The Hottest Oil & Gas Claims for 2015.001Short-payment of royalties – when do post-production costs cross the line into unreasonableness?

This next-to-last entry in Blawgletter's seven-part series on the hottest oil & gas claims for returns to the theme of royalty owners who receive less than they believe the lease entitles them to. Part 6 addresses what happens when the operator deducts post-production expenses that it paid to its affiliates rather than independent entities. May the royalty owners sue to bar deduction of affiliates' "unreasonable" charges and recover shortages on earlier royalty payments due to those unreasonable charges?

Legal backdrop

Royalty owners often complain when operators agree to compute royalties (per the lease) “at the mouth of the well” but then deduct costs that arise downstream. They may feel even more unhappy if the leases (in which they reserved their royalty interests) provide something like “the royalty shall be free of all costs related to the exploration, production and marketing of oil and gas production from the lease”. 

Under Texas law, even an express bar on post-production costs may have no effect. See Potts v. Chesapeake Expl., L.L.C., 760 F.3d 470 (5th Cir. 2014) (applying Heritage Resources v. NationsBank, 939 S.W.2d 118 (Tex. 1996), to declare no-deduct clause surplusage); Warren v. Chesapeake Expl., L.L.C., 759 F.3d 413 (5th Cir. 2014) (same); but see Chesapeake Expl., L.L.C. v. Hyder, 427 S.W.3d 472, 477 (Tex. App. – San Antonio 2014, pet. granted) (“[W]e interpret the parties’ agreement as the royalty clause excluding all costs and expenses of production and post-production, including post-production costs and expenses incurred between the point of delivery and the point of sale.”)* (emphasis in original). Even in jurisdictions that, like Texas, permit deduction of post-production costs despite clauses that appear to prohibit the practice, might the royalty owners still have a claim for short-payment?

The Fifth Circuit in Warren left open the issue of the impact of sales to affiliates. The panel noted that “the parties have not argued or briefed, and this opinion does not consider, the relationship among affiliated Chesapeake entities or the impact, if any, that relationship might have on matters at issue regarding the payment or calculation of royalties.” Warren, 759 F.3d at 419. The non-decision raises the question of whether a royalty owner mount a claim that the operator, through its affiliates, charged more than a reasonable amount for post-wellhead costs (such as expenses to gather, compress, treat, process, and market oil and gas).

Plaintiff's perspective

The traits that a good royalty-owner claim would have include these: 

  • Large production from the lease area during the (statute of limitations) look-back period;
  • Benchmark comparisons that show substantially lower charges for the post-production services that the operator’s affiliates provide and charge for;
  • Evidence of a large gap between the affiliates’ costs of providing post-production services and the charges to the operator; and
  • High market prices during the look-back period.

Final installment

The series for the 66th Annual Oil & Gas Law Institute comes to an end next week, when we'll address landowners' claims for damage to the surface.

Your comment

The hottest oil & gas claims series reflects industry conditions as of early 2015. Has the passage of three months affected the sorts of claims that industry participants have made? With the price of West Texas Intermediate rising from around $48 per barrel to almost $57, has pressure on contracts eased? What effects have resulted from the ongoing slump in natural gas prices, which have fallen below $2.55 per mmBtu from over $2.80 in January 2015?

Let us hear your thoughts.

_______________

The Supreme Court of Texas granted review in Hyder and heard argument in the case on March 24, 2015. See Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. v. Hyder, No. 14-0302 (Tex.). You can see video of the argument here.

Print:
Email this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Barry Barnett Barry Barnett

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck…

Clients and colleagues call Barry Barnett an “incredibly gifted lawyer” (Chambers and Partners) who is “magic in the courtroom” (Who’s Who Legal), “the top antitrust lawyer in Texas” (Chambers and Partners), and “a person of unquestioned integrity” (David J. Beck, founder of Beck Redden).

Barnett is a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, and Lawdragon has named him one of the top 500 lawyers in the United States three years in a row. Best Lawyers in America has honored him as “Lawyer of the Year” for Bet-the-Company Litigation (2019 and 2017) and Patent Litigation (2020) in Houston. Based in Texas and New York, Barnett has tried complex business disputes across the United States.

TRIAL COUNSEL
Barnett’s background, training, and experience make him indispensable to his clients. The small-town son of a Texas roughneck and grandson of a Texas sharecropper, Barnett “developed an unusual common sense about people, their motivations, and their dilemmas,” according to former client Michael Lewis.

Barnett has been historically recognized for his effectiveness and judgment. His peers chose him, for example, to the American College of Trial Lawyers and American Law Institute. His decades of trial and appellate work representing both plaintiffs and defendants have made him a master strategist and nimble tactician in complex disputes.

Barnett focuses on enforcement of antitrust laws, the “Magna Carta of free enterprise,” in Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s memorable phrase. “Barry is one of the nation’s outstanding antitrust lawyers,” according to Joseph Goldberg, a member of the Private Antitrust Enforcement Hall of Fame. Named among Texas’s top ten antitrust lawyers of 2023, Business Today calls Barnett a “trailblazer” among the “distinguished legal minds” who “dedicate their skill and expertise to the maintenance of healthy competition in various sectors” of the Lone Star State’s booming economy. Barnett is also adept in energy and intellectual property matters and has battled for clients against a Who’s Who list of corporate behemoths, including Abbott Labs, Alcoa, Apple, AT&T, BlackBerry, Broadcom, Comcast, Dow, JPMorgan Chase, Samsung, and Visa.

Barnett commands a courtroom with calm and credibility and “is the perfect lawyer for bet the company litigation,” said Scott Regan, General Counsel of former client Whiting Petroleum. His performance before the Supreme Court in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend prompted the Court to withdraw the question on which it had granted review. The judge in a trial involving mobile phone technology called Barnett “one of the best” and that his opening statement the finest he had ever seen. Another trial judge told Barnett minutes after a jury returned a favorable verdict against the county’s biggest employer that he was one of the two best trial lawyers he’d ever come across—adding that the other one was dead.

COMPLETE PACKAGE
A versatile trial lawyer, Barnett knows how to handle a case all the way from strategic pre-suit planning to affirmance on appeal. He’s tried cases to verdict and then briefed and argued them when they went before appellate courts, including the Second, Third, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits, the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and (in the case of Comcast Corp. v. Behrend) the Supreme Court of the United States.

Barnett is a sought-after public speaker, often serving on panels and talking about topics like the trials of antitrust class actions and techniques for streamlining complex litigation. He also comments on trends in commercial litigation and the implications of major rulings for outlets such as NPR, Reuters, Law360, Corporate Counsel, and The Dallas Morning News. He’s even appeared in a Frontline program about underfunding of state pensions, authored chapters on “Fee Arrangements” and “Techniques for Expediting and Streamlining Litigation” (the latter with Steve Susman) in the ABA’s definitive treatise on Business and Commercial Litigation in Federal Courts, 5th, and commented on How Antitrust Enforcers Might Think Like Plaintiffs’ Lawyers.

HARD GRADERS
Clients and other hard graders have praised Barnett for his courtroom skills and legal acumen.

A client in a $100 million oil and gas case, which Barnett’s team won at trial and held on appeal, said Barnett and his team “presented a rare combination of strong legal intellect, common sense about right and wrong, and credibility in the courtroom.” David McCombs at Haynes and Boone said Barnett “has a natural presence that goes over well with juries and judges.”

Even former adversaries give Barnett high marks. Lead opposing counsel in a decade-long antitrust slugfest said “Barry is a highly skilled advocate. He understands what really matters in telling a narrative and does so in a very compelling manner.”

CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Barnett relishes opportunities to collaborate with all kinds of people. At the Center for American and International Law (CAIL), founded by a former prosecutor at Nuremberg in 1947 and headquartered in the Dallas area, he has served on the Executive Committee, co-chaired the committee that produced CAIL’s first-ever strategic plan, supported CAIL’s Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and other development efforts, and proposed formation of a new Institute for Social Justice Law. CAIL’s former President David Beck said “Barry is extremely bright” and is “very well prepared in every lawsuit or professional task he undertakes.”

Barnett is also a Trustee of the New-York Historical Society, a Sterling Fellow at Yale, a member of the Yale University Art Gallery’s Governing Board, a winner of the Class Award for his work on behalf of his college class, and a proud contributor to the Yellow Ribbon Program at Harvard Law. Barnett’s pro bono work includes leading the trial team representing people who are at greatest risk of severe illness and death as a result of being exposed to the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 while being detained in the Dallas County jail—work for which he received the NGAN Legal Advocacy Fund RBG Award.

At Susman Godfrey, Barnett has served on the firm’s Executive Committee, Employment Committee, and ad hoc committees on partner compensation, succession of leadership, and revision of the firm’s partnership agreement. He also twice chaired the Practice Development Committee.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE
Barnett understands that clients face many pressures. Managing the stress is important, especially in matters that take years to resolve. He encourages clients to call him whenever they have a question or concern and to keep the inevitable ups and downs in perspective. He wants them to know that he will do his level best to help them achieve their goals. He also strives to foster trust and to make working with him a pleasure.

Cyrus “Skip” Marter, the General Counsel of Bonanza Creek in Denver and a former Susman Godfrey partner and client, said Barnett is “excellent about communicating with clients in a full and honest manner” and can “negotiate for his clients from a position of strength, because he is not afraid to take a case through a full trial on the merits.” Stacey Doré, the President of Hunt Utility Services and a former client, said that Barnett is “an excellent trial lawyer and the person you want to hire for your bet-the-company cases. He is client focused, responsive, and uniquely savvy about trial and settlement strategy.” A New York colleague said, “Barry is a joy to work with as co-counsel. He tackles complex procedural and factual hurdles capably, efficiently, and without drama.”

PERSONAL
Barnett’s wide-ranging experience and calm, down-to-earth approach enable him to connect with clients, judges, jurors, witnesses, and even opposing counsel. He grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas. He co-captained his high school varsity football team as an All-East Texas middle linebacker while also serving as the Editor of Key Club’s Texas-Oklahoma District, won the Best Typist award, took the History Team to glory, and sang in the East Texas All Region Choir. As Dan Kelly of client Vistra Corp. put it, Barnett is “a great person to be around.”

Barnett is steady and loyal. He has practiced at Susman Godfrey his entire career. He and his wife Nancy live in Dallas and enjoy spending time in Houston and New York. Their daughter works for H-E-B in Houston, and their son is a Haynes and Boone transactions lawyer in Dallas.

As a member of Ivy League championship football teams in his junior and senior years at Yale and a parent of two Yalies, Barnett has no trouble choosing sides for “The Game” in November. And he knows how important fighting all the way to the end is. On his last play from scrimmage, in the waning minutes of The Game on Nov. 22, 1980, he recovered a Crimson fumble.

Yale won, 14-0.