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Court Rules That Gas Lease Was Not Forfeited

The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled on Friday that an oil and gas lease was not forfeited by the failure of the operators to pay delay rentals. In Dewing v. Abarta Oil & Gas Co., the landowners (the “Dewings”) executed an oil and gas lease that was owned by Abarta Oil & Gas Co. Inc., Talisman Energy USA, Inc. (“Talisman”) and Range Resources (“Range”, collectively, the “Operators”). The lease provided that delay rentals be paid for the primary term for the lease unless and until a well is drilled on the property or a well unit is drilled. The lease also stated that it “shall never be subject to a civil action or other proceeding to enforce a claim of forfeiture due to Lessee’s alleged failure to perform as specified herein, unless Lessee has received written notice of Lessor’s demand and thereafter fails or refuses to satisfy Lessor’s demand within 60 days from the receipt of the notice” (the “Forfeiture Clause”). The Dewings did not receive delay rentals for a period of time and sent notice of such failure to Talisman, which informed the Dewings that Range was handling the payment of delay rentals. The Dewings subsequently sent notice that the lease was forfeited to Range, and Range thereafter paid the delay rentals to the Dewings. The Dewings filed the underlying civil action, alleging that the lease had been forfeited and abandoned for failure to timely pay the delay rental. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling in favor of the Operators, stating that although the Dewings had the right to seek forfeiture under the Forfeiture Clause, they did not prove that the Operators did not materially breach the lease. Citing a prior decision, Linder v. SWEPI, 549 Fed. Apx. 104 (3d. Cir. 2013), the Superior Court held that unless a contract contains a “time-is-of-the-essence” clause, the breach of the delay rental provision by making a late payment is not a material breach. Further, when a lease includes a 60-day cure period, it is evident that the parties intended to improve the chances of an out-of-court resolution to a breach caused by the late payment of delay rentals. Therefore, the Superior Court held that the Operators had not materially breached or abandoned the oil and gas lease under dispute.