Articles Posted in Recent Cases

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Last week the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in Yowell v. Granite Operating Company, No. 18-0841, again grappling with the ancient Rule Against Perpetuities in the context of modern oil and gas transactions–the second time in two years in which the court tackled the inscrutable “Rule.”Top-Ten

The facts (simplified): The Yowells own an overriding royalty on production from a 1986 oil and gas lease. Upland Resources owned the lease. In May 2007, Amarillo Production Company took a top lease on the same land as the 1986 lease, and three months later it sued Upland, contending that the 1986 lease had expired. The parties settled: Upland’s 1986 lease wass terminated, Amarillo Production’s 2007 lease became effective.

The overriding royalty owned by the Yowells was created in an assignment of the 1986 lease that contains the following language, known as an “anti-washout clause”:

Should the Subject Leases … terminate and in the event Assignee obtains an extension, renewal or new lease or leases covering or affecting all or part of the mineral interest covered and affected by said lease or leases, then the overriding royalty interest reserved herein shall attach to said extension, renewal or new lease or leases; and an appropriate recordable instrument shall be executed to evidence Assignor’s overriding royalty interest therein. Further, any subsequent extension or renewal or new lease or leases shall contain a provision whereby such overriding royalty shall apply and attach to any subsequent extensions or renewal of Subject Leases.

The successors to Upland, Granite Oil and Apache, refused to recognize the Yowells’ continued overriding royalty in the 2007 lease, contending that the grant of an override in “future leases” violates the Rule Against Perpetuities. Continue reading →

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The oil and gas industry is at the beginning of a significant downturn. Oil and gas prices are down, supply is up, demand is flat. Another in the never-ending cycle of a boom-and-bust industry, now exacerbated by appearance of a potential coronavirus world epidemic and a sharp reduction in demand for hydrocarbons in China.

As in the past, a downturn in the industry results in a rise in bankruptcies, and this downturn is no exception. Two recent bankruptcy cases illustrate a new wrinkle in disputes arising from failed companies: Monarch Midstream, LLC v. Badlands Production Co., 608 B.R. 854 (Bkrtcy.D.Colo. 2019), and Alta Mesa Holdings, LP v. Kingfisher Midstream, LLC, 2019 WL 7580122 (Bkrtcy.S.D.Tex. Dec. 20, 2019). Continue reading →

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The Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in ConocoPhillips Co. v. Ramirez, No. 17-0822, a family dispute over ownership of minerals in 10,058 acres in Zapata County, and ConocoPhillips’ claim to an oil and gas lease covering those minerals.

In 1995, ConocoPhillips bought oil and gas leases from EOG covering 1,058 acres, the Las Piedras Ranch, in Zapata County. At the time there was one producing well on the leases. The minerals belonged to the Ramirez family. One member of that family was Leonor, who died in 1990, owning all of the surface estate and a 1/4 mineral interest in the Ranch. Her will devised to her son Leon Oscar Sr. “all of my right, title and interest in and to Ranch Las Piedras … during term of his natural life,” and on his death “to his children then living in equal shares.” Leon Oscar Sr. signed an oil and gas lease on the Ranch, which was acquired by ConocoPhillips. Continue reading →

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Last April the Fort Worth Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bluestone Natural Resources II, LLC v. Randle, No. 02-18-00271-CV, 2019 WL 1716415. The Court decided that, under Randle’s lease, Bluestone could not deduct post-production costs and owed royalty on plant fuel and compressor fuel. Bluestone has petitioned the Supreme Court for review and the Court has asked for briefs on the merits.

Randle’s lease was a printed form with an exhibit. The printed form provided that royalties on gas would be “the market value at the well of one-eighth of the gas so sold or used …” Exhibit A provided that “the language on this Exhibit A supersedes any provisions to the contrary in the printed lease hereof.” One provision in Exhibit A dealt with post-production costs:

Lessee agrees that all royalties accruing under this Lease (including those paid in kind) shall be without deduction, directly or indirectly, for the cost of producing, gathering, storing, separating, treating, dehydrating, compressing, processing, transporting, and otherwise making the oil, gas and other products hereunder ready for sale or use. Lessee agrees to compute and pay royalties on the gross value received, including any reimbursements for severance taxes and production related costs.

Continue reading →

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Significant cases on oil and gas issues in 2019:

In Texas Outfitters v. Nicholson, the Texas Supreme Court again addressed the duty of the older of executive rights to minerals owned by another.

In Trial v. Dragon, the Supreme Court delved into the arcane theories of the Duhig rule and estoppel by deed.

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Happy New Year.

The decade now ending was the decade of the Permian Basin.  Its rise in production changed the US to a net oil exporter.

Permian-Oil-Production

Permian gas production, a byproduct of the search for oil, drove down gas prices and resulted in a frenzied effort to build pipelines to move the gas to the coast.

Permian-Gas-Production

Continue reading →

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The Texas Tribune has published an article describing a remarkable settlement in San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper and S. Diane Wilson v. Formosa Plastics Corp, a suit claiming environmental damages for Formosa’s plastics pollution discharges into Lavaca Bay. The judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Kenneth Hoyt, approved a $50 million settlement – the largest ever for a citizen’s suit against an industrial polluter under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

Formosa argued that the $121,875 fine imposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality made the suit moot. In an earlier ruling, Judge Hoyt disagreed, calling the company a “serial offender” and saying that “the TCEQ’s findings and assessment merely shows the difficulty or inability of the TCEQ to bring Formosa into compliance with its permit restrictions.” I cited this case in an earlier post about the inadequacy of Texas agencies’ enforcement of environmental laws and the complexities of administrative enforcement actions.

Diane Wilson, a retired shrimper and environmental activist, was represented by Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and others. Congratulations to Ms. Wilson.

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Two recent court of appeals cases address the enforceability of liquidated damages clauses:  TEC Olmos, LLC v. ConocoPhillips Company, and Fairfield Industries v. EP Energy E&P Company. The Texas Supreme Court requested the parties in TEC Olmos to file briefs on the merits but recently denied review. In EP Energy, the court denied EP’s petition for review, but EP has filed a forceful motion for rehearing and the court has requested a response. In the meantime, the case has been stayed because of EP Energy’s bankruptcy.

A liquidated damages clause is a provision in a contract specifying a dollar amount (“liquidated damages”) to be paid by a party if the party breaches the contract. Such clauses are common in all types of contracts, particularly in the oil and gas industry. If a contractor promises to complete construction of a building by an agreed date and fails to do so, the contract may provide for a payment of an agreed amount for each day completion is delayed. If a party promises to drill a well in a lease or farmout agreement, the parties may agree that, if the well is not drilled, the defaulting party will pay an agreed amount as damages. If a lessee promises to keep a ranch gate closed, the parties may agree on a liquidated damages amount for each time the lessee leaves the gate open.

Texas courts have imposed judicial restraints on the enforceability of liquidated damages clauses. In 2014, the Texas Supreme Court summarized these restraints in FPL Energy v. TXU Portfolio Management Co.: Continue reading →

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Last March the El Paso Court of Appeals decided Cimarex Energy v. Anadarko Petroleum, No. 08-16-00353-CV.  The facts are these:

Cimarex leased a 1/6th interest in 440 acres in Ward County. Anadarko leased the remaining 5/6ths.  Cimarex asked Anadarko to let Cimarex participate in wells on the leases under a joint operating agreement, but Anadarko refused. Anadarko drilled two wells, carrying Cimarex as a non-consenting co-tenant. Cimarex sued for an accounting. The parties settled, Anadarko agreeing to an accounting and to pay Cimarex its share of net profits from the wells. Cimarex paid its royalty owner for its share of production “according to the terms of its lease, dating back to the date of first production.”

But at the end of the primary term of the Cimarex lease – December 21, 2014 – Anadarko stopped paying Cimarex, claiming its lease had expired. Anadarko took a new lease from Cimarex’s lessor. Cimarex sued Anadarko for breach of the settlement agreement. The trial court held that Cimarex’s lease had expired and dismissed its suit. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed. Cimarex has now filed a petition for review in the Supreme Court.

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In 2017 I wrote about consent-to-assign provisions in oil and gas leases, and I commented on a case decided by the Tyler Court of Appeals that year addressing such provisions, Carrizo Oil & Gas v. Barrow-Shaver Resources, 2017 WL 412892. In December last year, the Texas Supreme Court wrote on that case, No. 17-0332, Barrow-Shaver Resources v. Carrizo Oil & Gas. The court split 5 to 4. Although theTexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Small consent-to-assign provision in the case was in a farmout agreement, it sheds light on how such provisions in oil and gas leases would be treated by the courts.

The facts of the case are these:  Carrizo owned an interest in an oil and gas lease covering 22,000 acres in north-central Texas. It entered into a farmout agreement with Barrow-Shaver under which Barrow-Shaver was granted the right to drill wells and earn assignments of the lease, with Carrizo retaining an overriding royalty. The farmout agreement contained the following provision:

The rights provided to [Barrow-Shaver] under this Letter Agreement may not be assigned, subleased or otherwise transferred in whole or in part, without the express written consent of Carrizo.

Continue reading →

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