Oil & Gas Leases

I’m getting more and more calls and emails from landowners wanting advice about a lease they’ve just received from a landman or oil producer wanting to develop their land for oil and/or gas production. These inquiries are a challenge because there are very few short answers. A proper “review and comment” on their lease would involve considerably more time than I can afford to contribute for free, which generally means more time than they want to pay for.

The best short answer may be to click on over to the National Association of Royalty Owners Store and order one or more of their publications. They’re a lot cheaper than an hour of my time. There are several excellent choices, from Look Before You Lease to NARO’s Great Texas Lease Mark-Up Handbook and even Oil and Gas Law in a Nutshell which I think I have on a bookshelf somewhere around here. And, of course, there are a few comments about leases in previous articles in my blog; search for “landowner” or “producer’s 88” or “landowner’s guide”. Finally, don’t forget your friends Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. They’ll lead you to other websites and blogs with a wealth of information.


I just now deleted a paragraph that constituted my first attempt at this article. It was too vague and nobody would have got the point. I recently came across the website of the Kansas Historical Society, called Kansaspedia. Aside from sheer interest in finding a lot of things I didn’t know about, the site got me thinking about historical perspective. It seems to me it doesn’t much enter into our daily lives any more; our decisions rarely take it into account. Maybe we ought to try to do that more.

Oil & Gas Seminar

On January 13 I was one of four speakers at an oil and gas seminar in Overland Park, Kansas, put on by Half Moon Seminars. It had been nearly 30 years since I was a seminar speaker. With 40+ attendees it was considered a “sellout”, which surprised me. I didn’t think there could be enough interest in the subject in the Kansas City area to garner even 10 attendees. The majority were from title companies, about a half dozen (other than the speakers) were lawyers. The rest were, interestingly, from engineering firms. Everybody was, of course, seeking CEC (Continuing Education Credit). My particular topic had to do with title examination and how to cure defects in title to minerals and leasehold interests. I had a well organized presentation sketched out, but within a minute of starting I was off it and never got back. I was originally concerned how to fill two hours on my topic, and ultimately amazed how fast the two hours flew by. If you’re interested, here’s the seminar brochure.

Mineral and leasehold title is an esoteric subcategory of real estate titles. The problem we run into these days is that the title companies no longer do title abstracts, at least not in this part of the state. In the “old” days, abstracts were common. Somebody from the title company did the actual searching of records at the courthouse, and then they typed up an “abstract” (summary) of all the material provisions of each and every instrument affecting title, and bound all these summaries together into the “abstract”. The title company was bonded for errors and omissions, so if they missed something there would be insurance money to cover the damages. We attorneys would examine the abstracts and base our title opinions on what we found there. If we missed something in the abstract, then our own malpractice insurance came into play.

And then as large areas became urbanized, everybody switched to title insurance. In urban settings, there was little concern about oil and gas leases. The title companies got used only looking back 25 years in the chain of title, since most defects older than that were “cured” by the Marketable Title Act. Unfortunately, certain critical defects in mineral title are not cured by the Marketable Title Act. To do a proper title examination and opinion regarding mineral title or an oil and gas lease based thereon, one must search clear back to the original government grant (Patent). Most title companies are not too keen at this prospect. Consequently, these days, I generally have to do a “stand up” opinion, meaning, I go to the courthouse and search the chain of title myself. I think it’s called a “stand up” because in most register of deeds offices, you hauled the title books from shelves along the walls and looked through them at a counter, standing up. At least, that’s how it was before the books started getting replaced by computers. In most of the rural counties, it’s still done the old fashioned way, poring through the old books, standing up at the counter.

I suspect the level of interest evidenced by the seminar attendance reflects the growing clash of urbanization into rural areas, where developers hoping to build housing subdivisions are encountering oil wells and wondering what that bodes for their vision of development. Or, maybe it was just a different topic from the usual seminar and attendees were motivated by curiosity. In any event, it was one of the better seminars I’ve attended in the past few years. 🙂