By common law, the owner or lessee of mineral rights has the right to use as much surface land as is “reasonably necessary” to develop those minerals. For many years oil and gas companies took the position that “reasonably necessary” meant they could do whatever they wanted.
Over time, landowners have increasingly resistant to the idea that companies can unilaterally define what is reasonable. The legislatures of some states have enacted surface damage acts to address the competing interests of the development of mineral rights and the consequences of that development to the surface. Other states have taken no such action and have left the issue to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Regardless of whether or not a state has a surface damage act, almost every company looking to develop an area will attempt to negotiate surface damages so they don’t ultimately end up in court arguing over “reasonable use.”
The practical effect of this is that the companies will offer money if the surface owner will sign a contract. Most of the time this contract is a release and many times it is a unilateral release that only benefits the energy company.
An unsuspecting landowner who falls into the trap of looking for the most money may fail to look closely at the contract. Landowners – and sometimes their non-landowner attorneys – may not think to address issues like hunting damages, livestock damages, multiple holes on the same pad, access roads, gathering lines, flow lines, disposal lines, water, erosion, and more. This list could go on and on. It is crucial that all of these issues be defined, and that the contract you sign not say anything like “all damages of whatsoever kind and character.”
Lawyers Protecting Landowners Against Surface Damages
At the LandownerFirm, our natural resource attorneys believe the proper course of action is to negotiate a surface use agreement that is fair to both parties. A good surface use agreement will clearly set out each party’s rights. It will define and limit the scope of the release. It will be executed by both parties and all terms will be clearly defined.
In our experience the best way to protect a landowner from being taken advantage of in these negotiations is for the landowner to work with a lawyer who really understands the issues.
Not only are the attorneys at the LandownerFirm well versed in negotiating surface use agreements, we also regularly litigate surface damage cases in the jurisdictions where we practice. We prosecute companies for using more surface than is reasonably necessary.
We know what to do to protect your property from unacceptable levels of damage, and to protect you from the financial burden of surface damage cleanup.
Call the LandownerFirm to Protect Your Property Rights
Our law firm has been helping landowners in Oklahoma and across the nation for more than 15 years. Contact our office to schedule a consultation in the Tulsa area, Oklahoma City, or Coalgate, or call 888-439-4729.