Articles Posted in Lease clauses

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The Texas Supreme Court has reconsidered its decision not to hear two appeals involving retained acreage clauses: XOG Operating, LLC v. Chesapeake Exploration Limited Partnership, No. 15-0935, and Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. v. Discovery Operating, Inc., No. 16-0155. The Court initially refused to consider the cases, after ordering briefs on the merits in both, but on September 1 the Court reversed itself. It reinstated XOG’s petition for review in XOG v. Chesapeake, and it granted the petition for review and set Endeavor v. Discovery for oral argument on January 9, 2018.TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Small

In XOG v. Chesapeake, the retained acreage clause is included not in an oil and gas lease, but in an assignment of lease from XOG. The assignment provided that, once the continuous development period in the assignment expires:

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Last December, the Eastland Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Crystal River Oil & Gas, LLC v. Patton, No. 11-15-00217-CV. Crystal River owned and operated wells on an oil and gas lease in Stonewall County. The oil wells on the lease produced twenty barrels of salt water for every barrel of oil, and Crystal River operated a disposal well on the lease to handle the salt water. The disposal well broke down, and while Crystal River was repairing the well it shut in its oil wells for more than sixty days. Robert Patton noticed the gap in production and obtained an oil and gas lease covering the same lands, based on his claim that Crystal River’s lease had terminated. Patton sued Crystal River to establish his title.

The oil and gas lease provided that, if after the primary term production should cease, “this lease shall not terminate if Lessee commences additional drilling or reworking operations within sixty days thereafter …” and thereafter re-establishes production. The case was submitted to the jury, which was asked:

Did the Defendants fail to commence drilling or reworking activities on the producing wells in question within 60 days after the wells ceased to produce oil and gas?

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Provisions in oil and gas leases requiring the lessor’s consent to assignment of the lessee’s interest are common. A lessor may have reasonable concerns about assignment of the lease, especially if the lessor is also the owner of the surface estate of the leased premises. The lessor may have agreed to lease in part because of the reputation and financial condition of the lessee, and he or she may justifiably wish to have control over whether the lease can be assigned to a third party.

Lessees, on the other hand, dislike consent-to-assign provisions in leases. Such provisions may substantially impair the lessee’s perceived value of the leasehold estate it has paid for. Leases are bought and sold like commodities. In the Permian Basin last year, more than $25 billion of transactions took place transferring mineral leasehold interests. Those transactions are made more difficult when lessors’ consents must be obtained to close the transaction.

Before closing a deal to purchase a package of oil and gas leases, the buyer will review the terms of the leases, and included in that review will be identifying leases that require consent to assign. Typically such review will uncover consent-to-assign provisions, in which event the buyer will have to determine whether obtaining such consent will be a condition to closing the deal. In my experience, companies acquiring leases will typically divide the leases containing consent-to-assign provisions into two categories, those with “soft-consent” provisions and those with “hard-consent” provisions. A “hard-consent” provision specifies the consequences of failure to obtain consent — for example, that such a breach is grounds for cancelling the lease, or that specified liquidated damages must be paid for the breach. A “soft consent” is one that prohibits assignment without consent but does not specify a remedy for the breach. Companies may elect to acquire leases with soft-consent provisions without requiring the seller to obtain consent, based on the reasoning that the lessor will have to prove damages for the breach, that damages would be difficult to prove, and that the lessor probably will not sue for the breach. Without a specified remedy for breach in the lease, in particular a right to terminate for the breach, the reasoning is that termination of the lease for breach of the consent-to-assign provision would not be a remedy available to the lessor. The buyer will, however, require the seller to obtain consent for leases containing a hard-consent lease provision, especially if it specifies that breach of the provision would allow the lessor to terminate the lease.

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I recently wrote about two appellate opinions dealing with retained acreage clauses in oil and gas leases. A retained acreage clause requires the lessee to release acreage not assigned to a producing well at the end of the primary term, or at the end of a continuous drilling program conducted after the primary term. One commentator has said that the purpose of a retained acreage clause is to “replace the lessor’s need to utilize the implied covenant of reasonable development as the sole means to see that its  acreage is fully developed.”  Bruce M. Kramer, Oil and Gas Leases and Pooling: a Look Back and a Peek Ahead, 45 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 877, 881 (2013).

A retained acreage clause should be included in any oil and gas lease that covers a significant amount of acreage – more than 100-200 acres. Below is a retained acreage clause, from the TLMA lease form. TLMA is the Texas Land and Mineral Owners Association. I prepared the lease form, and TLMA provides it to all of its members:

Upon expiration of the Primary Term, or upon cessation of “Continuous Drilling Operations” (as hereinafter defined), whichever is later, this Lease shall terminate as to all the lands and depths then covered thereby except lands and depths then designated by Lessee, in accordance with the requirements of this Paragraph, to be within a “Production Unit” (as hereinafter defined) assigned to each well then producing in paying quantities on the Leased Premises or lands properly pooled therewith.

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In its 2009 Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2259, whose stated purpose is to ensure that inactive oil and gas wells get plugged and that surface equipment associated with those wells gets removed. I provided a summary of the bill’s terms in a post on this site. A summary of the bill’s requirements from the Texas Railroad Commission may be found here. The Texas Land and Mineral Owners Association, which lobbied for the bill, has now issued its report card: the Railroad Commission is not doing its job.

HB 2259 does not actually require that inactive wells be plugged. It imposes requirements on operators of inactive wells, depending on how long the wells have been inactive, to: disconnect the wells from electricity; post additional bonds to assure that the wells will eventually be plugged; and remove surface equipment from the wells. These provisions are phased in over a 10-year period. HB 2259 provides that an operator who does not comply with the new requirements will lose its operating permit (known as a P-5) — meaning that it will not have the right to continue to operate any wells in the State.

Recently, TLMA asked the RRC how many P-5 permits have been denied because of failure to comply with HB 2259. The answer: none. Even though, according to TLMA, almost 1,500 operators failed to comply with the statute.

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Recently some of my clients have received notices of class action settlements in Coll v. Abaco Operating, LLC, et al., in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, C.A. No. 2:08-CV-345 TJW. The case reveals a little-known aspect of royalty payments: many companies never reimburse their royalty owners for refunds of severance taxes.

Most royalty owners know little about severance taxes except that they are a deduction that regularly appears on their royalty check stubs. Texas imposes a tax on the value of all oil and gas produced in the state: 7.5% for gas and 4.6% for oil. Most producing states impose similar severance taxes. Pennsylvania has been debating whether to pass a severance tax in light of its budget problems and recent development of the Marcellus Shale in that state. Texas’ severance taxes are paid into its “rainy day fund” that has been much in the news of late.

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I always counsel my clients to provide in their oil and gas leases that they have the right to inspect and copy all documents of the lessee necessary to determine whether royalties have been paid correctly, and to audit the records of the lessee to confirm accurate payment of royalties. Royalty owners generally assume that the royalty payments they received have been calculated and paid as required by their leases. This is not always the case, as illustrated by a recent case, Shell Oil Company SWEPI LP v. Ross, 2010 WL 670549 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.], decided February 25, 2010. The case illustrates typical schemes used by producers to underpay royalty owners, and their efforts to prevent royalty owners from knowing how royalties are calculated and, when the royalty owners discover the underpayment, to prevent royalty owners from recovering the underpayment. 

In Shell v. Ross, the trial court and Houston Court of Appeals held that Shell had underpaid royalties due to Ross.  Shell has appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.  The Texas Supreme Court refused to consider the case, but Shell has filed a motion for re hearing that is still pending. Other producers are very interested in the case:  friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed by Chesapeake, Texas Oil & Gas Association, and the American Petroleum Institute asking the Court to reverse the Court of Appeals.

The facts of the case require some explanation but illustrate well the importance of verifying the correct calculation of royalties.

 

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A royalty owner in the Barnett Shale has sued Chesapeake in Oklahoma federal court for failure to properly pay royalties. The suit, Robyn Coffey vs. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. and Chesapeake Operating, Inc., Civil Action No. CIV-10-1054-C, was filed on September 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City. A copy of the complaint can be viewed here: Coffey v Chesapeake.pdf  The plaintiff seeks to bring the case on behalf of all royalty owners in the Barnett Shale formation, as a class action.

The plaintiff alleges that Chesapeake “employs a scheme” to reduce royalty payments by selling the gas to its wholly owned subsidiaries at a price “substantially less than either the market value at well or the amount actually received by Chesapeake Operating.”

The royalty clause in the plaintiff”s oil and gas lease is unusual. It provides for payment of royalties based on the “market value at the point of sale,” but not less than “the actual amount realized by the Lessee.” The clause says that all royalty paid to the lessor “shall be free of all costs and expenses related to the exploration, production and marketing of oil and gas production from the lease including, but not limited to, costs of compression, dehydration, treatment and transportation.” Most gas royalty clauses provide that gas royalties will be based on “the amount realized by Lessee, computed at the mouth of the well,” or similar language.

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A major issue in shale plays is the use of underground supplies of fresh water to fracture-stimulate the well. Horizontal shale wells are fracture-treated with fresh water to which various chemicals are added, and huge volumes of fresh water are needed. A 5,000-foot lateral horizontal well will use up to seven million gallons of fresh water. Depending on the availability of underground water at the lease, the operator’s use of that resource could have a substantial adverse impact on the landowner’s subsurface water supply.

 

The impact of fracing in the Barnett Shale was a subject of study by the Texas Water Development Board in 2007. The TWDB concluded that 89% of the water supply for the region of the Barnett Shale field was supplied by surface water sources, and that groundwater used for Barnett Shale development accounted for only 3 percent of all groundwater used in the study area. In East Texas, underground water is more plentiful and using it to frac wells may not place a strain on aquifers. But the Eagle Ford Shale is generally in a more arid part of the state where surface water supplies are more scarce and underground water is a more precious resource. Where the mineral owner also owns the surface estate, attention needs to be paid to the impact of mineral development on underground water supplies.

Companies have developed recycling methods to re-use frac water, which have been tested on an experimental basis. Devon has reported that it has been able to recycle a small percentage of the frac water used in its Barnett Shale wells and in the last three years has recycled nearly 4 million gallons. One obstacle is cost. It was reported that it costs about 40 percent more to recycle the water than to dispose of it by underground injection. Devon has said that its cost of recycling water in Barnett Shale wells is $4.43 per barrel, vs. $2 to $2.50 per barrel for typical water disposal into an injection well. Devon said that less than 5% of Devon’s revenue goes toward the cost of handling flow-back water. For a good article on recycling frac water, go to this link.

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EOG Resources has filed an application with the Texas Railroad Commission proposing the adoption of temporary field rules for wells drilled in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas that could have a significant impact on thousands of oil and gas leases in the field. The application proposes to consolidate 27 designated fields that produce from the Eagle Ford Shale formation, and the proposed rules will replace any field rules previously adopted for those fields. The consolidated rules would apply to Eagle Ford Shale wells drilled in Railroad Commission of Texas Districts 1, 2 and 4. A copy of the notice of the Railroad Commission hearing for the adoption of the proposed rules may be found here: 
eagle ford field rules.pdf. The hearing is scheduled for June 25, 2010, at 9 am in the William B. Travis Sate Office Building, 1701 Congress Avenue, Austin. Persons wishing to participate in the hearing must file a notice of intent to appear at least five working days in advance of the hearing date and serve a copy of the notice on the applicant and any other parties of record. More information can be obtained by calling the Office of General Counsel of the Railroad Commission at 512-463-6848.

Field rules are adopted by the Railroad Commission to govern the spacing of wells in a field. They specify how far wells must be from each other, how far wells must be from the nearest lease line, and how much acreage must be assigned to a well in order to obtain a permit to drill a well. The acreage assigned to a proposed well is known as a “proration unit.” Well spacing and density rules were developed by the Commission after it was given jurisdiction over oil and gas operations in Texas in the early days of the oil industry, principally because of unregulated drilling in the East Texas Field. Because of unregulated drilling in that field, wells were being drilled that were not necessary for the efficient development of the field, and oil prices plummeted. The Commission was also given authority to “prorate” production from a field — that is, to limit production, and to allocate or “prorate” the specified limit of production from a field among the wells in a field. The stated purposes of spacing and density rules are to avoid waste and protect the correlative rights of producers in the field. Theoretically, field rules should designate a size for proration units that approximates the amount of acreage in the field that can be efficiently drained by a single well.

The field rules proposed by EOG would provide:

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