Home | Shale Energy Law Blog
ABOUT THIS BLOG

Our Shale Energy Law Blog provides timely legal and business information on issues impacting the energy industry and specifically natural gas development, as well as articles published by the attorneys of Babst Calland.

 


 

 

Ohio Supreme Court to Tackle Whether Marketable Title Act Applies to Severed Oil and Gas Interests

The Ohio Supreme Court accepted the appeal of the owners of a severed royalty interest in West v. Bode, Case No. No. 18 MO 0017, 2019-Ohio-4092. The sole issue before the Court is whether the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act supersedes and controls over the Ohio Marketable Title Act for disputes involving severed oil and gas interests.  The Seventh District had ruled that both the Ohio Marketable Title Act (MTA) and the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (DMA) are available to surface owners seeking to reclaim previously severed oil and gas interests; rejecting the royalty owners’ argument that the DMA is the sole remedy for these disputes. The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision should bring clarity to ownership of oil and gas rights in Ohio.

Tagged:  Dormant Mineral Act, Leasing, Litigation, Marketable Title Act, Natural gas, Ohio, Oil and gas, Title


Arbitration Means Arbitration: Golden Eagle Resources II v. Willow Run Energy

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently signaled that it would treat arbitration issues under the West Virginia Revised Uniform Arbitration Act, W. Va. Code § 55-10-8, et. al. (the “Act”), exactly the same as arbitration issues that arise under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).

In Golden Eagle Resources II, L.L.C. v. Willow Run Energy, L.L.C., No. 19-0384 (Nov. 19, 2019), the Court addressed a written contract by which Willow Run conveyed mineral interests in property to Golden Eagle. The written contract contained an arbitration provision by which the parties agreed that any “disagreement between the Parties concerning this Agreement or performance thereunder” would be submitted to arbitration. A dispute arose about whether a cloud on title existed on the mineral interests conveyed, which led Golden Eagle to withhold payment for those interests, after which Willow Run filed a breach of contract civil action in the Circuit Court of Pleasants County.

To read more about this case, click here.

Tagged:  arbitration, cloud on title, mineral interests, real estate, rights


Pa. Allows Oil and Gas Operators to Drill Cross-Unit Wells

On Nov. 7, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill No. 694 that permits cross-unit drilling for unconventional oil and gas wells. This new law takes effect on Jan. 6, 2020. A cross-unit well (also known as an allocation well) is a lateral wellbore that crosses between two or more pooled units. Please read more about Senate Bill No. 694 in this article.

Tagged:  Oil and Gas Conservation Law, Oil and Gas Lease Act, allocation well, cross-unit well, operators


Ohio’s Statutory Unitization Amended to Clarify Inclusion of Partially Leased Tracts

Ohio recently passed HB 166, effective October 17, 2019, amending Section §1509.28 of Ohio’s statutory unitization statute.  The prior version of Section §1509.28 did not specify whether all mineral owners in a tract must be leased to be included in the accounting for the minimum 65% operator ownership interest, which is the threshold required in order to apply for statutory unitization.  The Section also did not address whether an operator could count partial net-acreage interests in a tract.  For example, under the prior version of Section §1509.28, if a 10 acre tract was owned jointly by five owners, two of which had leased their oil and gas interests, it was unclear whether the operator was required to represent the leased interest as only four net acres or whether the operator was required to represent the tract as wholly unleased until all owners in the tract had entered into oil and gas leases.  The new amendment added the following clarification to the Code: “In calculating the sixty-five per cent, an owner's entire interest in each tract in the proposed unit area, including any divided, undivided, partial, fee, or other interest in the tract, shall be included to the fullest extent of that interest.”  The amendment makes clear that for tracts with multiple owners, any type of interest held by the applicant-operator in a unitized tract counts towards the minimum 65% threshold required to apply for an order permitting forced unitization from the chief of the division of oil and gas resources management.

Tagged:  Forced Pooling, Gas drilling, Leasing, Legislation, Natural gas, Ohio, Oil and gas, Oil and gas drilling, Regulation, Unitization


Ohio Supreme Court to Address Whether the Dormant Mineral Act Requires Internet Search

The Ohio Supreme Court accepted mineral owner Timothy Gerrity’s appeal in Gerrity v. Chervenak, a Dormant Mineral Act (“DMA”) case from Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Fifth District upheld the summary judgment granted by the Guernsey County trial court in ruling that the surface owner had successfully served notice by publication under the DMA process and abandoned Gerrity’s interest in the oil and gas. Following a search of the Guernsey County records (the property’s location) and a search of the Cuyahoga County records (location of Gerrity’s predecessor’s last known address), the surface owner served notice by certified mail to Gerrity’s predecessor at an address that the predecessor had not lived at since 1967. Following failure of service as “Vacant – Unable to Forward,” the surface owner published notice in a newspaper as proscribed in the DMA and completed the remainder of the DMA process, thereby acquiring Gerrity’s oil and gas interest. Gerrity’s appeal alleges that the surface owner failed to exercise reasonable diligence in attempting to locate Gerrity by not conducting an online internet search. The level of diligence required by the surface owner in a DMA process in attempting to locate and serve notice by certified mail on the holders of the mineral interest is now squarely before the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio Supreme Court will decide whether a search of the county records where the property is located satisfies the reasonableness standard under the DMA or whether serving notice under the DMA requires a more comprehensive search, such as including the internet.

Tagged:  Dormant Mineral Act, Litigation, Natural gas, Ohio, Oil and gas, Title


Ohio’s Marketable Title Act Quickly Becoming Preferred Method for Surface Owners Seeking Ownership of Severed Mineral Interests

Since the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., et al, 149 Ohio St.3d 512, 2016-Ohio-5796, many have questioned the interplay and availability of the Ohio Marketable Title Act (“MTA”) and the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (“DMA”) for surface owners claiming previously severed oil and gas interests.  The Ohio Seventh District Court of Appeals recently answered many of those questions and illustrated the power of the MTA for surface owners. In Senterra Ltd. v. Winland, Case No. 18 BE 0051 (Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2019), the Seventh District again confirmed that both the MTA and the DMA are available to surface owners claiming ownership of severed oil and gas interests.  That court held that the MTA remains available for surface owners even after availing themselves to the DMA process.  The court also determined that the reference, “excepting all the oil and gas rights underlying said described premises” is considered a general reference under the Blackstone inquiry due to the reference failing to identify the party reserving the interest.

In addition to expanding on whether a reference is specific or general, the Seventh District’s analysis rendered the date determining marketability under the MTA as irrelevant.  That date controls what instrument operates as the root of title, being the most recent instrument of record at least 40 years prior.  Because the MTA statute (O.R.C. 5301.47, et. seq.) fails to define which date should be used to determine marketability, courts have previously used the following dates to begin its MTA analysis: (1) trial/summary judgment; (2) summons; or (3) a severed mineral holder filing a notice of preservation. In Senterra, the Seventh District determined that regardless of using the date of summons or the date of the trial court’s determination, a 1971 deed in the chain of title operated as the root of title for a portion of the land at issue.  However, in looking at the time period between 1971 and 2011 (the 40-year period required by the MTA), the record indicated an unspecified event occurred on July 14, 2000, which may have preserved the interest for its holder.  Therefore, the court looked to the previous deed in the chain of title, being a 1954 deed, and conducted its analysis using this deed as the root of title.  In determining that the surface owner had an unbroken chain of title from 1954 through 1994 with the mineral owner failing to preserve their interest during that time, the court held that the 1954 deed qualified as the root of title purporting to create the interest claimed by the surface owner and extinguished the interest of the mineral owner.  Therefore, regardless of what initial date is used in determining marketability, a proper analysis will step through each deed in order to determine if a 40-year unbroken chain of title has occurred.

The Senterra decision continues a series of victories for surface owners and establishes the MTA as an invaluable tool to claim severed oil and gas interests.  However, it remains to be seen if the case will be reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Tagged:  Dormant Mineral Act, Leasing, Litigation, Marketable Title Act, Natural gas, Ohio, Oil and gas, Title, reference, root of title


Pipeline Safety Alert – PHMSA Publishes Long-Awaited Mega-Rule for Gas Transmission Lines

On October 1, 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA or the Agency) published a final rule in the Federal Register amending the federal safety standards for gas pipeline facilities at 49 C.F.R. Part 192 (Rule). The Rule primarily addresses concerns identified in congressional mandates and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations for gas transmission lines.  The most significant provisions include new requirements for verifying pipeline materials, reconfirming maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP), and performing periodic assessments of pipeline segments located outside of high consequence areas (HCAs), including in newly-defined moderate consequence areas (MCAs).  Other changes include amendments to the integrity management (IM) requirements, new requirements for reporting MAOP exceedances and the safety of inline inspection launcher and receivers, as well as related recordkeeping requirements. This alert is the first in a four-part Babst Calland series on the Rule.  This first alert discusses the new MAOP reconfirmation and material verification requirements.  The next alert will cover MCAs and new assessment requirements for pipelines located outside of HCAs.  The third client alert will review the new recordkeeping requirements.  Finally, Babst Calland will survey the remaining Rule topics. Please read more about this Final Rule in this Alert.

Tagged:  MAOP, PHMSA, gas transmission pipelines, maximum allowable operating pressure, operator


Ohio’s Seventh District Court of Appeals Clarifies Past Holdings, Confirms Marketable Title Act Available to Surface Owners Seeking to Extinguish Severed Mineral Interests

Ohio’s Seventh District Court of Appeals recently ruled that Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (the “MTA”) does not conflict with the Dormant Mineral Act (“DMA”), and that both statutes can be utilized by a surface owner to claim ownership of severed minerals. W. v. Bode, 2019-Ohio-4092 (Ct. App.). The Monroe County trial court found that the DMA irreconcilably conflicted with the MTA and that the surface owners were limited to the process set forth in the DMA to claim ownership of a severed royalty interest. However, the Seventh District reversed and determined that, although the DMA provides a separate procedure, both the MTA and the DMA are available to surface owners attempting to claim ownership of a severed mineral interest.

In addition to Bode, the Seventh District issued two opinions clarifying earlier 2019 decisions pertaining to the MTA. Hickman v. Consolidation Coal Co., 2019-Ohio-4077 (Ct. App.) and Miller v. Mellot, 2019-Ohio-4084 (Ct. App.). In its previous decisions, the Seventh District held that if the surface owner’s root of title contained any reference to an oil and gas exception/reservation, the surface owner was precluded from claiming the mineral interest had been extinguished under the MTA. In Hickman and Miller, the Seventh District clarified that it reached that conclusion solely due to the void in the post-severance/pre-root deed history contained in the record in these cases. Because the records were silent as to the interest owned by the grantors in the root of title deeds, the court could not ascertain that the exception/reservation contained therein operated as a reference instead of an original severance. The Seventh District confirmed that the Blackstone analysis1 applies where the root of title contains a reference to a prior reference.

Enacted in 1961, the MTA operates to extinguish interests after 40 years unless a statutory exception applies. While originally excluding minerals from its application, a 1973 amendment caused the MTA to apply to all minerals except coal. In 1989, the Ohio legislature amended the MTA to include the DMA, which provides a method to have severed minerals “deemed abandoned” after 20 years absent a savings event. Therefore, the DMA provides a method, including service of notice on the holders, of declaring a mineral interest abandoned after only 20 years and the MTA results in an automatic extinguishment of an interest after 40 years. The availability of these coextensive alternatives depends on the time passed and the nature of the chain of title for both the surface and minerals. In holding that both the DMA and MTA apply to minerals, the Seventh District provided greater flexibility to surface owners and operators seeking to develop oil and gas in Ohio.

__________________
1 (1) Is there an interest described within the chain of title? (2) If so, is the reference to that interest a “general reference”? (3) If the answers to the first two questions are “yes,” does the general reference contain a specific identification of a recorded title transaction?

Tagged:  Dormant Mineral Act, Leasing, Litigation, Marketable Title Act, Natural gas, Ohio, Oil and gas, Title, reference


Pipeline Safety Alert – PHMSA Publishes Long-Awaited Final Rule for Hazardous Liquid Pipelines

On October 1, 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a final rule in the Federal Register amending the federal safety standards for hazardous liquids pipelines at 49 C.F.R. Part 195 (84 Fed. Reg. 52260) (Rule). The publication of the Rule ends a nearly decade-long rulemaking process that began in the wake of a significant pipeline accident in Marshall, Michigan. A prior version of the Rule, released in the closing days of the Obama administration, was returned to PHMSA for further review pursuant to a White House memorandum issued at the start of the Trump administration. This version of the Rule reflects changes that PHMSA made after receiving input from the current administration, the most significant of which is the removal of new requirements for performing pipeline repairs. The effective date of the Rule is July 1, 2020.  Please read more about this Final Rule in this Alert.

Tagged:  PHMSA, PIPES Act, pipelines, reporting


Pipeline Safety Alert – PHMSA Releases Enhanced Emergency Order Procedures

On October 1, 2019, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA or the Agency) published a Final Rule in the Federal Register updating its procedural requirements for issuing emergency orders (EO).  In 2016, PHMSA issued temporary regulations for issuing emergency orders in an interim final rule (IFR).  Unlike the process that ordinarily applies to PHMSA rulemakings under the Pipeline Safety and Administrative Procedure Acts, the Agency issued the temporary EO requirements without providing the public with prior notice or the opportunity to submit comments.  The final rule takes effect on December 2, 2019, and includes changes that the Agency deemed necessary based on comments submitted after the IFR.  Please read more about this Final Rule in this Alert.

Tagged:  PHMSA, PIPES Act of 2016, Pipeline, emergency orders, imminent hazard