The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit by property owners against Chesapeake Energy, claiming that the energy giant improperly withheld millions of dollars in natural gas royalty payments.
Chesapeake is appealing a 2014 ruling by a San Antonio appeals court that upheld a decision by a state district court awarding at least $1 million to a Fort Worth family. The Hyder family argued that its lease with Chesapeake was heavily negotiated and specifically tailored to be “cost-free,” but Chesapeake has altered its interpretation of its obligations, attempting to deduct post-production costs.
The case is being closely watched by the oil and gas industry in Texas. The National Association of Royalty Owners-Texas and the Texas Land and Mineral Owners Association are backing the Hyders, saying that this case is one of many in which Chesapeake has sought to improperly deduct costs from royalty payments.
Observers say that the impact of the case will depend on whether the high court addresses its previous ruling in Heritage Resources v. NationsBank, which permitted the deduction of post-production costs even when contracts appear to disallow it. The Hyder lease included a provision stating that the findings in the Heritage case do not apply. The Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio agreed that the contract provision served to modify the general rule set forth in the Heritage case.