ordinance that regulates saltwater pipelines.  Are pipelines an “aboveground activity” that cities can regulate?

Last weekend, about 50 residents living close to a well being completed by Vantage Energy were evacuated because of a mechanical failure in the well during the fracing operation.  Well blow-out experts were called in to regain control of the well. The incident is being cited by opponents of House Bill 40 to argue against restrictions on municipal regulation. A Dallas Morning News editorial yesterday said that “Homeowners and cities should have the right to see events like what happened over the weekend in Arlington and determine for themselves whether drilling is in the best interests of their community.” Protesters planned an all-night vigil on the Capitol steps in opposition to the bill. And last week, the Environmental Defense Fund filed applications for rulemakings with the Texas Railroad Commission, requesting that it adopt rules replacing municipal regulations for pipeline, truck traffic and special safety measures needed in case of a natural disaster. The EDF applications were undoubtedly intended to impress the legislature on the lack of RRC regulation of drilling in urban areas.

 

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Struggles over fracking bans have been in the news for some time in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico and other states. The State of New York has had a moratorium on fracking for several years. But until recently, cities and oil and gas companies in Texas had been able to get along. Until, that is, the City of Denton, Texas passed a referendum banning fracking with in its city limits. Since then, as we say in Texas, all hell has broken loose.

The day after Denton’s referendum passed, two suits were filed challenging its ordinance, one by the Texas General Land Office and one by the Texas Oil and Gas Association. In the Legislature, several bills were filed to limit municipal authority to regulate drilling. One bill would require cities to reimburse the state for lost revenue from any drilling ban.  Another would require cities to get approval from the Attorney General before putting any referendum on the ballot.

The two bills that appear to have the most legs are HB 2855, introduced by Drew Darby, and SB 1165, introduced by Troy Fraser. SB 1165 has been favorably reported out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. HB 2855 remains pending in the House Energy Resources Committee after a lengthy hearing at which representatives of the industry and municipalities testified late into the night.

HB 2855 would prohibit a city from enacting an ordinance that “prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting an operation under the jurisdiction of the” Texas Railroad Commission. And it delegates to the RRC “exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether the adoption or enforcement of an … ordinance … prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting an operation under the jurisdiction of” the RRC.

SB 1165 prohibits ordinances that “ban, limit or otherwise regulate an oil or gas operation” except for ordinances that “regulate only surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation, and is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.”

Cities claim that both bills would effectively eliminate the ordinances that they have carefully crafted, with input from industry, to regulate drilling within their municipal limits.

In 2011, the Texas Supreme Court decided Railroad Commission of Texas and Pioneer Exploration, Ltd. v. Texas Citizens for a Safe Future and Clean Water and James G. Popp, No. 08-0497. It held that the RRC’s authority to issue permits for injection wells, which requires the RRC to find that the permit will be “in the public interest,” does not give the RRC authority to consider traffic safety in deciding whether to grant the permit. The RRC strenuously argued that it had no jurisdiction to consider public safety issues in granting injection well permits. I was reminded of this case in relation to the debate over municipal authority, because, like injection wells, the RRC never considers public safety issues in deciding whether to grant drilling permits. Indeed, I suspect that the RRC would say, as it did in Popp, that it has no jurisdiction to consider such issues when granting a drilling permit. In municipal jurisdictions, issues of public safety are principally delegated to the municipality. City drilling ordinances address those issues – traffic, noise, emissions, etc. The City of Fort Worth’s drilling ordinance, considered a model for other cities, addresses those issues in great detail.

The proposed bills will leave a lot of open questions. When does a municipal ordinance “have the effect of prohibiting an operation”? When is a municipal ordinance “commercially reasonable”? Senate bill 1165 defines “commercially reasonable” as “a condition that permits a reasonably prudent operator to fully, effectively, and economically exploit, develop, produce, process and transport oil and gas.” It appears to me that these bills are licenses for operators to litigate with cities over their ordinances, in expensive litigation that some cities will be unable or unwilling to fight.

These bills were filed in response to Denton’s drilling ban. It seems to me that the most reasonable response, if any is needed, is simply to prohibit cities from enacting a drilling ban. The industry appears to be using the drilling ban as an opportunity to try to severely limit municipal authority over drilling.

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Here are bills filed in the current Texas Legislative session that may be of interest to mineral owners:

House Bill 539: This is the bill to prohibit municipalities from banning drilling within their jurisdictions.

Senate Bill 540: The Senate’s version of House Bill 539.

House Bill 1552: Filed by Representative Craddick, this bill declares that “allocation wells” – horizontal wells drilled across multiple tracts without pooling – are allowed by oil and gas leases unless expressly prohibited, and requires the Texas Railroad Commission to rule on how production should be allocated among the tracts crossed by the wellbore if the mineral owner disputes the lessee’s allocation method.

Senate Bill 118: Filed by Senator Van Taylor, this is the new and improved version of his bill from last session, authorizing forced pooling of tracts for secondary and tertiary recovery units. Titled (ironically) “Oil & Gas Majority Rights Protection Act for Secondary & Tertiary Recovery Operations.”

Senate Bill 402: This bill requires a company paying royalties, if requested, to provide the formula used to calculate the royalty owner’s decimal interest on a division order.

The text and status of these bills can be found at Texas Legislature Online.

 

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Colleen Schreiber has written an excellent article in the June 13 edition of Livestock Weekly, “Landowners Hold Off Oil and Gas Lobby on Common Carrier Bills,” describing the blow-by-blow negotiations and lobbying in the pipeline industry’s efforts to “solve” the problems created by the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in Tex. Rice Land Partners, Ltd. v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Tex., LLC, 363 S.W.3d 192, 198 (Tex. 2012).

Lined up on one side:  pipeline lobbyists supporting bills by Rep. Tryon Lewis, R. Odessa, in the House, and Robert Duncan, R. Lubbock, in the Senate, including the powerful Koch brothers, owners of Koch Enterprises.

On the other side:  Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Land and Mineral Owners’ Association, the Bass family, and plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Ultimately, all bills failed. The pipeline industry asked the Governor to add their issue to the special session but, so far at least, pipelines have been overshadowed by abortion bills and financing of higher education projects.

In Denbury, the Supreme Court surprised the pipeline industry by holding that they actually have to prove their proposed line will be a “common carrier” before they can use the power of eminent domain to condemn right-of-way. This left the pipelines, in their view, subject to interminable delays and suits by landowners unhappy with the pipeline routes, the terms of their proposed easements and the compensation being offered.

To “fix” the problem, the pipelines proposed that a pipeline’s common-carrier status be determined once for each pipeline, at a hearing held before the Texas Railroad Commission. Landowner lobbyists agreed to negotiate and agreed to consider the concept of a single hearing that would determine common-carrier status for a pipeline; but they wanted the hearing to be before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), rather than the RRC; they wanted to be sure all landowners likely to be affected got notice of the hearing; and they wanted strict standards to determine whether a pipeline qualifies as a common carrier. In the end, the biggest sticking point was whether the hearings would be before the RRC or SOAH. Pipelines obviously favored the RRC; the landowners, believing that the RRC would not protect their interests, favored SOAH.  (Most administrative hearings related to state agencies in Texas are held before administrative judges at SOAH. The RRC is one of the few agencies that has kept the right to have hearings before its own administrative judges, called hearings examiners.)

A bill might have been hammered out, but late in the game plaintiffs’ lawyers, led by Wayne Reaud, a lawyer who made a fortune suing tobacco companies, weighed in and refused to compromise. Reaud at the time was fighting a condemnation action brought by CrossTex for a pipeline that would cross lands he owns in Jefferson County. Reaud claimed that CrossTex should not have the right to survey on his land until it proved that it is a common carrier. He sought and obtained a temporary injunction to keep CrossTex off his property. CrossTex appealed that injunction to the 9th Court of Appeals in Beaumont, and the appeal was pending when the pipeline bills were being considered. (The Beaumont court has since issued its opinion affirming the trial court’s decision to grant the injunction. The opinion can be viewed here.) The end result was that the pipeline bills died in committee and never came up for a vote in either the Senate or the House.

Underlying the debate over the pipeline legislation is the perception by those representing landowners’ interests that the RRC is not the place to have hearings on the qualifications of pipelines to exercise eminent domain, and the insistence by the pipeline interests that the RRC be the judge. The RRC has jurisdiction to enforce other laws affecting landowners’ interests, and their experience has been that the RRC is not an agency friendly to landowners’ complaints.

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Terrence Henry, a writer for StateImpact Texas, has written a recent article, “Why Oil and Gas Lobbyists Were Big Spenders in Texas.” He analyzes two reports on spending on lobbyists and campaigns compiled by Texans for Public Justice. Lobbyists for energy and natural resources companies spent between $31.4 million and $62.5 million on lobbyists during the most recent legislative session, according to the report, 19% of the total of between $155 million and $328 million spent on the session. Incredible numbers. There are no limits on such spending in Texas.

Texas Railroad Commissioners were big beneficiaries of both campaign contributions and lobbying by oil and gas interests. Sunset-recommended reforms of the Commission, opposed by the Commissioners, failed to pass once again. The only RRC-related reform that did pass (but which the Governor has vetoed) was a requirement that a commissioner resign if he/she decides to run for another office.  Andrew Wheat, a researcher at Texans for Public Justice, says that’s because the oil and gas industry supported that measure:  “The [oil and gas industry] is interested in paying their bills while they’re commissioners. But they don’t want to pony up huge amounts of money every time one of these people wants to run for higher office.”

One important bill supported by the energy industry did not pass. It would have limited public participation in hearings at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in applications for emissions permits. The bill was opposed by communities and environmental groups. And pipeline companies’ bills to make it easier for them to exercise the power of eminent domain to condemn pipeline easements also failed to pass.

 

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The pipeline industry bill intended to “fix” the issues raised by Texas Rice Land Partners v. Denbury Pipeline, appears to be dead in the Texas legislature. The issue: requiring pipelines that assert the power of eminent domain to prove that they qualify as common carriers. The Texas Supreme Court held in Denbury that simply filing a form with the Texas Railroad Commission would not suffice; the pipeline has to show that it will actually use the pipeline to transport oil or gas for hire. This requirement could substantially slow the condemnation process, requiring pipelines to prove their common-carrier status each time they sue to condemn a right-of-way.

The solution proposed by the pipelines: have one hearing, at the Texas Railroad Commission, to establish that a proposed new line will in fact qualify for common-carrier status. That determination will then be binding on all landowners whose property will be crossed by the pipeline. Those landowners would be given the opportunity to participate in the hearings; notice of the hearings would be given by publication in local newspapers. The Texas Farm Bureau, the forestry industry, and other landowner groups opposed the bill. Most major oil and gas asociations favored the bill.

The bill, HB 2748, was defeated Friday on a procedural point of order raised by Democrats that moved it back to committee. Rural Republican representatives were faced with a difficult decision whether to support the bill, in light of opposition by rural landowners. Time is running out before the end of the session and it may be difficult to revive the bill.

Another bill, HB 3547, would establish common carrier status by a hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Industry representatives would prefer such hearings to be before the Railroad Commission, a friendlier venue. HB 3547 has not yet reached the floor. Similar bills in the Senate do not appear to be moving.

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State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. has introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to amend Texas’ Open Beaches Act. What does this have to do with oil and gas, you may ask? Read on.

Last year, the Texas Supreme Court decided a case interpreting the Open Beaches Act, Severance v. Patterson, 370 S.W.3d 705 (Tex. 2012). The case arose because of Hurricane Rita. Carol Severance owned two beachfront houses on Galveston Island, as rental properties. Because of Hurricane Rita, erosion shifted the beach vegetation line farther landward, causing both homes to be located on the dry beach facing the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, under the Open Beaches Act, the Commissioner of the General Land Office informed Severance that she would have to remove the houses and offered her $40,000 assistance to relocate or demolish them. Severance then sued the Commissioner in US District Court claiming that the Commissioner’s action constituted a taking of her property without compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. Her case was dismissed, and she appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court, after analyzing the case, concluded that Texas law was unclear on the matter, and it submitted “certified questions” to the Texas Supreme Court.

To understand the significance of Severance v. Patterson, it is necessary to go back a ways, to the Texas Supreme Court case of Luttes v. State, 324 S.W.2d 167 (1958). In that case, Mr. Luttes was claiming to own about 3,400 acres of “mud flats” lying on the edge of the Laguna Madre in Cameron County. The State of Texas holds title to all submerged lands along the coast, including lands within the Laguna Madre, the long, shallow lagoon that runs between the mainland and Padre Island along much of the Texas Gulf Coast. Mr. Luttes contended that these mud flats were part of his “dry land”, and not “submerged land” belonging to the State.

The original grant within which Mr. Luttes’ land lay was, like much of the land along the Texas Gulf Coast, originally granted by the King of Spain when Texas was a Spanish possession. When Texas gained its independence, it recognized the validity of land grants previously made by Spain and Mexico within its territory. Issues regarding title to original grants in Texas are decided based on the law in effect at the time the grants were made – in Mr. Luttes’ case, the law of Spain. So, in deciding Mr. Luttes’ case, the Court had to determine how the boundary between land and the sea should be determined under Spanish law in effect at the time of the original grant. The case was the first time the Texas Supreme Court had addressed this question.

The Spanish law addressing this question, as recognized by the Court, is known as Las Siete Partidas, or “The Seven Parts,” compiled in the 13th century. Spanish law declared the shore of the sea to be public property, available for all to use. A part of that law says: “and all that place is called shore of the sea insomuch as it is covered by the water of the latter, however most it grows in all the year, be it in time of winter or of summer.”  Because of its Spanish heritage, Texas has long considered its beaches public property — unlike many states whose antecedent law is the common law adopted from England, which holds that the dry beach above the ordinary reach of the tide is private land.

The Court in Luttes decided to adopt a “scientific” approach to mark the boundary between the sea and the land, borrowing from a US Supreme Court case decided in 1935 that addressed the question of the location of the shore boundary in California. The Court held that the boundary was “the line of mean higher high tide,” determined by the average of the reach of the tide each day during a seven-year tidal cycle.

The Luttes decision caused a huge controversy when it was decided, because it meant that the “dry beach,” the area between the “wet beach” and the line of vegetation — what the public understood to be its public beach — was in fact private property. If the public wanted to use the beach, it would have to wade in the water. As a result, the Legislature passed the Open Beaches Act. That Act declares that the public has an easement over the dry beach for its public use. And, since it was well known that beaches often erode, leaving homes and other structures originally built behind the line of vegation out on the beach, the Act created a mechanism for requiring removal of those structures. Private owners are never happy when this occurs, and there have been numerous cases involving the application of the act since it was passed, but until last year it was generally believed that the Open Beaches Act had solved the problem created by Luttes, at least as far as the public’s use of the beaches was concerned. That is, until Severance v. Patterson.

But what, you ask, does this have to do with oil and gas? Be patient.

So, in Severance v. Patterson, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Texas Supreme Court three questions. The first question was

“Does Texas recognize a “rolling” public beachfront access easement, i.e., an easement in favor of the public that allows access to and use of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, the boundary of which easement migrates solely according to naturally caused changes in the vegetation line, without proof of prescription, dedication or customary rights in the property so occupied?”

In other words, does the public’s easement along the beach move whenever the vegetation line changes, whether by gradual erosion or sudden changes caused by storm events? The Court’s answer: No. In the Court’s majority opinion the court, clothing its opinion in the language of “private property rights,” held that “[a]lthough existing public easements in the dry beach of Galveston’s West Beach are dynamic, as natural forces cause the vegetation and the mean high tide lines to move gradually and imperceptibly, these easements do not spring or roll landward to encumber other parts of the parcel or new parcels as a result of avulsive events.” In other words, if an owner’s house becomes stranded on the beach because of an “avulsive” event — a storm — the public has no easement over the newly created beach and cannot force the owner to remove the house.  Three justices dissented from the majority opinion, arguing that:

Texas beaches have always been open to the public. The public has used Texas beaches for transportation, commerce, and recreation continuously for nearly 200 years. The Texas shoreline is an expansive yet diminishing public resource, and we have the most comprehensive public beach access laws in the nation. Since its enactment in 1959, the Texas Open Beaches Act (“OBA”) has provided an enforcement mechanism for the public’s common law right to access and to use Texas beaches. The OBA enforces a reasoned balance between private property rights and the public’s right to free and unrestricted use of the beach. Today, the Court’s holding disturbs this balance and jeopardizes the public’s right to free and open beaches.

Because of continued erosion along the Texas shore and gradually rising water levels, it is feared that the public’s right to use Texas beaches will continue to be eroded — a direct result of the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings in Luttes and Severance.

Representative Dutton’s House Bill 325 is an attempt to overturn Severance by declaring that the “public beach” is “any beach area, whether publicly or privately owned, extending inland from the line of mean low tide to the line of vegetation bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, as the line of vegetation may shift over time as a result of avulsive events or other forces of nature.” It is not clear whether his bill has any chance of passage, or whether, if passed, the Court would be willing to recognize the public beach as the bill re-defines it.

So, what does all of this have to do with oil and gas?

The boundary between the sea and the land marks not only the line between the State’s ownership of the seabed and private upland, but also the line of the State’s ownership of minerals under submerged land. Texas owns title to minerals under the Gulf of Mexico extending three marine leagues from the shore. But a large portion of Texas’ submerged lands lie within the Laguna Madre, which stretches from Brownsville to Matagorda Bay.

laguna madre.jpg

 

Laguna Madre is in most places very shallow, two feet or less in depth. Wind-driven tides cause huge areas of the laguna to be sometimes dry, sometimes inundated. The Intracoastal Waterway, constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1930’s, runs the length of the laguna and allows for navigation.

There is one area of the laguna, called the “land cut,” located in Kenedy County, which is often totally exposed, from the mainland to Padre Island. It serves to separate the northern and southern segments of the Laguna Madre. In some seasons of the year it is covered with water – in other seasons it is dry mud flats. Below is an image from Google Earth of the land cut. The entire area encompasses about 35,000 acres of land.

land cut.JPG

 

 Beginning in about 1996, our firm represented the Texas General Land Office in a dispute with the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation over title to the land cut. The Kenedy Foundation owns the lands to the west of the land cut, given to the Foundation by Sarita Kenedy East. The Ranch encompasses some 235,000 acres, one of the largest ranches in Texas. The Foundation argued that the land cut, under the rules for location of the shore boundary established by the Texas Supreme Court in Luttes, was dry land and part of the original Spanish and Mexican grants making up the Kenedy Ranch. The State argued that the land cut – sometimes dry, sometimes inundated – was part of the bed of the Laguna Madre, owned by the State. The fight, of course, was not over the land, a vast mud flat wasteland, but over the mineral rights to 35,000 acres along the Texas Gulf Coast.

After a jury trial, the trial court entered judgment holding that the State owned the disputed land. That judgment was upheld by the Austin Court of Appeals.  In December 2000, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed. But the Kenedy Foundation asked the Court to reconsider, and in 2001 the Court agreed to rehear the case. During the interim, several supreme court seats on the court changed hands. Finally, on August 29, 2002, the Court withdrew its prior opinion and issued an opinion reversing the courts below and holding that the entire disputed area belongs to the Foundation. Three justices dissented.

As a result of the Kenedy case the map of the Kenedy Ranch as now shown on its website now looks like this:

Kenedy Ranch.gif

In effect, the Court ruled that the “shore” of the Laguna Madre adjacent to the Kenedy Ranch lies along the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway, a man-made channel.

I’m sure that the Court in 1958, when it decided Luttes, had no idea that it was giving away thousands of acres of submerged land in the Laguna Madre, or allowing the public’s access to beaches to disappear. Nevertheless, this has been the result. With the introduction of House Bill 325, the fight over the coastal lands and beaches along the Texas shore continues.

A footnote: The author of the Luttes opinion was Justice St. John Garwood. He was the father of Will Garwood, at one time a member of our firm and later a judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. St. John Garwood was of counsel to our firm after he left the court, and he was still coming to the office when I joined our firm in 1978. Justice Garwood’s most notable opinion during his time on the court was Luttes. His wife, Ellen Clayton Garwood, was a member of the prominent Clayton family of Houston and was known for having donated $2.5 million to conservative groups backing the Nicaraguan contras during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.  She testified in support of Lt. Col. Oliver North in the contra hearings before Congress. Her father was William L. Clayton, who served as Under Secretary of State in the Truman administration.

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State Representative Van Taylor, R-Plano, and Senator Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, have introduced a bill to allow for forced pooling in Texas. The House bill, HB 100, may be viewed here.

The bill would allow an operator to force-pool mineral, royalty and leasehold interests into a unit if the operator obtains agreement from 70% of the leasehold owners and 70% of the royalty owners in the area to be unitized. Unleased mineral owners could be pooled, and would be treated as owning a 1/6 royalty interest and a 5/6 working interest. The unit operating agreement can provide for a “sit-out” penalty of no more than 300% for a working interest owner who elects not to pay its share of the well costs. The bill does not allow force-pooling of mineral or royalty interests owned by the State.

Here is just one interesting provision in the bill:

Lease or surface use provisions that conflict with the use of the surface for unit operations in such a manner as to prevent or render uneconomical the implementation of the plan of unitization as approved by the commission must be amended by the unit order to the extent, and only to the extent, necessary to implement the plan in an economical and efficient manner.

If I read this correctly, the bill would allow the Railroad Commission to amend any oil and gas lease surface use provisions if those provisions “conflict with the use of the surface for unit operations in such a manner as to prevent or render unecomonical” the plan of unitization.

Another interesting provision: The operator can apply for and obtain an order forming the unit before getting approval of 70% of the royalty owners. The operator then has six months to get 70% sign-up.

The participation of unit tracts in unit production is not necessarily on a per-acre basis. The bill provides that

A tract’s fair share of the unit production must be measured by the value of each tract and its contributing value to the unit in relation to like values of other tracts in the unit, taking into account acreage, the quantity of oil, gas, or oil and gas recoverable from the tract, the tract’s location on the geological structure, the tract’s probable productivity of oil, gas, or oil and gas in the absence of unit operations, or as many other factors, including other pertinent engineering, geological, or operating factors, as are reasonably susceptible of determination.

Passage of this bill would materially change the nature of the relationship between mineral owners and operators in Texas.

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