Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oklahoma Supreme Court
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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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Plaintiff Magnum Energy, Inc. appealed a Board of Adjustment for the City of Norman (Board) decision denying Plaintiff's application for a variance from the City's business licensing requirement that oil and gas operators maintain two million dollars in umbrella liability coverage. The trial court granted summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor, finding that the requirement conflicted with State law and was therefore unenforceable. The Board appealed the trial court's order; the Court of Civil Appeals reversed the order, finding no conflict between the requirement and State law. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding the requirement conflicted with 52 O.S.Supp.2015 section 137.1, rendering the requirement invalid and unenforceable. View "Magnum Energy v. Bd. of Adjustment for the City of Norman" on Justia Law

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National American Insurance Company ("NAICO") brought suit against New Dominion, LLC, seeking a declaratory judgment that four consecutive commercial general liability policies it issued to New Dominion did not provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims asserted in a number of separate lawsuits ("the Earthquake Lawsuits"). These claims allegedly arose out of seismic activity caused by New Dominion's oil and gas operations. New Dominion filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract, seeking defense and indemnity, and asserting equitable claims for estoppel and reformation. The trial court bifurcated the issues pleaded, conducted separate bench trials for the contract interpretation questions and the equitable claims. Following the first bench trial, the court issued a declaratory judgment holding that the Total Pollution Exclusions and the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions in the commercial general liability policies clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage for the claims asserted in the Earthquake Lawsuits. Following the second trial, the court estopped NAICO from denying claims for bodily injury during one of the four policy periods but denied all other equitable claims. Both parties appealed, raising "a litany" of issues with the trial court's orders. The Oklahoma Supreme Court joined the cases and held: (1) the Total Pollution Exclusions did not clearly and unambiguously preclude coverage; (2) the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage; and (3) there was no basis for New Dominion's estoppel or reformation claims. View "National American Ins. Co. v. New Dominion" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on two oil-and-gas-producing formations known as the Chester and the Marmaton, located in Beaver County, Oklahoma. In 1973, Arnold Petroleum, Inc., the predecessor in interest to plaintiffs (collectively, "Arnold") obtained six oil-and-gas leases covering land in Beaver County. Over the course of 1973 and 1974, Arnold Petroleum assigned its leases to Dyco Petroleum Corporation, expressly reserving an overriding royalty interest in any oil and gas produced under the leases. Dyco assigned the leases to Harold Courson, the predecessor in interest of defendant Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. This assignment, too, was expressly subject to Arnold's overriding royalty interest. Two wells drilled in the Chester formation produced "mostly gas with some oil" continuously since the mid-1970s, and at no point since then did Arnold ever stop receiving payments on its overriding royalty interest in those producing wells. In 1984, Courson obtained several new leases from the mineral owners who had granted the 1973 leases. The 1984 leases purported to cover the same rights as the original 1973 leases, but were silent as to any particular geologic formation or zone. Arnold did not become aware of the 1984 leases until 1999 when it and other royalty holders received a letter from Courson explaining he had recompleted a well in the Chester formation that had originally been drilled into the separate Lower Chester formation by Natural Gas Anadarko, Inc. (NGA). In the 1999 conversation, a Courson employee told the Arnold landman the 1984 leases covered only "deep rights" or "lower depths" that had expired under the 1973 leases. This assertion would exclude the Marmaton. For the next 13 years, the matter of the Marmaton formation would remain dormant. Courson assigned his leases to Cabot in August 2011, and Cabot drilled and completed several horizontal wells in the Marmaton. Cabot rejected Arnold's request for payment, and Arnold sued in October 2012, seeking damages for nonpayment of royalties. Cabot argued Arnold's claims were barred because the applicable statute of limitations began to run with the filing of the new leases in 1984, which event (in Cabot's view) should have put Arnold on notice of an adverse claim to the Marmaton. The issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether plaintiffs waited too long in asserting their right to payment of the overriding royalty interest. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs on those grounds. The Supreme Court disagreed: this litigation could not have arisen until defendant first developed the disputed formation in 2012, and then refused plaintiffs' request for payment of royalties from that production. "Nothing preceding that sequence of events could reasonably have foreclosed plaintiffs' ability to press their claim for the payments to which they were entitled under valid mineral leases." View "Claude C. Arnold Non-Operated Royalty Interest Properties v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Revolution Resources, LLC, (Revolution), an oil and gas well operator, filed an action under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act (SDA), to Appoint Appraisers. In February 2018, Revolution acquired and became the operator of a 30,000 acre unit that was created in 1947 pursuant to Order 20212 of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). The unit wasknown as the West Edmond Hunton Lime Unit (WEHLU). Defendant-appellant Annecy, LLC, (Annecy) purchased the subject premises in August 2019, with the intent to build expensive luxury homes. Appellant unsuccessfully sought a temporary injunction against Appellee's operations. Appellant appealed the interlocutory order denying its motion for temporary injunction. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted an injunction pending the appeal. Appellant was required to post a bond securing the cost and attorney fees of the Appellee if the Supreme Court determined later the temporary injunction should not have been granted. The Supreme Court concluded the injunction should not have been granted: Annecy purchased its surface estate subject to the outstanding mineral estate held by Revolution. Annecy's surface estate is servient to that of Revolution's mineral estate. Annecy did not meet its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would be irreparably harmed by Revolution's oil and gas operations. Having failed to establish one of the four factors required, i.e., irreparable harm, by clear and convincing evidence, Annecy did not meet its burden to prove all necessary factors to obtain extraordinary relief, therefore its motion for temporary injunction was correctly denied. The temporary injunction granted by the Supreme Court was dissolved, and the matter remanded for further proceedings to determine the costs and attorney fees owed the Appellee which were secured by bond. View "Revolution Resources, LLC v. Annecy, LLC" on Justia Law

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The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. White Star Petroleum, LLC, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary, White Star Petroleum II, LLC were engaged in the business of exploring, acquiring, drilling, and producing oil and natural gas, either as an operator or non-operating working interest owner of various leaseholds across Oklahoma. In 2019, several of White Star's unpaid vendors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against White Star. White Star and its affiliates filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. During the bankruptcy proceedings, 78 unpaid vendors filed adversary proceedings seeking adjudication of statutory lien claims under 42 O.S. 144 against White Star's interests in various wells and establishment of trust fund claims under 42 O.S. 144.2. These proceedings were stayed when White Star initiated two adversary proceedings of its own. The first sought adjudication of the priority, validity, and value of approximately 2,000 mechanic's and materialman's liens ("M&M liens") asserted by the 78 unpaid vendors over various interests held by White Star. The second sought an order of the Bankruptcy Court directing several first purchasers of oil and gas to turn over to White Star approximately 2 million dollars, which were being held in suspense after the purchasers received statutory lien notices from the M&M lien claimants. The Bankruptcy Court certified the questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to aid in the resolution of these two adversary proceedings. The federal court asked: (1) were the "trust funds" created by Title 42 O.S. 144.2 limited to obligations due non-operator joint working interest owners, or did such funds include payments due holders of mechanic's and materialmen's liens arising under and perfected by Title 42 O.S. 144?; and (2) did the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act of 2010, grant an operator and non-operator working interest owners a lien in proceeds from purchasers of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialmen's lien asserted under Title 42 O.S. 144? The Supreme Court found that answering both questions would have been dispositive of issues pending in the underlying bankruptcy proceedings and that there was then no controlling law on the subject matter of either question. The Court answered both questions in the negative: funds which must be held in trust for payment of lienable claims pursuant to 42 O.S. 144.2 were not exclusively limited to joint-interest billing payments received by operators for services rendered by the lienholders; the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act did not grant operators and non-operating working interest owners a lien in proceeds from the sale of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialman's lien asserted under 42 O.S. 144. View "White Star Petroleum v. MUFG Union Bank" on Justia Law

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Appellant operating company, Stephens & Johnson Operating Company (Operator), requested an award of attorney fees and costs in this case brought under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act. Operator claimed it was entitled to the fees and costs as the prevailing party in the underlying suit since the State of Oklahoma ex rel. the Commissioners of the Land Office (Surface Owner) did not recover a jury verdict greater than the appraisers' award. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the statutes in question did not provide for fees and costs to the prevailing party but instead imposed specific conditions which were not satisfied in this case. View "Oklahoma, ex rel. Comm'rs of Land Office v. Stephens & Johnson Operating Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners and respondents owned real property in McClain County, Oklahoma, containing and abutting Colbert Lake (the Lake). Petitioners also owned real property containing Colbert Creek, which was the sole source of water that fed the Lake. Respondents sought a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), to sell water from the Lake to oil companies for use in fracking operations. The only notice that the OWRB provided to petitioners of the respondents' permit application was by publication in newspapers. The permits were issued, and petitioners subsequently filed suit at the district court, arguing that they were not given proper and sufficient notice of the permit proceedings. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in a certified interlocutory order, and petitioners appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the proper, constitutionally required notice to landowners in such proceedings. The Court held that the notice given was inadequate, therefore judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for for further proceedings. View "Purcell v. Parker" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America LLC (NGPL) operated two interstate natural gas pipelines that crossed property owned by Defendant-appellant Foster OK Resources LP (Foster). NGPL brought a condemnation action seeking four separate easements to have consistent access to operate and maintain the pipelines and to clear title issues involving the pipelines. Foster challenged NGPL's exercise of eminent domain and whether NGPL's taking met the legal standard of necessity. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held NGPL could not contract away its right of eminent domain and was not prevented from seeking the easements at issue to operate and maintain the pipelines. NGPL's condemnation of Foster's property was for public use and met the legal standard of necessity. Furthermore, the Court held the issue of the necessity of a survey in computing just compensation owed to Foster was premature and could not be determined at this time. View "Natural Gas Pipeline Co. v. Foster OK Resources, LP" on Justia Law