My blog has been nominated in The Expert Institute’s 2018 Best Legal Blog Contest! I’m in the category “Niche & Specialty.” And I have one vote already! So vote early and often.
Five years ago I wrote a blog entry titled “The Limits of Rational Decision-making.” The topic was a sociological study testing subjects’ ability to make decisions based on facts. The conclusion of the study was that knowledge does not increase a person’s ability to reason when it comes to politically charged issues. People’s biases prevent them from making decisions based on facts. I ended the post with these words:
Leon Festinger, a famous Stanford University psychologist, said that “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” Changing one’s point of view on difficult politically charged issues is difficult.
A group called “Ark Encounter” is raising money to construct a replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky, using the exact dimensions and directions found in Genesis. It will be more than 500 feet in length, three stories high, and built with planks, beams and pegs. When asked how they were going to get the more than 2 million species of animals now on the planet in the ark, they say that, in Noah’s time, there were only some 2,000 types of animals, and that all animals today descend from those original animals. Fitting myth to reality is no problem for believers. Changing their minds about the facts is more of a problem.
Osler McCarthy, the Staff Attorney for Public Information at the Texas Supreme Court, sends out an email to subscribers each time the Court issues opinions or orders. The email summarizes the facts and opinions of cases decided by the Court. It also includes a section called “Returning to Yesteryear” in which Osler lists historical events that happened on the date of his email. They are fascinating. Here’s an example:
On this day in 1862, noted by the Texas State Historical Association, Confederate soldiers attacked a force of Hill Country Unionists, most of them German, beside the Nueces River in Kinney County in what is known as the Battle of the Nueces. Nineteen Unionists were killed. The next day the Confederates executed eight who were wounded. Another eight were killed in October as they tried to cross the Mexican border. A marker in Comfort commemorating the battle is the only Civil War monument in the German language where the remains of those killed in battle are buried in the South.
Lawyers’ tools are words. We are often accused of using too many of them.
In today’s political climate, words have often lost much of their meaning. It is good to be reminded of the elegance and poetry of good legal writing.
So take a few minutes to read the Declaration of Independence, not just to remind us of who we aspire to be, but also to remind us of the power of words.
Here’s another flow diagram, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, showing sources and uses of energy in the US, sent to me by a client. Note how much of our energy comes from fossil fuels – natural gas, coal and petroleum. We are addicted to hydrocarbons, and will be for some time. Recent changes in weather patterns reflect what is becoming more obvious – increased CO2 in the atmosphere is warming our planet. But how are we going to stop driving our cars, running our air conditioners, powering our computers? The problem with fossil fuels is that they are too efficient a source of energy. (click to enlarge)
And here’s a diagram given me by my niece, who is studying biology. I can’t tell you anything about it except that it reflects the inner workings of a human cell. Things have certainly changed since I studied biology. Note the reference to “Energy” on the right side of the diagram, coming from glucose – sugar.
Although this has nothing to do with oil and gas, I’d like to share a great story about one of my partners, Doug Kilday. Doug is one of Graves Dougherty’s senior litigators. He and his family are also active members of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin. In 2017, the Kildays decided to combine their professional skills and their call to service and ministry by spending a year in Cambodia.
Doug and his wife Thais worked for International Justice Mission (IJM) (https://www.ijm.org/), the largest international anti-slavery organization in the world, working to end all forms of human trafficking, which currently victimizes more than 40 million people across the globe. IJM works to rescue victims, restrain and prosecute criminals, and restore survivors. The Kildays worked in IJM’s Phnom Penh office with local IJM employees. Doug’s job was to assist in prosecuting cases against traffickers in slave labor. Thais created systems to help the office manage their many cases. During their year in Phnom Phen Doug and the team conducted IJM’s first labor trafficking trial in Cambodia. Over the course of the year Doug helped conduct eight trials resulting in eighteen convictions. Doug: “There are more people in slavery today than at any other time in history. It is a 150 billion-dollar per year industry.”
On February 2, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War. I’ve been reading the biography of Stonewall Jackson; he and many of the generals in the Civil War first experienced combat in that war. As part of the treaty Mexico ceded the portion of Texas between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers, and Texas and the U.S. recognized the validity of titles to land granted by Mexico and Spain in this area, known as the Nueces Strip.
Of course the treaty didn’t settle matters in the Nueces Strip. In 1850 a movement arose to establish a Rio Grande territory separate from Texas. Its leaders called for a convention to form a provisional government and a petition to Congress to recognize the area as a separate territory. Part of the reason for the movement was fear that Texas wouldn’t recognize their land titles.
In response, on February 22, 1850, the Texas Legislature passed a law establishing a commission to investigate and recommend for confirmation title claims emanating from Spanish and Mexican land grants. Known as the Bourland Commission, it consisted of two commissioners, William Bourland and James Miller, and Robert Jones, a well-known lawyer and judge, to serve as the commission’s attorney. The commissioners gathered evidence, including documents, affidavits and testimony, and prepared an abstract on each claim and a recommendation as to whether the claim should be confirmed or rejected. The legislature then acted to confirm or deny applications for recognition of the land titles.
Every year I look forward to receiving William Osborn‘s holiday photo. William is an Austin oil and gas attorney, an amateur historian, a historic preservationist, an alley gardener, an all-around renaissance man, and my cousin. Every December for the last twenty-five years he has sent a photo to his clients and friends documenting the history of the oil and gas industry in Texas, along with an article explaining its historical context written by William. He has collected all of those photos and articles on his Texas Compound website, and you can view them here. Below is one of his photos:
Of this photo, William wrote: “On July 29, 1918, the Fowler Farm Oil Company S.L. Fowler Number 1, located on the northern edge of the Wichita County community of Burkburnett, blew in at a rate of 2200 barrels of oil per day from a completion depth of 1,734 feet. Within three weeks there were more than 50 drilling rigs operating in the immediate area. The Fowler Farm Oil Company drilled a second well on the same lease and then sold its entire interest in the tract to the Magnolia Petroleum Company for the sum of $1,800,000.00.” By June 1919 there were more than 850 producing wells in “the world’s wonder oilfield.”
William, whose interests include the history of railroads in Texas, has also built the Texas Compound on Highway 290 West, west of Austin. Since 1986 he has moved several historic buildings onto his compound, including a Santa Fe Railroad Depot from Dumas and Texaco bulk fuel warehouses from MCamey and Spur. He has also restored several old railroad cars on the property, including three “Texas Zephyr” railroad passenger cars and two Southern Pacific “Sunset Limited” passenger cars. William’s Texas Compound website includes historical photos of his restored buildings and passenger cars. A visit to his compound is worth the trip. He has also written a history of Jim Crow laws and Texas Railroads, “Curtains for Jim Crow: Law, Race, and the Texas Railroads,” published in Southwestern Historical Quarterly, which can be found here, along with his other writings. Below is a historic photo from William’s collection showing the inside of the coffee shop in Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Pride of Texas.”
I got the idea to start this blog after I made a presentation to a landowner group in which I distributed a checklist for negotiating an oil and gas lease. Soon thereafter, I began receiving calls from people who had found the checklist on the internet. The organization that sponsored my presentation had posted it on their website, and people searching for help on negotiating a lease found it. I decided that I should investigate this internet thing more closely, and that led to my decision to start this blog.
I have updated my checklist, and you can find the new and improved version here: Checklist for Negotiating an Oil and Gas Lease
And on a sadder note, I would like to mourn the passing of Tommy Nobis, the best linebacker ever to play for the University of Texas. He played for UT 1963-65, and was a member of its 1963 national championship team. He had a great professional career with the Atlanta Falcons, where he was the franchise’s first draft pick in 1966 and was known as “Mr. Falcon.” He still holds the record in the NFL for most tackles in a season, at 294. Nobis died December 13. He attended the football banquet at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in 1965 where I was a sophomore and played defensive guard and center. My jersey, like Nobis’s, was number 60. He and I both sported a flat-top haircut, and for the rest of my high school football career my nickname was “Nobis.” Requiescat in pace, Tommy.
I ran across a blog post by Andy Nold, a surveyor, about his research into a large subdivision of land in Reeves County. It provides great incite into the challenges faced by surveyors in West Texas. Here is his post, with permission:
Today’s surveying challenge is the garden spot of northern Reeves County, Texas. Mont Clair is a dusty little burg miles from civilization and services that makes Orla look like a major metropolitan destination. Mont Clair was platted in 1911 over several sections of Blocks 57 and 58 of Township 1 of the T&P Railway Company Survey, bisected by the Pecos River Railroad (later the Panhandle and Santa Fe). Speculation on a great land rush brought by the development of canals and cheap farmland, Mont Clair joined many other now defunct towns along the railroad like Arno, Angeles, Dixieland, Riverton, and Patrole. Unfortunately, the sales of Pecos River water rights far exceeded the actual quantity of water that the river could provide especially with the development of dams and lakes in New Mexico that reduced the flow.
The subdivision plat was signed by J.L. Walker, president of the Pecos Valley Interstate Livestock Company whose principle place of business was Groesbeck, Limestone County, Texas. The partnership included L.B. Cobb, Jr., W.W. Brown, R.L. Reese, R.M. Cralle, L.L. Brown and F.F. Brown. The plat purports to be based on a survey made by L.B. Cobb. It is a very large map and has no recording information. The plat is kept in a big folder at the courthouse and all the deeds referencing it just cite “Lot #, Block # in the Town of Mont Clair, Reeves County, Texas as shown by the map or plat of said town of record in the Deed Records of Reeves County, Texas.”
The town is aligned to the railroad, occupying most of Section 18 and portions of Sections 13 and 19. The north town limits are annotated N 70°20’ E. The east line of Section 18, Block 57, Twp. 1 is annotated NS and the Pecos River Railroad slices through the east third of town on a 50-foot right-of-way. There is no call for any monumentation and no ties to the section corners. The blocks are 250’x250’ with 20-foot alleys and 60-foot street rights-of-way.
Several other sections adjoining the town lots and in the vicinity are also platted into farm lots, 80 equal sized lots on the typical section ringed with an apparent right-of-way of unknown dimension. It is my belief that the sections were presumed to be 640 acres oriented to the cardinal directions.
A Reeves County history says that a Post Office was organized for Mont Clair in 1911. I do not know if any buildings or residences were constructed at all. I have found nothing indicating a railroad depot was ever here, although several of the other ghost towns listed did have a depot at one point. Lot and farm sales must have been good because in 1952, G. E. Ramsey and G. E. Ramsey, Jr., sued over 1,000 property owners and won a judgment in a Trespass to Try Title suit.
While the Ramseys did gain title to close to 6000 acres of land, some landowners successfully defended their title. Other landowners successfully sued for the return of their property a few years later. My company has been hired to locate 2 of the town lots and 2 of the farm tracts. You may wonder why anyone would be concerned about a few acres of scrub desert land that can barely support cattle or farming in the middle of nowhere. You might be surprised to learn that the commuter adjusted daytime population of the ghost town of Mont Clair is much greater than zero as various people pursue their daily occupations. The town sits atop the Delaware Basin oil shale formation which has some of the most active oilfields in Texas. I’m sure the landowners who sued to reclaim their property were more concerned about maintaining their mineral interests than the surface use.
In talking to one of the Reeves County officials, the plat has never been vacated. No field work has been scheduled yet but I am not optimistic about finding any evidence. We have previously tied the railroad right-of-way through this section and there are several different opinions about where the section corners are supposed to be as evidenced by multiple monuments at each corner. Continue reading →