Webinar: Start-ups Driving Innovation in Upstream Oil & Gas

The oil and gas industry is benefiting from a surge in start-up companies focused on digital transformation and radical change proving that the oil and gas start-up ecosystem is alive and growing.

Frost & Sullivan’s Oil & Gas Innovation Council will present a complimentary webinar titled “Start-ups Driving Innovation in Upstream Oil & Gas” on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, at 10 a.m. CDT.

Dylan Ellett, a Frost & Sullivan leading oil and gas analyst, and a panel of industry experts from start-up companies will showcase their solutions, impacts on the industry and real-world scenarios of success and hardships along the journey, from founding to investment.

  • Discover start-up companies that are providing innovative solutions to industry challenges
  • Hear real success stories and pain points from start-ups
  • Interact with start-up companies

Register for the webinar.

Texas Supreme Court Redefines an Offset Well Clause

The Texas Supreme Court has held that an offset well clause in an oil and gas lease did not require the lessee to drill wells calculated to protect against drainage, reports Gray Reed & McGraw in its Energy & the Law blog.

According to authors Charles Sartain and Chance Decker: “The Court purported to limit its holding to these facts, but the opinion could have far-reaching consequences. Wells drilled in the most active plays in Texas today are by and large horizontal, tight-shale wells. The opinion indicates the historical understanding of an ‘offset well’ is antiquated in this context.”

Four dissenting justices believed the majority disregarded the well-established meaning of “offset well” used in the oilfield for decades.

Read the article.



PA Court Rejects Fracking Company’s Appeal In ‘Rule Of Capture’ Decision

Below-ground look at frackingA Pennsylvania appeals court rejected a request by a natural gas production company to rehear a case whose outcome could affect drillers across the country, reports WSKG.

Briggs v. Southwestern Energy Production Company involves the legal principle known as “rule of capture,” which means a property owner has the right to extract or “capture” an underground resource such as water, oil or gas, even if it flows from beneath another property owner’s land, explains reporter Susan Phillips. The case calls into question the longstanding practice as it applies to fracking, which requires subsurface rock to be deliberately broken in order to release trapped gas.

“In 2015, the Briggs family sued Southwestern Energy for trespass and conversion, arguing that the company’s fracking efforts were illegal and it should not be allowed to use wells on neighboring properties to tap gas beneath their land,” writes Phillips. “The family owns about 11 acres of land in Susquehanna County and did not lease its land for gas drilling.”

The trial court rejected their arguments, but an appellate court found that the Briggs’ arguments had legal merit.

Read the article.



Oil Firm, Once Called ‘Wolf of Wall Street Type’ Company, Sued By SEC for Fraud

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that Dallas-based Texas Coastal Energy Company defrauded 80 oil and gas investors out of more than $8 million, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the stock market regulator.

The SEC alleges the company, its co-founder, Jefferey Gordon, and his sales representatives misrepresented the company’s finances, exaggerated a geologist’s background and inflated the reserves and expected production of its wells in Texas and Kansas, according to reporter Jeff Mosier.

“In an offering fraud, people who seek to steal investors’ hard-earned money will often use cold calls and inflated promises to carry out their schemes,” said Shamoil T. Shipchandler, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office. “Their self-serving statements are no substitute for an investor’s due diligence.”

Read the Dallas News article.



Texas Court Holds Drop in Oil Prices is Not Force Majeure

A divided panel of the Texas Court of Appeals in Houston has held that the 2014-2015 drop in oil prices is not a force majeure for purposes of general force majeure contractual protection, reports Liskow & Lewis in its Energy Law Blog.

Jackie E. Hickman explains that the court addressed a dispute between ConocoPhillips Company and TEC Olmos over a farmout agreement that required Olmos to commence drilling by a specified date.

“During the interval between execution of the agreement and commencement of drilling, however, changes in the global supply and demand of oil caused the price of oil to drop significantly. As a result, Olmos was unable to secure financing for drilling and informed ConocoPhillips that it would be unable to meet its drilling obligations. ConocoPhillips filed suit against Olmos and the guarantor of the contract, Terrace Energy Company, for breach of the farmout agreement. The lawsuit sought $500,000 in liquidated damages,” Hickman writes.

Olmos invoked the force majeure clause of the farmout agreement to excuse its inability to perform, but the court agreed with ConocoPhillips.

Read the article.



AZA’s Tim Shelby Appointed to Texas State Bar’s Oil & Gas Jury Charges Committee

Tim Shelby, a partner in Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, was appointed to a three-year term on the State Bar of Texas’ Oil & Gas Pattern Jury Charges Committee.

The committee updates and revises the way the law is typically presented to juries in Texas trials and members must be up-to-date on their knowledge of oil and gas law. The issues the committee researches and explains include trespass, adverse possession, lessor-lessee matters, contracts between working interest owners, defenses, and damages. The panel’s guidance is published in a book also used by energy lawyers in non-jury cases.

“This is a great opportunity. This committee works hard to ensure that participants in the oil and gas industry get proper jury questions, including updated questions necessitated by new law from Texas courts and the Texas Legislature,” Shelby said.

In a release, the firm said Shelby’s practice focuses on complex commercial litigation, oil and gas litigation, trade secret litigation, and professional liability matters. He has been recognized by The Best Lawyers in America for commercial litigation in Texas from 2015-2018. He has appeared on the Texas Super Lawyers list each year since 2014 after being selected for the companion Texas Rising Stars list starting in 2008.



Ask and You Shall (Not?) Receive: Retained Acreage Clauses and the Texas Supreme Court

Two Texas Supreme Court decisions published on the same day confirm that retained acreage clauses that vary in language from one instrument to another will likely vary in effect, according to Gray Reed & McGraw’s Energy & the Law blog.

Authors Charles Sartain and Brittany Blakey explain that, depending on the language, the lessee might not be able to maintain all the acreage it planned on holding.

They discuss two cases on point: Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. v. Discovery Operating, Inc. and XOG Operating, LLC v. Chesapeake Exploration.

Read the article.



Subcontractors Sue Valero Over Explosion at Texas City Refinery

A group of 28 subcontractors at a Valero refinery in Texas City are suing the company and their employer, alleging that they suffered injuries and post-traumatic stress from an explosion at the plant less than two months ago, reports the San Antonio Business Journal.

The employees of  Beaumont-based Richard Industrial Group Inc. filed the lawsuit against their employer and Valero Refining Texas LP, a subsidiary of San Antonio-based refining company Valero Energy Corp.. Richard Industrial Group provides subcontracting work at Valero’s Texas City refinery, according to reporter Sergio Chapa.

“The workers are seeking damages based on claims that they suffered orthopedic injuries and hearing loss from the accident and are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” writes Chapa.

Read the Business Journal article.



5th Circuit Sets New Test to Determine If Certain Contracts on Navigable Waters Are Maritime

In an important new en banc opinion, the Fifth Circuit has abandoned its historic criteria for determining whether a contract relating to servicing oil or gas drilling on navigable waters is controlled by maritime law in favor of a “simpler, more straightforward test,” reports Duane Morris LLP.

Jospeh J. Pangaro writes that courts in the Fifth Circuit historically applied a six-factor test to determine whether a contract is governed by maritime law, as articulated in Davis & Sons, Inc. v. Gulf Oil Corp..

“Taking the lead from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Kirby, 543 U.S. 14 (2004), the Fifth Circuit departed from the six-factor test used in cases like Davis & Sons in favor of a new, stream-lined two-pronged test to determine whether a contract like the one at issue was maritime in nature,” Pangaro writes.

In his article, the author discusses the new test.

Read the article.



20 Dismissed Colorado Royalty Cases: Is There a Good-Faith Basis for Filing in District Court?

Colorado state district courts recently solidified judicial recognition of the Colorado General Assembly’s delegation of primary jurisdiction to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over royalty underpayment disputes, according to an alert by BakerHostetler.

Two judges of the District Court for the City and County of Denver dismissed royalty underpayment lawsuits for failure to exhaust administrative remedies before the Commission.

The firm said these decisions are significant because one judge vacated his prior ruling in the same case that had denied a substantively similar motion to dismiss, and the other judge had previously denied a similar motion to dismiss in a different case.

Read the article.



Joint Ventures in the Oil and Gas Industry: Upstream Joint Ventures

Oil wellLatham & Watkins has posted the second of a two-part webcast series on joint ventures in the oil and gas industry — this one on upstream joint ventures.

Both this video and the first part — on midstream joint ventures — are available on-demand.

This series explores market trends driving recent joint ventures, as well as structural options, potential challenges, and other considerations related to joint ventures, within both the midstream and upstream spaces.

Part II of the series addresses joint ventures in the upstream space, including “DrillCo” transactions.

Topics include:

  • DrillCos and Other JV Structures
  • Typical Transaction Documents
  • Issues and Pitfalls

Watch the on-demand video.



Texas Anti-SLAPP Statute Used in Oil & Gas Lease Dispute

In a blog post, John McFarland of Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody discusses a lawsuit over a petroleum lease dispute that led to a claim under Texas’ Anti-SLAPP statute.

He explains that a SLAPP is a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” a suit intended to censor or intimidate critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The case involves the dispute over whether a petroleum company’s oil and gas lease had expired. When the property owner filed a suit for trespass, the production company filed counterclaims for breach of the lease. The property owner filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaims under the anti-SLAPP statute.

An appellate court found that the property owner had waived its right to protection under the anti-SLAPP statute because it agreed in the lease not to sue before giving prior notice and an opportunity to cure.

Read the article.



Term Royalty Interests Survive the Rule Against Perpetuities in Texas

The Supreme Court of Texas recently examined the intersection of the rule against perpetuities and the oil patch in ConocoPhillips Co. v. Koopmann, No. 16-0662, writes Thomas G. Ciarlone Jr. in Kane Russell Coleman Logan’s Energy Law Today blog.

The rule provides “that no interest within its scope is good unless it must vest, if at all, not later than twenty-one years after some life in being at the creation of the interest.”

Ciarlone discusses the Koopman case and explains that it represents a positive result for the industry, one which will promote certainty in deed construction and therefore encourage robust exploration and development activities.

Read the article.



Pennsylvania, Texas Courts Disagree on Whether Rule of Capture Applies to Fracturing

Below-ground look at frackingA recent Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruling in a case concerning hydraulic fracturing runs counter to a ruling in a similar case by the Texas Supreme Court, reports John B. McFarland in Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody’s Oil and Gas Lawyer Blog.

The Pennsylvania court held that “hydraulic fracturing may constitute an actionable trespass where subsurface fractures, fracturing fluid and proppant cross boundary lines and extend into the subsurface estate of an adjoining property for which the operator does not have a mineral lease, resulting in the extraction of natural gas from beneath the adjoining landowner’s property.”

In doing so, McFarland explains, the court rejected the reasoning of the Texas Supreme Court when that court held that the rule of capture prevented any such cause of action.

Read the article.



Energy Company’s Bankruptcy Generating Enron-Sized Legal Fees

Banking - investing - money - advisorsHundreds of lawyers and financial consultants involved in the $42 billion corporate restructuring of Energy Future Holdings, once the largest power supplier in Texas, have been paid a gusher of cash, and more huge paydays may be in the works, reports The Houston Chronicle.

Mark Curriden of The Texas Lawbook writes that the law firms, banks and consultants working on the EFH case have received more than $600 million, making it one of the most complex and expensive corporate bankruptcies in U.S. history. For comparison, similar fees in the Enron bankruptcy topped $700 million.

“The total fees for all the professionals – for the lawyers, bankers, accountants, restructuring experts for all the companies involved – will probably hit $1 billion,” EFH General Counsel Andy Wright told The Texas Lawbook in an exclusive interview.

Read the article.



Judge Dismisses Exxon’s Lawsuit, Letting Multi-State Fraud Investigation Continue

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s attempt to derail a multistate fraud investigation into the company’s public comments about climate change flamed out in a New York court, according to wire services, via The Dallas Morning News.

The report says a U.S. district judge in New York on Thursday dismissed Exxon’s lawsuit claiming officials in New York and Massachusetts conspired with environmental groups in planning the securities-fraud probe and made up their minds about its outcome before it started.

Judge Valerie Caproni said in her ruling that Exxon’s tactic of suing in federal courts in New York and Texas to stop the state probes “running roughshod over the adage that the best defense is a good offense.”

Read the Dallas News article.



An Indemnity Agreement Means What it Says

Charles Sartain offers a reminder that a court will (if it’s doing its job) enforce an agreement according to what it actually says, not by that which one party or the other would have liked it to say or imagines that it said.

Writing in Gray Reed’s Energy & the Law blog, Sartain discusses Claybar v. Samson Exploration. That case involved an agreement over an indemnity clause in a contract for the drilling of petroleum wells and related operation on property owned by Claybar.

Sartain presents the facts of the case, including a break-down of both side’s positions.

“Generally, indemnity agreements do not apply to claims between the parties but apply to claims made by others who are not parties to the agreement,” Sartain writes. “However, the parties can write an agreement to indemnify one another against claims they later assert against each other. To do so, the parties must expressly and specifically state that intention.”

Read the article.



Political and Economic Realities Hamper Efforts to Reopen U.S. Waters to Offshore Drilling

A post on the website of Haynes and Boone calls attention to the apparent failure to acknowledge how the economic realities of oil and gas leasing and operating in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in increasingly deepwater environments at a time of low oil and gas prices impacts the Interior Department’s stated goal of achieving “American Energy Dominance.”

“Once a serious concern only to small and mid-sized operators, the existence of mounting decommissioning liabilities to new lessees and predecessors-in-interest has stunned the offshore industry where some companies are discovering that their decommissioning liabilities are greater than existing assets,” according to Robert (Bob) P. Thibault and Christopher J. Reagen.

“This new reality in the OCS has created barriers to entry for all but the super-majors as new, small, and mid-sized independents face impossible-to-satisfy demands for many operators and leases,” they write.

Read the article.



Houston Trial Lawyer Courtney Ervin Joins Hicks Thomas as a Partner

Trial lawyer Courtney Ervin has joined commercial litigation boutique Hicks Thomas LLP, the firm announced.

“Courtney is a highly skilled and effective trial lawyer” said Hicks Thomas co-founder John B. Thomas. “She is an exceptional advocate and has great instincts. Her addition enhances our diversity and positions us to serve our client needs well into the future.”

Ervin was profiled as one of the leading energy litigation lawyers in the U.S. in 2016 by The Legal 500 and has repeatedly earned a place on the Texas Rising Stars list recognizing up-and-coming lawyers, the firm said in a release.

She earned her law degree from the University of Houston Law Center, magna cum laude, and her bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University.

Read details of the announcement.



Global Warming Public Nuisance Actions Will Stay in Federal Court

A U.S. District Court has rejected motions filed by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco to remand two global warming public nuisance lawsuits filed by the cities in state court against several large energy companies, reports  in Pillsbury’s Gavel2Gavel blog.

The companies are BP P.L.C., Chevron Corporation, ConocoPhillips Company, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Royal Dutch Shell plc). The case is The People of the State of California v. BP P.L.C., et al.

“The complaints filed by the City of Oakland and the City of San Francisco are based on the premise that, despite knowing of the risks associated with climate change and global warming, these companies continued to produce and sell their products to the public that uses fossil fuels in their day to day operations,” Cavender writes. “The complaints seek an abatement fund to pay for seawalls and other infrastructure to address rising sea levels.”

Read the article.