Shale Energy Law Blog
On May 26, 2017, in a suit styled Leggett v EQT Production Company, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued majority and concurring (links to PDFs) opinions finding 4-1 that the use of the language “at the wellhead” in the Flat Rate Royalty Statute allows the use of the “net back” method to calculate royalties, and that the Estate of Tawney v. Columbia Natural Resources, L.L.C. case does not apply or control. Leggett was certified to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to determine whether the holding in Tawney, which did not allow post-production expense deductions when calculating royalty, applied when royalties are paid on old, flat rate leases converted to a 1/8th royalty by application of West Virginia’s “Flat Rate Royalty Statute.” The statute provides that royalties are to be paid “at the wellhead.” Tawney held that “at the wellhead” language in a lease was ambiguous, and deductions could not be taken unless expressly authorized in the lease in detail as to the type and method of calculation. After initially deciding Tawney applied and refusing to allow deductions under the Flat Rate Royalty Statute, the Leggett majority (with a change in composition post-election) reconsidered the case and reversed itself. The Court held that the rules of contract construction used to decide Tawney did not apply when interpreting a statute. More importantly, the Court seems to be signaling that it is willing to reconsider and possibly reverse Tawney, which could subsequently impact royalty calculations for West Virginia production.