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The recently completed session of the Texas Legislature several bills were filed addressing flaring from oil and gas wells — none of which passed. The number and variety of bills does, however, indicate the increased level of interest and concern about unwarranted flaring of natural gas.

HB 1377: Revises the Tax Code to eliminate the exemption from severance tax for gas “produced from oil wells with oil and lawfully vented or flared.

SB 1293 and HB 1494: Revises the Tax Code to impose a severance tax of 25% on flared gas.

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A colleague recently pointed out to me that I had miss-read the Texas Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Endeavor Energy Resources v. Energen Resources Corporation. In my previous post on the case I said that the Court had concluded that the retained acreage clause being construed was ambiguous and had remanded the case for a trial on the meaning of the clause. Instead, the Court concluded that, because the clause was ambiguous, it should be construed in favor of the lessee, Endeavor.

The retained acreage clause in Endeavor’s lease allowed the lessee to retain all interest in the leased premises if, after the primary term, it drilled a new well every 150 days. The clause also allowed Top-TenEndeavor to “accumulate unused days in any 150-day term … in order to extend the next allowed 150-day term between the completion of one well and the drilling of a subsequent well.” If and when the lessee failed to do so, the lease will terminate except as to specified acreage earned by wells then completed and producing. The dispute was over the meaning of the quoted language. Endeavor argued that the language allowed it to carry forward unused days across multiple 150-day terms; or alternatively, Endeavor argued that the language is ambiguous and that “the disputed language may not operate as a special limitation.” The Court concluded that the clause was indeed ambiguous and, because it operates as a “special limitation” on the lessee’s title, it should be construed in favor of the lessee.

[I]t has long been the rule that contractual language will not be held to automatically terminate the leasehold estate unless that “language … can be given no other reasonable construction than one which works such a result.” Knight, 188 S.W.2d at 566 (citing Decker, 216 S.W. 38). As explained above, the Lease’s description of the drilling schedule required to avoid termination is ambiguous under these circumstances. Courts should not treat an obligation so “lacking in definiteness and certainty as introducing” into a lease a “limitation[] leading to …termination of [a] vested estate[].” W.T. Waggoner Estate, 19 S.W.2d at 31. Because the disputed provision is ambiguous, it cannot operate as a special limitation under these circumstances.

In other words, the tie goes to the lessee. Continue reading →

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Texas courts are very reluctant to hold that oil and gas lease provisions are ambiguous. The same holds true for deeds and wills. These instruments affect title to land, and if an instrument is ambiguous it inserts uncertainty into land titles and results in litigation over the parties’ intent using extrinsic evidence, usually before a jury. Such litigation often ends up with each party testifying as to what they meant in the instrument, leaving a jury with little go to on. Or the instrument in question is so old that no person is alive who could testify as to the parties’ intent.

The meaning of a contract, deed or lease is a “question of law,” meaning it is decided by a judge, not a jury, based solely on the “four corners” of the instrument. Only if an instrument is ambiguous can outside evidence of the parties’ intent be considered, and then the meaning of the contract is a fact question that may be submitted to a jury. Courts bend over backwards to avoid holding that an instrument is ambiguous. It is often the case that an appellate court will hold that the language of an instrument is unambiguous even though the court does not agree on the meaning!

But in Endeavor Energy Resources v. Energen Resources, the Supreme Court reached the conclusion, after eighteen pages of reasoning, that it was impossible to tell from the language in the lease what the parties intended, and that it was ambiguous. The Court remanded the case to the trial court to admit evidence of the parties’ intent.

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Thomas M. Reavley, senior judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, died today at age 99. Judge Reavley was on the Texas Supreme Court when I clerked there in 1975-76. The obituary below is from the Texas Supreme Court.

Tom Reavley, who served for nine years on the Texas Supreme Court before President Carter appointed him to what would become a 41-year career on the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, died Tuesday in Houston. He was 99.

When he died he was the oldest active federal judge. During his federal judicial tenure he decided cases as a visiting judge on every U.S. court of appeals but one. His legal career spanned more than six decades.

As a lay Methodist minister and Sunday School teacher, his moral bearing earned him the sobriquet “Pope of the Fifth Circuit.”

Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said: “Sailor, scholar, lawyer, advisor to governors and presidents, judge, writer – Tom Reavley was all these things, and always with unfailing wisdom, humility, civility, decency, kindness to all and good humor. He was a towering figure in Texas and a true champion of justice for the state and the country.” Continue reading →

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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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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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NARO Texas‘ convention is being held July 18-20 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.  Several good speakers will be presenting on topics including how to negotiate retained acreage and pooling clauses, how to handle mineral buyers, and developments in horizontal drilling.  I will be speaking about production sharing agreements and allocation wells.  NARO-convention

The link for online registration for this event: www.naro-us.org/events

Additional information can be found at: www.naro-us.org/texas

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