Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The Supreme Court answered certified questions seeking to clarify whether, in payment of royalties under an oil and gas lease, the lessor may be required to bear a portion of the post-production costs incurred in rendering the oil and gas marketable.Specifically, the district court asked whether Estate of Tawyne v. Columbia Natural Resources, LLC, 633 S.E.2d 22 (W. Va. 2006) is still good law in West Virginia and then asked the Supreme Court to expound upon its holding in Tawney. The Supreme Court answered (1) Tawney is still good law; and (2) this Court defines to answer the reformulated question of what level of specificity Tawney requires of an oil and gas lease to permit the deduction of post-production costs from a lessor's royalty payments. View "SWN Production Co., LLC v. Kellam" on Justia Law

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Crown Energy Company ("Crown") brought suit against Mid-Continent Casualty Company ("Mid-Continent") seeking declaratory judgment that two commercial general liability policies issued to Crown provided coverage for claims of property damage brought against Crown in a separate action. The claims arose out of seismic activity allegedly caused by Crown's use of waste water disposal wells in its oil and gas operations. Mid-Continent filed a counterclaim, seeking declaratory judgment that the claims were not covered under the policies because the seismic activity did not constitute an "occurrence" and that the claims fell within a pollution exclusion to the policies. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Crown. Mid-Continent appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that the seismic activity did constitute an occurrence under the policies, and that the pollution exclusion did not bar coverage. The Court of Civil Appeals’ judgment was reversed and the trial court affirmed. View "Crown Energy Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court relating to the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, and whether it applied to conduct outside of Oklahoma. The matter concenred a dispute between Continental Resources, Inc. (Continental), an oil and gas producer headquartered in Oklahoma, and Wolla Oilfield Services, LLC (Wolla), a North Dakota limited liability company that operated as a hot oil service provider in North Dakota. Continental alleged the parties entered into an agreement for Wolla to provide hot oil services at an hourly rate to Continental's wells in North Dakota. As part of the contract, Wolla agreed to submit its invoices through an "online billing system" and to bill accurately and comprehensively for work it performed. A whistleblower in Wolla's accounting department notified Continental about systematic overbilling in connection with this arrangement. Continental conducted an audit and concluded Wolla's employees were overbilling it for time worked. Wolla denies these allegations. The Oklahoma Supreme Court concluded: (1) the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act does not apply to a consumer transaction when the offending conduct that triggers the Act occurs solely within the physical boundaries of another state; and (2) the Act also does not apply to conduct where, even if the physical location is difficult to pinpoint, such actions or transactions have a material impact on, or material nexus to, a consumer in the state of Oklahoma. View "Continental Resources v. Wolla Oilfield Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that an action seeking a determination that an oil and gas lease has expired by its own terms is a controversy "involving the title to or the possession of real estate" so that the action is exempt from arbitration under Ohio Rev. Code 2711.01(B)(1).Appellants brought an action for declaratory judgment alleging that oil and gas leases between the parties had terminated because Appellee failed to produce oil or gas or to commence drilling operations within the terms of the lease. Appellee moved to stay pending arbitration. The trial court denied the request, concluding that Appellants' claims involved the title to or the possession of real property, and therefore, were exempt from arbitration under Ohio Rev. Code 2711.01(B)(1). The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the trial court correctly declined to stay the action in this case pending arbitration. View "French v. Ascent Resources-Utica, LLC" on Justia Law

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CP and Cimarex entered into the Master Service Agreement (MSA). Cimarex hired CP to work at Cimarex’s Oklahoma oil well. CP assigned Trent, an employee of one of its subcontractors, to work at the well. A flash fire occurred at the well. Trent was severely burned Trent sued Cimarex and CP. Cimarex and its insurers settled with Trent for $4.5 million. The Texas Oilfield Anti-Indemnity Act (TOAIA) voids indemnity agreements that pertain to wells for oil, gas, or water or to mineral mines unless the indemnity agreement is supported by liability insurance. The MSA's mutual indemnity provision required Cimarex and CP to indemnify each other; CP was obligated to obtain a minimum of $1 million in commercial general liability insurance and $2 million in excess liability insurance, Cimarex was required to obtain $1 million in general liability insurance and $25 million in excess liability insurance. CP obtained more coverage than the minimum required by the MSA, but its policy limited indemnity coverage. Cimarex sought indemnity from CP, which paid Cimarex $3 million, but refused to indemnify Cimarex for the remaining $1.5 million.The Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for CP. TOAIA contemplates that mutual indemnity obligations will be enforceable only up to the limits of insurance each party has agreed to provide in equal amounts to the other party as indemnitee. CP did not breach the MSA because CP was only required to indemnify Cimarex up to $3 million. View "Cimarex Energy Co. v. CP Well Testing L.L.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals rendering judgment that delivery of the grantor's fractional share in the pipeline occurred in the gathering pipeline rather than the transportation pipeline, holding that the court of appeals did not err.A deed conveying the mineral estate in this case reserved a nonparticipating royalty interest in kind, meaning that the grantor retained ownership of a fractional share of all minerals in place. The deed required delivery of the grantor's fractional share "free of cost in the pipe line, if any, otherwise free of cost at the mouth of the well or mine[.]" The parties agreed that the royalty did not include production and postproduction costs incurred before delivery into the existing gas pipeline but disagreed about the pipeline's location under the terms of the deed. The trial court concluded that delivery occurred in the transportation pipeline. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that delivery occurs in the gathering pipeline. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals correctly interpreted the deed in this case. View "Nettye Engler Energy, LP v. Bluestone Natural Resources II, LLC" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a contract dispute between Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and Lynn Becker, a non-Indian. The contract concerned Becker’s work marketing and developing the Tribe’s mineral resources on the Ute reservation. Becker sued the Tribe in Utah state court for allegedly breaching the contract by failing to pay him a percentage of certain revenue the Tribe received from its mineral holdings. Later, the Tribe filed this lawsuit, challenging the state court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under federal law. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the state-court proceedings, and the Tribe appealed. After its review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the Tribe was entitled to injunctive relief. The appellate court found the trial court’s factual findings established that Becker’s state-court claims arose on the reservation because no substantial part of the conduct supporting them occurred elsewhere. And because the claims arose on the reservation, the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction absent congressional authorization. Accordingly, under the particular circumstances of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit "close[d] this chapter in Becker’s dispute with the Tribe by ordering the district court to permanently enjoin the state-court proceedings." View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al." on Justia Law

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Texas and Wyoming both regulate the use of indemnity agreements in their oilfields. Wyoming, concerned that indemnification disincentivizes safety, forbids oilfield indemnity agreements. Wyo. Stat. 30-1-131. Texas, concerned that large oil companies will use their leverage to demand indemnity from independent operators, also disfavors the agreements but does not ban them; it allows indemnification in limited situations including when the indemnity is mutual and backed by insurance. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. 127.003, 127.005.Cannon, a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration company, and Texas-based KLX entered into a “Master Equipment Rental Agreement,” providing that Texas law governs the agreement and that the parties must “protect, defend, [and] indemnify” each other against losses involving injuries sustained by the other’s employees, regardless of who is at fault “to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law.” Most of the work performed under the contract occurred in Wyoming with none in Texas. Indemnity was sought for a Wyoming lawsuit filed by a Wyoming resident injured in a Wyoming oilfield operated by a Wyoming business.The Fifth Circuit held that Wyoming law prevails and that the indemnity provision in the Agreement is unenforceable. Wyoming has a more significant relationship to the parties and a materially greater interest in applying its policy; its anti-indemnity policy is “fundamental.” View "Cannon Oil & Gas Well Services, Inc. v. KLX Energy Services, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a certified question from federal court about whether Arkansas law prevented Plaintiffs from pursuing their breach of contract claim when the first breach occurred outside of the state of limitations period, holding that a separate statute of limitations period began as each monthly oil-and-gas royalty payment became due.The contract in this case required monthly oil-and-gas payments. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that Defendants had been underpaying those royalties for several years. In response, Defendant raised the affirmative defense of statute of limitations. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that, under Arkansas law, the existence of royalties outside the limitations period did not bar recovery for monthly underpayments within the limitations period. View "Pennington v. BHP Billiton Petroleum, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the court of appeals granting Defendant's petition for a writ of prohibition of the first class, thereby vacating the circuit court's denial of Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for breach of contract, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Plaintiffs were Kentucky landowners who leased their land to Defendant, an oil and gas producer. Plaintiffs filed a breach of contract class action suit alleging that Defendant impermissibly deducted severance taxes as a post-production cost before paying them royalties. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiffs did not meet the required amount in controversy. The circuit court denied the motion. Defendant then sought a writ of prohibition. The court of appeals granted the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs did not meet the required amount in controversy, and therefore, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. View "Imhoff v. Honorable House" on Justia Law