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Legal Issues in Marcellus Shale Development

Legal Issues in Marcellus Shale Development

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Legal Issues in Marcellus Shale Development

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  1. Agricultural Law Resource and ReferenceCenter Ross H. Pifer, J.D., LL.M., Director Legal Issues in Marcellus Shale Development Penn State Extension Natural Gas Tax Workshop Williamsport, Pennsylvania Towanda, Pennsylvania January 2011

  2. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . History of the Agricultural Law Center • Established through the enactment of the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center Act on January 29, 1998. • House Bill 1345 (Act 11 of 1998) • Codified at 3 P.S. 2201-2009 Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  3. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Purpose of the Agricultural Law Center • Section 2205 • “to serve as a resource on agricultural law and related issues for farmers and agribusinesses, attorneys, officials at all levels of government, community groups, and the public.” Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  4. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Dissemination of Information • Presentations • Educational Programs • Publications • The Agricultural Law Brief • Web site Resources Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  5. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . The Agricultural Law Brief • Monthly e-newsletter • Addresses five legal developments from prior month that impact agricultural law in Pennsylvania Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  6. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Web-based Resources • http://law.psu.edu/aglaw • Natural Gas Resource Area • Penn State Resources • Case Law • Statutes • Regulations • Legal-related links Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  7. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Overview of Presentation • Leasing Issues • General Oil and Gas Law Concepts • Developing Oil and Gas Case Law • PA Legislation • Legal Issues on the Horizon Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  8. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Overview of Presentation • Leasing Issues • General Oil and Gas Law Concepts • Developing Oil and Gas Case Law • PA Legislation • Legal Issues on the Horizon Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  9. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Basic Financial Considerations • Lease agreement will govern nearly all aspects of relationship between landowner and energy company. • Landowner should understand all payment terms in lease agreement as well as potential liabilities from drilling operations. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  10. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Payment Terms • Bonus payment • Delay rental payments • Royalties • Shut-in royalty payments • Free natural gas Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  11. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Other Payment Opportunities • Storage rights • Transportation of foreign gas / installation of pipelines • Well siting fee Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  12. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Adverse Financial Events • Landowners should seek protection through: • Lease terms • Insurance coverage • Establishment of financial reserve Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  13. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Adverse Financial Events • Examples of potential adverse events: • Property damages • Liability to third parties • Protection through indemnification • Increased taxes, penalties, or damages from violation of farmland preservation program • Protection through fee shifting Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  14. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Property Damages • Landowner should consider potential damage to: • Soils, crops, buildings, roads, water, etc. • Landowner should consider method of valuing damages. • Landowner should consider inclusion of arbitration clause. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  15. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Overview of Presentation • Leasing Issues • General Oil and Gas Law Concepts • Developing Oil and Gas Case Law • PA Legislation • Legal Issues on the Horizon Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  16. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Lease Terms • Primary term • Generally commences upon execution of lease agreement • Generally terminates upon expiration of stated number of years or upon the commencement of drilling activities • Secondary term • Generally commences upon the initiation of drilling activities • Generally continues so long as a productive well remains on the leasehold Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  17. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . “Held By Production” • When a well is commenced during the primary term, the leasehold is said to be “held by production.” • So long as a leasehold is held by production, the energy company holds all rights granted through the lease agreement. • Thus, the landowner will be limited or prevented from acquiring additional lease bonus payments. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  18. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Pooling / Unitization • Pooling – “combining . . . tracts for the purpose of sharing production and expenses.” • Unitization – “consolidating multiple tracts and interests into a single unified block to allow for orderly development and efficient operations to prevent surface, underground, and economic waste.” • John S. Lowe et al., Cases and Materials on Oil and Gas Law Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  19. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Pooling / Unitization • Royalties are paid on a proportional basis within drilling unit. • Example: • If drilling unit is 640 acres; • and landowner owns 64 acres within drilling unit; • and landowner’s lease agreement provides for a royalty rate of 15%; • Then landowner will receive royalty of 1.5% of gas extracted. • The composition of a drilling unit is determined by the energy company. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  20. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Pooling / Unitization • Where only a portion of a leasehold is included in a drilling unit, generally all of the leasehold will be held by production. • A Pugh Clause in the lease agreement can provide for the release of portions of the leasehold that are not included within a drilling unit. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  21. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Rule of Capture • “The owner of a tract of land acquires title to the oil and gas which he produces from wells drilled thereon, though it may be proved that part of such oil and gas migrated from adjoining lands.” • Robert E. Hardwicke (1935) Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  22. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Severance of Estates • Mineral estate is severable from surface estate. • Mineral estate is dominant over surface estate. • Owner of mineral estate is entitled to reasonable use of surface estate. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  23. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Severance of Estates • What is reasonable use? • How does the ability to horizontally drill affect reasonable use? • How can landowner enforce reasonable use? • Surface use agreement • Litigation Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  24. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Overview of Presentation • Leasing Issues • General Oil and Gas Law Concepts • Developing Oil and Gas Case Law • PA Legislation • Legal Issues on the Horizon Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  25. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Developing Case Law • Validity and duration of lease agreement • Municipal regulation • Surface estate issues Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  26. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Validity and Duration of Lease Agreement • Minimum Royalty Act litigation • Fraudulent Inducement • Untimely Tender of Lease Payment • Failure to Obtain Management Approval of Lease • Enforcement of Arbitration Clauses • Expiration of Secondary Term – “Produced in Paying Quantities” Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  27. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Minimum Royalty Act litigation • Hundreds, possibly thousands, of landowners sought to terminate their lease agreements in suits before state and federal courts. • Landowners who sued generally executed leases providing for relatively low payment terms. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  28. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . 58 P.S. § 33 – Guarantee of Minimum Royalties • A lease or other such agreement conveying the right to remove or recover oil, natural gas or gas of any other designation from lessor to lessee shall not be valid if such lease does not guarantee the lessor at least one-eighth royalty of all oil, natural gas or gas of other designations removed or recovered from the subject real property. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  29. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Kilmer v. Elexco Land Services • Susquehanna Co. Court of Common Pleas • March 3, 2009 – Order ruled in favor of gas company. • March 16, 2009 – Opinion issued. • On June 16, 2009, Supreme Court granted Petition for Extraordinary Relief. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  30. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Kilmer v. Elexco Land Services • Issue accepted by Supreme Court • “Whether 58 P.S. § 33 precludes parties from contracting that post-production costs be factored into the determination of the amount of royalty payable under an oil or natural gas lease.” Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  31. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Kilmer v. Elexco Land Services • Supreme Court opinion issued on March 24, 2010 • GMRA “should be read to permit the calculation of royalties at the wellhead, as provided by the net-back method used in the lease.” Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  32. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Fraudulent Inducement • Kropa v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 2010 WL 2346587 (M.D. Pa. June 8, 2010). • Facts: • Susquehanna County landowner paid $25 per acre lease bonus. • Allegation that landman stated that Cabot would never pay more than $25 per acre. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  33. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Kropa v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. • Cabot filed motion to dismiss claim • Argued that parol evidence rule precluded consideration of evidence outside terms of contract • Court denied motion to dismiss • Parol evidence rule only applies to valid contract. • Evidence of fraud permitted to contest contract validity. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  34. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Untimely Tender of Lease Bonus • Sylvester v. Southwestern Energy Production, 2009 WL 3633835 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 2, 2009). • Facts: • December 2007 – ten-year lease agreement executed • Payment to be made within sixty days of lease agreement. • Payment received by landowners twenty-three days after deadline. • Landowners returned check to gas company. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  35. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Sylvester v. Southwestern Energy • Landowners sought declaration that lease was unenforceable. • Court granted gas company’s motion to dismiss. • Delay did not constitute material breach. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  36. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Sylvester v. Southwestern Energy • No material breach: • Landowners could receive benefit of bargain. • Ninety days notice of default was to be provided. • No provision stating that time was of the essence. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  37. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Breach of Contract – Failure to Accept Lease • Hollingsworth v. Range Resources, 2009 WL 3601586 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 28, 2009). • Facts: • June – Hollingsworth received Dear Property Owner letter “offering” lease bonus of $2,500 per acre. • August – Hollingsworth signs lease and returns to Range. • December – Range returns lease to Hollingsworth stamped ‘void.’ Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  38. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Hollingsworth v. Range Resources • Contract did not exist. • Dear Property Owner letter did not constitute an offer. • Range did not sign lease agreement. • By voiding and returning lease, Range was rejecting Hollingsworth offer. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  39. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Valentino v. Range Resources – Appalachia • Facts: • Lease agreement and side agreement provided for bonus payment of $456,800. • Lease not valid until approved by management. • Court opinion • Documents did not define management approval • Breach of contract claim was facially plausible • Motion to Dismiss denied Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  40. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Expiration of Secondary Term • T.W. Phillips v. Jedlicka, 964 A.2d 13 (Pa. Super. Ct. Dec. 29, 2008). • Facts: • Lease was executed in 1928. • Lease extended so long as “oil or gas is produced in paying quantities.” • Wells were drilled in 1929, 1986, 2004, and 2005. • Jedlicka argued that lease terminated in 1959 because lease was not profitable in that year. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  41. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . T.W. Phillips v. Jedlicka • Superior Court opinion • Court relied upon Young v. Forest Oil Co. (Pa. 1899) to apply subjective test. • Court ruled that Jedlicka had failed to carry burden of establishing lack of good faith. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  42. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . T.W. Phillips v. Jedlicka • Issue before Supreme Court: • Did the Superior Court misapply [Young v. Forest Oil] by holding that Pennsylvania employs a purely subjective test to determine whether an oil or gas lease has produced “in paying quantities.” • Argument held on April 13, 2010. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  43. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Restrictions on Surface Use in Oil Creek State Park • Belden & Blake v. DCNR (Pa. Apr. 29, 2009) • Facts: • Belden had rights to extract oil and gas within Oil Creek State Park. • DCNR would not permit surface access without coordination agreement. • Belden filed suit, claiming implied easement to use surface estate. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  44. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Belden & Blake v. DCNR • Supreme Court Ruling: • DCNR could not require Belden to execute coordination agreement. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  45. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Belden & Blake v. DCNR • Supreme Court Opinion: • Subsurface estate is dominant over surface estate. • Chartiers Block Coal Co. v. Mellon (Pa. 1893) • Subsurface owner entitled to reasonable use of surface estate. • Burden is on surface owner to challenge reasonableness of use. • Government holds no greater rights than private landowner re: surface use. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  46. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Damages for Devaluation of Surface Estate • Gates v. Exco Resources, 2010 WL 1416740 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 8, 2010) • Landowners executed lease agreement and pipeline rights of way. • Landowners sought damages for devaluation of property due to improper reclamation after installation of pipelines. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  47. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Gates v. Exco Resources • Court opinion • Court found that 20 acres was “rendered almost unable to be used again.” • Court awarded $16,000 in damages due to diminution of property value. • Court did not rely on contract as basis for recovery. • Court awarded damages despite evidence that devalued land was typical of gas production activities. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  48. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Coffin v. Medina Resource Company, LLC • Crawford County case (March 15, 2010) • Right of way agreement executed in conjunction with lease agreement. • Landowner sought to terminate right of way when well was no longer productive. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  49. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Bankruptcy – In Re Howard • 422 B.R. 568 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 10, 2009) • Facts: • H acquired natural gas rights prior to marriage. • H conveyed quit claim deed to W during marriage. • H and W divorce. • H filed bankruptcy. • W signs gas lease – receives $471,000. • W records quit claim deed. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011

  50. AgriculturalLaw Resource and Reference Center . Bankruptcy – In Re Howard • Court opinion: • Bankruptcy trustee stood in position of bona fide purchaser • Trustee had power to invalidate transfer of natural gas right to ex-wife through quit-claim deed. • Lease proceeds of $471,000 become property of bankruptcy estate. Penn State Natural Gas Tax Workshop January 2011