Oil & Gas Law Report

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Ohio’s appellate courts wrestle with oil and gas issues concerning domestic relations and dual-agent Realtors

We have spilled a lot of “digital ink” on this blog addressing how Ohio courts have confronted oil and gas disputes about Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act (DMA) and regulatory/zoning matters. As we noted previously, there are no less than five cases now pending before the Ohio Supreme Court about the DMA, presenting some 15 propositions of law. And the court still has not ruled on the long-pending Munroe Falls appeal, which addresses the extent to which municipalities may be preempted from applying zoning regulations to state-permitted oil and gas wells.

It has been interesting for those of us who practice in the firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice Group to watch Ohio’s oil and gas boom touch other areas of the law, beyond the predictable DMA, leasing, and regulatory contexts. Two recent appellate decisions from Guernsey County – one of which is set to be argued before the Ohio Supreme Court in May – reflect how Ohioans’ interest in valuable mineral rights is affecting other facets of the law.

Is income from an oil and gas lease marital property?

On May 5, the Ohio Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in Kuhn v. Kuhn n.k.a. Cottle. … Continue Reading

Ohio Supreme Court accepts second Dormant Mineral Act case

The Ohio Supreme Court recently accepted a new group of civil cases; among them is Chesapeake Exploration, LLC v. Buell. In this case, the Supreme Court has agreed to answer the following two questions of Ohio law certified by United States District Judge Watson of the Southern District of Ohio in Case No. 2:12-cv-916:

  1. Is the recorded lease of a severed subsurface mineral estate a title transaction under the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56(B)(3)(a)?
  2. Is the expiration of a recorded lease and the reversion of the rights granted under that lease a title transaction that restarts the 20-year forfeiture clock under the ODMA at the time of the reversion?

Read the court’s certification order and preliminary memoranda.… Continue Reading

The Ohio Dormant Minerals Act: Part 4

In the previous three parts of this series (read part 1, part 2 and part 3), we reviewed the Ohio Marketable Title Act (MTA), its application to severed minerals, and the experience of neighboring states, all of which played a role in the development of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act (DMA).

To summarize:

  • The MTA was enacted in 1961 to make land titles marketable, i.e., free of stale claims. It included a grace period and did not require notice before a chain of title was extinguished in favor of another.
  • The MTA generally applies to any property interest (presumably still including oil and gas interests) where no conveyance or claim to preserve has been filed during the past 40 years.
  • The MTA does not necessarily extinguish all old severed mineral interests, even those with a root of title more than 40 years old, because the severed interest may be a separate chain of title.
  • The Illinois DMA was found unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1980 as violating due process because it did not require severed mineral owners to be given notice and an opportunity to be heard.
  • Indiana’s Dormant Mineral Interests Act, Ind. Code §§
Continue Reading

The Ohio Dormant Minerals Act: Part 3

In part 2 of this series, we reviewed the application of the Marketable Title Act (MTA) in a 1982 case involving a severed mineral interest and two independent chains of title. The Ohio courts appeared to struggle with the application of the MTA to the facts of that case. Courts and legislatures in neighboring states also struggled with how to handle dormant severed minerals. Those states’ case law and statutes played a role in the formulation of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act, which was enacted in 1989 as part of the MTA. Examples of such influential laws and cases from Illinois and Indiana follow.

Illinois DMA held unconstitutional in 19801

In Illinois, at common law, once a mineral estate has been severed from the surface estate, it cannot be terminated by mere nonuse or abandonment. Uphoff v Trustees of Tufts College, 351 Ill 146, 155, 184 NE 213, 216 (Ill 1932). Thus, mineral interests can lie dormant, even through several transfers of title. This situation, over time, can result in missing or unknown owners. The difficulty in ascertaining and locating severed mineral owners had a substantial deterrent effect on would-be gas and oil developers.

The Illinois legislature … Continue Reading

The Ohio Dormant Minerals Act: Part 2

In the first part of this series, we reviewed a 2010 Licking County case, which held that Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (MTA) extinguished an adjoining landowner’s claim against former railroad property. This article discusses how the MTA was used to reconcile competing claims to a severed mineral interest before Ohio’s Dormant Minerals Act was passed.

The Marketable Title Act and severed minerals: coal excepted, but not oil and gas

When the MTA was first enacted in 1961, it expressly excepted all mineral interests . But in 1973 the Ohio Legislature amended the mineral interest exception so that only coal was excepted from the operation of the MTA. That amendment set the stage for Heifner v. Bradford, 5th Dist. Muskingum No. CA-81-10, 1982 Ohio App. LEXIS 14859 (Jan. 29, 1982), overruled by Heifner v. Bradford, 4 Ohio St. 3d 49; 446 N.E.2d 440 (1983).… Continue Reading

Sixth Circuit affirms “paragraph 14” lease interpretation

The right, but not the obligation, to renew an existing lease

As we discussed previously, state and federal courts in Ohio have been asked to interpret the meaning of “paragraph 14” in oil and gas leases. On Oct. 30, 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that paragraph 14 does not require a lessee to match a third-party offer or have the lease terminated. The federal court opinion issued in Stewart v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 22302, 2013 FED App. 0928N (6th Cir.), 2013 WL 5832343 (6th Cir. Ohio 2013) is consistent with other holdings interpreting this lease provision.

The court found the landowners’ interpretation “strange at best,” “implausible” and in conflict with several other provisions in the lease.

The court closed by holding:

“In summary, we agree with the district court that, by its terms, Paragraph 14 does not grant the landowners a right to terminate their leases, but instead grants Chesapeake a ‘preferential right to renew’ them.”

 … Continue Reading

Part 3: Who owns the minerals under Ohio Township Section 16?

In our previous two segments on Section 16 lands — Part 1 and Part 2 — we examined the dedication, by Congress, of one section in each Ohio township, usually Section 16, for the support of public education. Initially, while retaining title to such lands in trust, Ohio vested administrative control in township trustees. However, the allocation of authority to the townships did not go well and in 1914 and 1917 the legislature reallocated responsibility to the Auditor of State as administrator of school lands remaining in state hands.

From 1827 to 1917, when the township trustees were authorized to sell or lease school land to private individuals, mineral title typically passed with the fee simple title. However, this practice ended in 1917 when the auditor assumed authority.

The 1917 legislation, known as the Garver Act, was enacted to provide for better administration of school lands. H.B. No. 192, 107 Ohio Laws 357, G.C. 3203. One of the issues was confusion about the status and ownership of leases of Section 16 parcels granted by township trustees. Section 23 of the Garver Act —provided procedure by which someone claiming title could file a claim with the state supervisor who, after public … Continue Reading

What Goes Up … Quick Glance #3 at Ohio Oil and Gas Leases in Bankruptcy

As with prior posts about oil and gas leases in bankruptcy (located here and, on Porter Wright’s Banking & Finance Law Report blog, here), this post presents another thorny issue — namely, “Is an oil and gas lease a lease at all?”

Whether an oil and gas lease is a “lease” is significant in the bankruptcy context, because the Bankruptcy Code has several provisions regarding the treatment of leases.

This post considers two cases that interpret 11 U.S.C. § 365(d)(4), which provides that unless the bankruptcy court orders an extension, “an unexpired lease of nonresidential real property under which the debtor is the lessee shall be deemed rejected, and the trustee shall immediately surrender that nonresidential real property to the lessor, if the trustee does not assume or reject the unexpired lease by … the date that is 120 days after the date of the order for relief [(typically, the commencement of the case)]….” The Code further provides that “the rejection of an … unexpired lease of the debtor constitutes a breach of such contract or lease … immediately before the date of the filing of the petition.”… Continue Reading

Part 2: Who owns the minerals under Ohio Township Section 16?

In our first post about Section 16 lands, we provided background on such public lands here in Ohio. We summarized that in 1785, a Federal land ordinance granted one square mile — usually Section 16 — out of every six square mile township to be held in trust by the state and to be dedicated to support public education pursuant to federal law. The Ohio Legislature then began leasing the land, and in 1827 it authorized sale of the land with proceeds going to the “Common School Fund.” Interest from the fund was to be paid to the schools within the townships. See, Dr. George W. Knepper, The Auditor of State, The Official Ohio Lands Book, 2002. (“Knepper”).

In regard to the funds collected from the sale of all school lands, the Ohio Constitution provided:

“The principal of all funds, arising from the sale, or other disposition of lands, or other property, granted or entrusted to this state for educational and religious purposes, shall forever be preserved inviolate, and undiminished; and, the income arising therefrom, shall be faithfully applied to the specific objects of the original grants, or appropriations.” Ohio Constitution, Article VI, Section 1 1Continue Reading

Who owns the minerals under Ohio Township Section 16?

Oil and gas law is, at its core, real estate law that has been shaped by a thousand years of common law and, more recently, statutory law. Ohio is no exception, and one area that has been impacted significantly by shifting legal policies and statutes is the ownership of minerals beneath “school lands” in Section 16 of Ohio’s Townships.

In the Federal Land Ordinance of 1785, Ohio was required to reserve one section of land (i.e., one square mile, usually section 16), in every Ohio township for the support of public education. Extending that federal mandate, in 1917, the Ohio Legislature passed a law that, among other provisions, provided, “It is declared to be the policy of the state to conserve … mineral resources of the [school lands held in trust] … and to this end the state reserves all gas, oil, coal, iron and other minerals that may be upon or under the said school lands… .” H.B. No. 192, passed March, 20, 1917 (107 Ohio Laws 357). Realizing the magnitude of this reservation and the fact that the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act cannot be used against government interests, my interest was tweaked and I decided to dig a … Continue Reading

ODNR Issues New Rules for Unitization Applications

Responding to a surge in applications, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has issued rules for new applications. After being relatively unused for decades, the unitization statute (R.C. 1509.28) has found new life in the current shale play and the state agency overseeing the process decided it was time to lay down some groundrules.

The new rules mostly serve to clarify the statutory requirements, but there are few substantive additions that aren’t required by statute:

  • Affidavit of attempts to lease. Most notably, the new rules require applicants to describe their efforts to lease the remaining acres in a proposed unit. The operator must identify specific details of each attempt to lease the mineral rights, including the dates of the attempts and the names of people contacted. This has long been an aspect of mandatory pooling, and has been a part of recent unitization orders, but until now was not a prerequisite to apply for unitization.
  • Visual depictions of the proposed unit. The rules describe specific dimensions and content requirement for maps and aerial photographs of proposed units.
  • Description of geological formations. The rules require a gamma-ray density log depicting the geological formations to be drilled in the proposed unit.
Continue Reading

Nothing New Under the Sun — A 1901 Oil and Gas Lease

Mineral and land owners in Ohio who are presented with a proposed lease from a landman or oil company often launch an intense study of royalty provisions, development covenants, delay rentals, Pugh clauses, well spacing and the like. They often refer to the Internet, land owner groups, owner-oriented attorneys and other resources. Like so many things, it turns out that our forefathers pretty much had it figured out. I recently reviewed a 1901 oil and gas lease from Putman County; my thoughts and observations are below.

The lease was granted by Noah Moser to The Sun Oil Co., an Ohio corporation, on Sept. 19, 1901. The recordation of this transaction is hand written into the Putman County records by the recorder. The consideration, what is today called the “signing bonus,” was $80 for a 160-acre parcel. (In today’s dollars, that’s an “economic power” of $56,300, or $352 per acre.)

In the two-page document, Mr. Moser granted all the oil and gas in and under the described premises together with the right to enter at all times for the purpose of drilling and operating for oil, gas or water. This included the right to erect, maintain and remove all buildings, structures, … Continue Reading

Ownership of Minerals Under Public Roads

This is the second post in a two-part series examining ownership of minerals located under bodies of water and roads. See part I discussing the ownership of minerals under adjoining waters.

Who owns the minerals underneath public roads in Ohio? This is really two questions:

  1. What ownership interest does the state, county, or township have in the land underlying the road? 
  2. What is the rule for abutting landowners in the event the government owns less than a fee simple absolute?

Historical Ownership Interest of the State, Counties and Municipalities

Over time, the interest acquired in the land underlying roads has changed for states, counties, and townships. Ownership interests are transaction specific, but there is a general trend. Municipal roads were usually taken in fee, while roads outside municipalities are likely to be easements unless they were granted in the past 30 years, in which case they are likely to be held in fee.… Continue Reading

Ownership of Minerals Under Adjoining Waters

This post is the first of two articles examining ownership of minerals located under bodies of water and roads.

Who owns the minerals under bodies of water? When oil and gas were being produced in meager quantities, not many people cared. But the story is different when lease bonuses are thousands of dollars per acre and royalties could be worth millions. Now, every acre in eastern Ohio is cast in a different light and suddenly there is enormous interest in figuring out who owns the minerals beneath Ohio’s lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and reservoirs. The following press release helps drive home the point about what is at stake:… Continue Reading

Gaining Perspective on Ohio’s Oil and Gas Laws

Ohio’s oil and gas industry has been around for more than 120 years. That means there is plenty of perspective, and precedent, to consider when applying Ohio oil and gas law to the Utica and Marcellus shale plays. We’ve compiled a few Oil & Gas Law Report articles into an eBook to help you build a better understanding of the how the industry and the law has evolved, and where it could be heading. Download our eBook — Ohio Oil & Gas Laws: History and Perspective.… Continue Reading

Ownership Theory of Oil and Gas Influences Bankruptcy Law in Ohio

One of the most fundamental questions in oil and gas law is whether oil and gas in the ground are capable of being “owned.” The answer to this question shapes the law and influences legal analysis in a variety of ways.

Different states have answered this question in different ways, and the answer is not yet clear in Ohio. But the characterization under Ohio law is critically important in federal bankruptcy law, as Andy Nicoll discusses in his recent post on the Banking & Finance Law Report blog. It is worth the read.… Continue Reading

Unitization in Ohio: Compelled Participation in the New Context of the Utica Shale

In many ways, the Utica Shale play caught Ohio off guard. The state became a main focus of the oil and gas industry almost overnight. Ohio responded by updating its oil and gas laws, including major overhauls resulting from Senate bills 165 in 2010 and 315 in 2012. But in some cases, operators and regulatory agencies are still applying old law that was written with conventional drilling methods in mind. In this post, part 3 of our series on compelled participation (see Part 1 and Part 2), we look at unitization — one of these old laws being put to new use.

What Is Unitization?

Unitization is the creation or designation of a contiguous area of land, called a “unit,” for the efficient development of the oil and gas resources underlying that land. Units can be formed by order of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), on application from an operator. Units also can be formed voluntarily by consent of interest owners, usually owners of the leasehold. Inevitably, the land sought to be unitized — really the geologic formation below the surface — is subject to a patchwork of different ownership interests. The operator attempts to negotiate lease … Continue Reading

Oil and Gas Rights — Reserved? A Litigator’s Perspective On The Mong Case

A decision out of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals of Ohio, Mong v. Kovach Holdings, LLC, 2013-Ohio-882 (Ohio 11th Dist. March 11, 2013), represents a cautionary reminder that parties should carefully review the language of contracts they enter, especially the essential terms of the document, and especially contracts that convey away property rights. That is particularly true when a party parts with property rights set forth in warranty deeds. My colleague Jeff Fort blogged about this recently and asked me to add my thoughts.

In Mong v. Kovach Holdings, the plaintiff, Joseph Mong, sold approximately 70 acres of land near Warren, Ohio, he had recently acquired from Alice McMenamin to Defendant Kovach Holdings at auction. Mr. Mong apparently intended to reserve to himself the oil and gas rights associated with the property. According to Mr. Mong, the auctioneer informed the prospective purchasers of that reservation immediately preceding and subsequent to the auction. The auctioneer confirmed that he did so in a following affidavit. The purchaser of the property, Kovach Holdings, denied that that the auctioneer described any such limitations or reservations. The property sold for $245,300.

The parties shortly thereafter executed a standard purchase agreement, but which … Continue Reading

Due Diligence in Lending to the Oil and Gas Industry

Lenders venturing into Ohio’s oil and gas industry need to be aware of unique features of the industry and how to conduct due diligence to properly evaluate risk. Successful lenders understand how the maturity of an oil and gas play, unique features of oil and gas assets, and a borrower’s experience can impact risk. Unique lending arrangements can help mitigate risk for all parties. My guest post on Porter Wright’s Banking and Finance Law Report helps lenders appreciate these basic concepts.… Continue Reading

Life Estates: More Oil and Gas Law Implications

We recently received a question regarding our earlier post Life Estates: Oil and Gas Law Implications, wondering: “What happens to a mineral lease which the life tenant entered into and received renewal payments each year that was never ratified by the remaindermen upon the termination of the life estate and complete possession is realized by the remaindermen?”

The Noble County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas recently addressed this issue in Dickson v. Chesapeake AEC Acquisition, LLC, Case No. 212-0051. In Dickson, a life tenant entered into an oil and gas lease with an exploration company. Just before the original term of the lease expired, the lessee’s successor sent the life tenant a check, as was required to extend the primary term of the lease. The plaintiffs (the remaindermen of the life estate) returned the check and notified the lessee that the lessor owned only a life estate in the property, that the plaintiffs owned the remainder interest in the property, and that the life tenant had no right to lease mineral rights. When the dispute could not be resolved, the remaindermen sued the lessee. The remaindermen then moved for summary judgment, asking the court to declare the … Continue Reading

Be Careful Drafting Contracts and Deeds When the Ownership of Minerals Is at Stake

A recent decision by the Court of Appeals of Ohio highlights several errors by a seller of property who may have intended to reserve mineral rights. (See Mong v. Kovach Holdings LLC, 2013 Ohio 882, Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh Appellate District, Lake County, March 11, 2013.)

Facts
In August 2009, McMenamin conveyed real estate in Trumbull County to Mong. The deed contained a reservation:

“Grantor [McMenamin] herein reserves the oil and gas royalties for the duration of her natural life, but for a term not to exceed 10 years from the date hereof [August 4, 2009].”

The minerals were subject to an oil and gas lease. So at this point, McMenamin had a life estate in the royalty interest. Mong had a future interest in the royalties and a present ownership interest of the minerals.… Continue Reading

What Goes Up … A Quick Glance at Ohio Oil and Gas Leases in Bankruptcy

As Ohio enjoys its latest boom in oil and gas exploration, it is important to understand how oil and gas leases are treated in bankruptcy. Unsettled Ohio law regarding whether a debtor owns unextracted oil and gas as part of the debtor’s real property can make this a difficult issue. 

In In re Loveday, No. 10-64110, 2012 WL 1565479 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio May 2, 2012), the Northern District of Ohio examined whether a Chapter 13 debtor had properly included in his bankruptcy schedules his interest in unextracted oil and gas relating to the debtor’s real property. Whether the debtor’s oil and gas rights were properly scheduled was a significant factor in determining whether the debtor could retain the proceeds of the sale of his oil and gas rights. But more importantly, for the companies who sought to purchase the debtor’s oil and gas rights, knowing whether such rights were properly scheduled was necessary to determine whether the debtor had unfettered authority to sell his oil and gas rights without court approval.… Continue Reading

A Tool of Last Resort: Mandatory Pooling in Ohio

This is the second in a multi-part series on the practice of compelled participation – forcing unwilling mineral rights owners to participate in oil and gas production from their property. Part I discussed the history and constitutionality of this practice in the U.S.

Every day, crowds of title researchers and landmen pack county offices in Eastern Ohio looking for the owners of unleased property. They are discovering a quilt of landowners with varying degrees of interest in leasing their land for oil and gas drilling. But even after attempting to negotiate with landowners, oil and gas companies often cannot lease enough land to comply with Ohio’s minimum spacing laws. As a result of those laws, uncooperative landowners threaten to interfere with landowners who have leased and want to have oil produced from their land.

Fortunately, under the right circumstances, an operator or the consenting landowners may be able to invoke Ohio’s mandatory pooling laws, the most common form of compelled participation. Mandatory pooling laws force hold-out landowners to submit their mineral rights to oil and gas operations when their recalcitrance prevents an operator from meeting state spacing requirements. Read more about these and other industry terms in a Continue Reading

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