Jerry Patterson, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, has weighed in on the side of the O’Connors in their fight against ExxonMobil. The General Land Office has filed an amicus brief urging the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Exxon v. Emerald; Commissioner Patterson issued a press release (
press release.pdf) saying that he has requested the Texas Railroad Commission to hold hearings into ExxonMobil’s “intentional sabotage of oil wells in Refugio County as well as the company’s fraudulent reports covering up the damage;” and, in response to ExxonMobil’s letter to the Railroad Commission (
Exxon-RRC letter.pdf) denying Commissioner Patterson’s allegations and arguing that no such hearing is necessary, Commissioner Patterson has written a lengthy reply (
GLO Letter to RRC.pdf), citing evidence from the case showing ExxonMobil’s false reporting of its plugging operations, and concluding that, “If these intentional false filings and improper pluggings do not result in substantial penalties by the Railforad Commission, then the oil & gas industry in Texas will be on notice that Railroad Commission’s rules and forms are optional, not mandatory.”
I have previously written about Exxon v. Emerald. The O’Connor family accused Exxon of intentionally plugging wells on its property in Refugio County in such a way that the wells could not be re-entered. The trial court awarded the O’Connors $8.6 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals affirmed, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the O’Connors had waited too long to bring the case, and that their claim was barred by limitations. The O’Connors have asked the Court to reconsider its ruling by filing a motion for rehearing.
Testimony in the case showed that the plugging reports filed by Exxon for the O’Connor wells were false in not reporting that Exxon cut off and left casing in the wells, allegedly injected tank bottoms into some wells, and allegedly dropped junk in the hole of some wells prior to plugging. The employee who signed the plugging reports (under penalty of perjury), testified that she had no personal knowledge of any information in the reports. An Exxon field superintendent was quoted by a plugging contractor as saying that “Exxon felt like they drilled these wells, they bought the casing that ran in these wells, these were their wells, and they would plug them any way they wanted to, and they didn’t want anybody going back in them.” The field superintendent denied ever making such a statement.
In his press release Commissioner Patterson called the plugging reports “fraudulent.” He said that “the senseless waste of our natural resources, the sabotage of a producing oilfield, and cover-up by Exxon is a malicious act that must be dealt with by the state of Texas.”
It will be interesting to see whether the Commissioners of the Texas Railroad Commission act on Commissioner Patterson’s request.