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Chris is a partner who focuses his practice on matters pertaining to the oil, gas and pipeline industries. Chris has extensive knowledge and experience covering a broad range of oil, gas and pipeline-related disputes and transactions, including matters involving new and existing pipeline easements, eminent domain rights, the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, oil and gas lease disputes, mandatory pooling and unitization, lease forfeiture actions, royalty disputes and mineral title issues.

Litigation over Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56, (DMA) began as a trickle in 2012 and turned into a flood in 2014 that continues to confound mineral title attorneys and challenge judges. Questions about the DMA have all but paralyzed oil and gas companies still looking to acquire and develop mineral leases. Now all eyes are on the Ohio Supreme Court for guidance on myriad questions regarding the validity and application of the statute. This post provides an update of DMA appeals and issues pending before the Ohio Supreme Court to date.

Though the Ohio Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued any decisions related to DMA, that is about to change. The court has accepted five DMA cases for review — all accepted in 2014. These five cases present a total of 15 questions of DMA law. Only two of these cases (Dodd and Buell) have been argued, at least in part (the question accepted sua sponte in Dodd was not argued). The other cases have yet to be scheduled for oral argument. In addition, six more cases present another 20 questions of law that have been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court but are not yet accepted for review.

The overlap between many of the cases and issues highlights the hottest current DMA issues. However, this list of questions and issues is far from complete. In hindsight, we may find that the wave of DMA litigation crested in 2014, but experienced oil and gas attorneys expect litigation surrounding the Dormant Mineral Act will continue for years as landowners and courts wrestle with unique fact scenarios and title transactions. But for now, any definitive guidance from the Ohio Supreme Court would be helpful. Following are cases, issues and questions of law appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court to date:
Continue Reading The Dormant Mineral Act: Lots of questions, few answers

In Eastham v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 6th Cir. No. 13-4233, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 10531 (June 6, 2014), the Sixth Circuit court of appeals considered whether a provision in a 2007 oil and gas lease that granted Chesapeake the option to “extend or renew under similar terms a like lease” was ambiguous and whether it required Chesapeake to renegotiate the lease when it expired. The court held that the plain language of the lease allowed Chesapeake to “extend” the lease on the same terms. The decision contains insights about Ohio law and important lessons in contract drafting and interpretation.

Facts of the case

On April 9, 2007, William and Frostie Eastham signed an oil and gas lease with Great Lakes Energy Partners, LLC (“Great Lakes”) for their 49.066 acre parcel in Jefferson County, Ohio. The five-year primary term of the lease required Great Lakes to either drill a well or make delay rental payments to Mr. and Mrs. Eastham in the amount of $10.00 per acre per year until a well was drilled. The lease also provided that if the lease expired, Great Lakes would have the following option:

Upon the expiration of this lease and within sixty (60) days thereinafter, Lessor grants to Lessee an option to extend or renew under similar terms a like lease.

Sometime before the lease expired, Great Lakes assigned the lease to Chesapeake. There was apparently no dispute that the assignment was authorized by the lease and that all required delay rentals were timely paid throughout the primary term. Then, on March 14, 2012, about one month before the lease expired, Chesapeake recorded a notice of extension of the lease and sent a check for $490.66 (delay rentals for the first year of the extended five-year term) to Mr. and Mrs. Eastham along with a letter explaining that Chesapeake was exercising its option to extend the lease under the provision quoted above.
Continue Reading Sixth Circuit affirms Chesapeake’s right to “extend or renew” an oil and gas lease

Last fall, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed listing the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Though a decision on the ESA listing was expected this fall, the USFWS recently delayed its deadline for a decision until April 2, 2015. The USFWS also reopened the comment period on the proposed ESA listing until Aug. 29, 2014, citing “substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data relevant to our determination regarding the proposed listing.”

The northern long-eared bat would be the second native Ohio bat, after the Indiana bat, to be classified as an endangered species. Both bat species have suffered population declines in recent years as a result of a naturally occurring condition called white-nose syndrome, which affects the bats. If listed, Ohio oil and gas operators and pipeline companies would have to assess the impact of their activities on the northern long-eared bat, as is already required for the Indiana bat, and local and/or seasonal restrictions on certain kinds of construction or clearing activities are also likely.
Continue Reading USFWS reopens comment period on proposed listing of northern long-eared bat as endangered until Aug. 29, 2014

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 Ohio Supreme Court accepts second Dormant Mineral Act case

Whether oil and gas drilling poses a legitimate risk for exposure to radiation has been a hot topic of recent debate. Though we occasionally hear anecdotal evidence reported in the newspapers about radioactive drilling waste being rejected by landfills, there seems to be scant evidence that radiation is a common or serious oil and gas industry problem in Ohio. Nonetheless, the Ohio Legislature and Gov. Kasich recently passed new law that all horizontal well operators should understand.

On June 30, 2013, Gov. Kasich signed H.B. 59, the budget bill, into law. The bill created a new section of the Ohio Revised Code — R.C. 1509.074 — which imposes requirements for testing, transporting and disposing “material that results from the construction, operation or plugging of a horizontal well” that might contain unusual levels of radioactivity.

The new law generally requires operators to sample and test such material for Radium-226 and Radium-228, and to dispose of radioactive material “in accordance with all applicable laws.” However, the new law has several important exceptions. An operator of an oil and gas well is not required to perform sampling and testing if:
Continue Reading Ohio H.B. 59 — The Final Report: No New Severance Taxes But Operators May Have to Test for Radiation

Ohio law requires oil and gas operators to report prior year production from oil and gas wells on an annual basis — by March 31 of the following year. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recently unveiled the 2012 production results from Ohio’s Utica shale play. These figures have been much anticipated by investors, land owners and the oil and gas industry, who are all trying to glean insights about the most productive areas and the overall potential of the play.

First, a Look Back at 2011

The first production from Ohio’s Utica Shale was realized in 2011 and reported on March 31, 2012. That data showed that merely nine Utica wells were in production during some part of 2011 — all drilled by Chesapeake Appalachian, LLC. Six of those wells were located in Carroll County. The remaining data came from wells in Portage, Harrison and Mahoning counties.

Though none of those nine wells were in production for all of 2011 (all but two were in production for less than six months), combined they still produced 2.56 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 46,326 barrels of oil, which amounted to 3.5% of the state’s overall gas production and 1% of oil production for that year. These are impressive statistics considering that Ohio had more than 50,000 conventional (vertical) wells reporting production in 2011.
Continue Reading ODNR Releases 2012 Utica Shale Production Results

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

The Ohio 130th General Assembly is considering two new bills, House Bills 59 and 72. Each bill proposes changes to Ohio’s oil and gas law. Following is a summary of the proposed changes relevant to Ohio’s oil and gas law in each bill.

House Bill 59

On Feb. 12, 2013, Rep. Amstutz (R-Dist 1) introduced House Bill 59, Gov. Kasich’s budget bill. The full Bill Analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission is also available online. The following proposals affect Ohio oil and gas law:

1. New Taxes
The oil and gas tax changes proposed by the Kasich administration have been the most publicized part of H.B. 59. The bill would lower income taxes for all tax brackets by a total of 20% over the next three years, funded by increased oil and gas severance taxes. H.B. 59 also proposes to calculate property taxes from the true value of gas reserves based on the British thermal unit (Btu) content of the gas extracted and the true value of condensate reserves. Other tax provisions in H.B. 59 are differentiated based on whether production is from a horizontal or nonhorizontal well.

A.  Nonhorizontal Wells: H.B. 59 would change ORC §5749.02 to adjust the rate of severance tax on gas from the current 2.5 cents per MCF to the lesser of 3 cents per MCF or 1% of spot market value. It would also raise the tax rate on severance of oil from 10 cents per barrel to 20 cents per barrel. It would exempt nonhorizontal wells for paying severance tax on gas if they produce less than 10 MCF per day in a quarter. 

B.  Horizontal Wells: H.B. 59 would change ORC §5749.02 to levy a severance tax at a rate of 1.5% of the spot market value of oil and condensate produced by horizontal wells for the first five quarters of a well’s production, with the rate jumping to 4% beginning in the fifth quarter. Gas measuring no more than 1,050 Btu would incur a severance tax of 1% of the spot market value of gas. For gas measuring more than 1,050 Btu, the severance tax would be variable, calculated according to the Btu of the gas and the spot price of gas and natural gas liquids (NGLs), with a base rate of 1.5% for the first five quarters and a base rate for gas of 1% and for NGLs of 4% after the first five quarters of production.
Continue Reading House Bills 59 and 72 Propose Changes to Ohio Oil and Gas Law