Oil and Gas Rights in Oklahoma: Purchasing Oil and Gas Rights and Case Law Update

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July 30, 2018


Typically, the types of oil and gas rights that are usually bought and sold are either “mineral” rights, or leasehold (working interest) rights. However, in addition to these rights, the types of oil and gas rights bought and sold can also include: a term mineral interest; an overriding royalty interest; a production payment interest; and a net profits interest.

We will begin with the mineral interest. What is a mineral interest? In the oil and gas context, it is the right to explore for “oil, gas, and other minerals”. Is there magic in that phrase? In short: yes.

Oklahoma follows the doctrine of ejusdem generis. This doctrine essentially states that general words do not explain or amplify particular terms preceding them, but are themselves restricted and explained by the particular term. In an oil and gas context, this means the phrase “other minerals” in the longer phrase “oil, gas, and other minerals” means oil, gas, and minerals of like character, i.e. hydrocarbons similar to crude oil and natural gas, but not coal.2 When the phrase “oil, gas, and other minerals” is used in a conveyance, it is understood in Oklahoma that this means the right to explore for oil and gas is being conveyed.

Oklahoma is an “exclusive right to take” state. In other words, Oklahoma subscribes to the theory that the landowner does not own the oil and gas which underlie her land. She merely has the exclusive right to capture such substances by operations on her land. Once reduced to dominion and control, such substances become the object of absolute ownership, but, until capture, the property right is described as an exclusive right to capture.3

In Oklahoma, the mineral interest means, while they remain in the ground, oil and natural gas are real property subject to the law of real estate. They are considered to be minerals, and the exploration for oil and gas is considered to be mining. It is clearly recognized that oil and gas in place are objects of ownership in the sense that the owner of the mineral estate has rights in or to the oil and gas which are protected.4

The leasehold interest or working interest is an interest derived from the mineral interest through an oil and gas lease. The working interest is the right of the mineral owner to right to capture oil and gas by operations on her land, coupled with the duty to pay the costs of production, and to pay a royalty (a percentage of production) free of the costs of production to the mineral owner.5

A royalty is a share of profits from the sale of oil and gas produced from property which is under an oil and gas lease.6 A royalty is sometimes stated as a right to a percentage of production, free and clear of the costs of production.

In other words, a working interest owner pays all of the costs of producing the oil and gas, e.g. drilling, completing, pumping, surface damages, etc., and gets back the production of the well, less the royalty. This percentage of production less the royalty is often referred to as the net revenue interest.

Typically, the working interest is what is bought and sold by oil companies for the purpose of developing (searching for and producing) oil and gas. The working interest will terminate when the oil and gas lease terminates.

Oil and gas leases in the U.S. have evolved so that they now contemplate a finite primary term, and a secondary term typically measured by continuous production.7 This is typically governed by the habendum clause (the clause defining the extent of ownership in the thing being granted) in the lease.8 Every state except one, Oklahoma, follows the rule that a habendum clause, stating a lease shall remain in effect for a term of years and as long thereafter as oil and/or gas is produced, creates a fee simple determinable estate, with the lessor retaining a possibility of reverter.9 Uniquely, only Oklahoma treats the above-described habendum clause as creating a fee simple on a condition subsequent, with the lessor retaining a power of termination.10 The difference is that a possibility of reverter, the theory used in states like Ohio and Texas, is automatic, and a power of termination, used only in Oklahoma, requires affirmative action by the lessor.

An overriding royalty interest is a percentage of the working interest which as between the lessee and the assignee is not charged with the cost of development or production.11 Overriding royalty interests typically terminate when the underlying lease out of which they are carved terminates.
A term mineral interest is a mineral interest in effect in the grantee, her successors and assigns, for a term of years, at which time it reverts back to the grantor. A production payment is simply the right to payment from production.

A net profits interest is typically an interest carved out of the working interest, that entitles the holder to a percentage of the net profits (after the expenses of production are deducted.) It is typically a non-participating interest.

In any oil and gas transaction, the buyer and seller will want to agree on what standard of title applies to the properties being sold. Typically, this is not a big issue, but it is critical to understand the import of what standard is specified. The seller will usually want to have the standard be looser, while the buyer would want a stricter standard. This is of course a matter of negotiation.

Types of Title Standards
Practically speaking, there is no such thing as a “perfect” title12. The closest this to a “perfect” title would be “merchantable title” and “marketable title,” which are used interchangeably in Oklahoma and elsewhere.13

By statute in Oklahoma the Title Examination Standards adopted by the Oklahoma Bar Association (“Oklahoma Standards”) are the official statutory gauge used to determine if title to oil and gas interests is adequate to require the producer to pay the proceeds to the holder of such interest. If payment of proceeds is held up, when the title is really marketable, the producer must pay 12% on the funds being held, rather than 6%, when the title is not marketable.14

The Oklahoma Standards define Marketable Title as: “[Title] free from apparent defects, grave doubts and litigious uncertainty, [consisting] of both legal and equitable title fairly deducible of record.”15 Marketable title has also been defined, in a treatise, as title that is saleable (i.e., that which a purchaser can be required to accept) as opposed to being perfect.16

The Oklahoma Standards are not only made applicable to oil and gas matters by such statute, but, in general, are deemed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court as being “persuasive”. This weight makes them the equivalent of an opinion from the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.17

It would be uncommon for a Marketable Title standard to be specified in a large oil and gas transaction. Some smaller transactions may use this standard, especially for developed producing properties.

The standard that is more typically used is the Defensible Title standard. There is no specific definition of “Defensible Title” in Oklahoma. Nationally there is also no definitive definition for “Defensible Title”. A professional article confirms this absence: “There is no legally or commonly accepted meaning for ‘defensible title’ so it must be defined in each asset purchase agreement.”18

If a Defensible Title standard is used, since there is no specific definition, it is very important the parties explicitly define what constitutes Defensible Title. “Defensible Title” is sometimes defined as “provable title that can be successfully defended, if challenged.” This approach requires each separate title to be reviewed under the applicable substantive statutes and case law to determine whether a lessor can successfully challenge such title. Such an approach is noted in another professional article: “The concept of a defensible title is one which, if challenged, has sufficient merit under the relevant court decisions to be successfully defended...”19 . Defensible title has also been defined as: “…[S]omething less than marketable; it is imperfect on the record but is possible to defend.”20

Consequently, pursuant general industry practices, each property to be conveyed is subject to a scrutiny requiring (1) a search for all discoverable facts, (2) the identification of the applicable law, and (3), most importantly, an evaluation as to what would be the likely result of a challenge in the form of litigation by a hypothetical lessor, who is attempting to defeat the lessee’s claim.

Defensible Title is viewed through the lens of litigation. Defensible Title, as opposed to Marketable Title, is typically, again by definition, NOT free from litigious uncertainty. Defensible Title is many times defined as that which “can be successfully defended if challenged.” Litigious uncertainty (i.e., a court challenge) is, by definition, expected. However, the contracting parties are free to change or elaborate on this standard. One way to look at Defensible Title is title that is held to a reasonable lease broker standard. In other words, it is title as leased by a reasonable broker, prior to any title opinion or curative work being done. In relatively undeveloped areas, this standard may be the only one available. In more mature areas, it may well be possible to have a higher title standard that falls short of Marketable Title.

The two main types of conveyance of oil and gas interests are the mineral deed, and the assignment of oil and gas leases.

A mineral deed is typically used to convey the mineral interest, while an assignment of oil and gas leases is typically used to convey the working interest. However, you should be aware that The terms of an instrument and not its name determine its nature and character.21 In the absence of language indicating a contrary intent on the part of the grantor, everything which is essential or reasonably necessary to full beneficial use and enjoyments of the interests conveyed, and which the grantor has the power to convey, passes to the grantee. 22 The right of ingress and egress for development is now implied in both grants and reservations.23

Professor Kuntz succinctly explained the law for construing conveyances: Under the four corners rule, the court makes every effort to reconcile all provisions of the entire instrument and to arrive at the intention of the parties as deduced from all language contained in the instrument. Stated another way, arbitrary and technical rules of construction are not invoked if the intention of the parties can be determined from the four corners of the instrument without aid. Technical words need not be construed in their technical sense, and strict or literal meaning of the language used will not be applied if it would frustrate the apparent intention of the parties as deduced from the entire instrument.

…The controlling policy is that certainty, though desirable, should be sacrificed in favor of preserving property ownership; that it is not desirable to achieve certainty at the risk of producing injustice to parties who through ignorance or neglect inadvertently make a poor choice of words in attempting to express their intentions in a written instrument. …Rules of construction or aids in construction are nevertheless utilized in arriving at the intention of the parties under the four corners rule, when the meaning of the instrument is doubtful. The instrument will be construed against the party who prepared the instrument and is responsible for the language used, particularly if such party is experienced in the oil business. In the instance of a deed, the grantor normally prepares the instrument, and consequently the same rule of construction is frequently expressed in terms of construction against the grantor and in favor of the grantee.

Where there is no evidence indicating which party drafted the instrument, it will not be construed most strongly against the grantor and the four corners rule of construction will be applied. Further, where the grantors can neither read nor write there is a strong presumption that the grantee prepared the instrument, and the instrument will be construed against the grantee. The rule of construction against the grantor is applied to reservations contained in the instrument, except in those jurisdictions where the court makes faithful application of statutory rules of construction requiring reservations to be construed in favor of the grantor. If a printed instrument also contains written portions which are in conflict with the printed portions, the written portions will prevail. This is so because the ‘written words are the immediate language and terms selected by the parties themselves for the expression of their intention, while the printed form is intended for general use without reference to particular objects and aims.’ Such rule is applied, however, only where the written and printed portions cannot be reconciled and are wholly inconsistent. It has also been held that if the written provision is repugnant to the grant, it will be regarded as surplusage and will have no effect. Thus where the grantor executed separate deeds, each conveying a fee simple to each child and the widow of a deceased child (retaining a life estate), a written notation in the margin of each deed: "Each heir shall share equally in the underground minerals" was held to be surplusage and ineffective as an attempted testamentary disposition. Typewritten recitals that the land was ‘not leased’ control over the printed form recitals of an existing lease and render ineffective other clauses providing for sharing of royalties and rentals to be "paid under the terms of said lease."

Although the entire instrument is given consideration under the four corners rule of construction, the provisions of the granting clause are given great weight and ordinarily will control in the event of an irreconcilable conflict with other provisions, or if the other provisions are too indefinite to be given any meaning. The interest described in the granting clause may be modified, however, by provisions of a subsequent specific clause, where such later clause is not in conflict, but is explanatory. There has also been a recognized rule that the habendum clause will control over the granting clause, but such rule has lost much of its force. A specific description of the interest in the deed will control over a general description, and a clear intention expressed in the habendum clause will control over the printed provisions of a granting clause. If parenthetical explanatory words are added to the instrument which are inconsistent with the otherwise clear provisions intended to be explained, the explanatory words will be disregarded.

When a deed is capable of two interpretations, that interpretation should be applied which least restricts ownership of the land. …In Oklahoma, the court has stated that the label has no bearing on the intention of the parties as expressed in the written instrument.…it is apparent from the many opinions which recite the label along with the terms of the instrument, that the label is at least within the "four corners" of the instrument to be construed, although it has no peculiar or controlling weight. As a practical matter, if the instrument is drafted in such a manner that it requires construction, it is likely that the label constitutes little more than a condensation of the confusion created by the terms in the body of the instrument and ordinarily will be of little aid to construction of inconsistent provisions.

…Where reference is made in the deed to other instruments in the chain of title, all such instruments will be read into such deed, and if the deed expressly incorporates an antecedent contract, both instruments must be considered in arriving at the intention of the parties. If a deed refers to other deeds recorded on a date after the date of the deed in which the reference is made, the inconsistency does not invalidate the reference but creates an ambiguity making it possible for the court to consider extraneous evidence. If the deed refers to a prior instrument that is not in evidence, an ambiguity is created and the instrument is construed against the grantor.

…If the deed or other instrument under consideration is ambiguous, then extrinsic evidence may be admitted to show the facts and circumstances surrounding the parties and the execution of the instruments for the purpose of arriving at the true meaning of the instrument and the intention of the parties. If, however, the deed or other instrument is not ambiguous, then such extrinsic evidence is not admissible. Likewise, if the instrument is ambiguous, evidence of subsequent conduct of the parties and the practical construction placed upon the instrument by the parties is admissible. If, however, the instrument is not ambiguous, the construction placed upon it by the parties is not material.

If two or more instruments are prepared and executed as part of the same transaction, all of the instruments will be considered together. Thus, if two deeds are prepared that clearly convey a percent royalty interest, a third on which contains a parenthetical phrase which makes it appear that the percent is "of" royalty, the third deed will be construed in the same manner as the other two deeds, if the consideration is proportionately the same.

…The mere fact that a deed describes an unusual combination of interests or describes different fractions in separate clauses does not mean that such deed is ambiguous if the court can give effect to the intention as expressed literally. Where, however, separate provisions of the deed are inconsistent and effect cannot be given to all such provisions, an ambiguity arises. Such ambiguity arises in most instances, where a deed purports to convey a single interest and contains language which is descriptive of both a mineral interest and a royalty interest. If the term "royalty" is used without specification as to amount or without reference to any oil and gas lease, an ambiguity is created; but the mere use of the term "royalty" does not create an ambiguity if it is possible to determine the extent of such interest.

A restricting clause that is not set off by commas modifies only the nearest antecedent clause. Thus, in an exception of "oil, gas and other minerals, reservations and conveyances and oil and gas leases and easements of record," the phrase "of record" does not modify "oil, gas and other minerals," with the result that the grantee did not receive any interest in oil, gas and other minerals.

…Contemporaneous and interrelated deeds must be construed as a whole and harmonized…24 Most, if not all of these rules of construction are codified in Oklahoma at 15 O.S. §§ 151, et seq.


In Oklahoma, the statute of frauds is found at 15 O.S. § 136. This statute provides that an agreement for the sale of real property must be in writing. If you recall, oil and gas interests are interests in real property. Thus it is critical in any conveyance to satisfy the statute of frauds by adequately describing the location of the interest conveyed. The term for the description of the location of the conveyed interest is the “legal description.” The purpose of a legal description is to describe a particular parcel of real property to the exclusion of all others on the face of the earth. Thus, a typical legal description (as used in the oil and gas industry) would be: The NE/4 of Section 21- Township 8N-Range 4E of the Indian Base and Meridian, based on the U.S. Government Survey thereof.

This method of description is called the Government Survey method. It uses the township system of survey adopted by the U.S. Government. All lands in Oklahoma are described by Government Survey. There are two bases/meridians in Oklahoma: the Indian and the Cimarron. The Indian Meridian controls the vast majority of the lands in Oklahoma, while the Cimarron Meridian controls lands in the Oklahoma panhandle. Other types of legal descriptions include: metes and bounds, platted lands (lots and blocks) and the use of monuments. In Oklahoma, metes and bounds and platted land descriptions are also used.


A mineral owner (“Croslin”) died, leaving his children as heirs (“Plaintiffs”). Subsequent to Croslin’s death, Croslin was named in a pooling order (the “Order”) as having an unleased mineral interest with an unknown address. Several thousand dollars accrued to an escrow account for Croslin’s interest established under the statutory custodial taking statute (the “Proceeds”). Plaintiffs were unaware of the Order or the Proceeds. Years later, a buyer (“Defendant”) approached Plaintiffs about purchasing the mineral interest without disclosing Defendant’s knowledge of the Order and the Proceeds. Plaintiffs sold the minerals to Defendant, but upon learning of the Order and Proceeds, brought suit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, but the appellate court reversed. The Supreme Court vacated the appellate decision, holding that constructive notice is not a defense against misrepresentation and constructive fraud.

An oil and gas company responsible for paying royalties (“Appellee”) mailed a royalty check (the “Check”) to a royalty interest owner (“Appellant”). However, the Check was fraudulently intercepted by a third party and cashed. Appellant filed suit, claiming that Appellee should bear the loss and issue another royalty check in favor of Appellant. The jury found that the Check had arrived at Appellant’s offices before it was stolen, so the loss should be borne by Appellant. The appellate court affirmed, holding that the Production Revenue Standards Act only obligates the payor of royalties to identify royalty owners and distribute royalties appropriately, not to ensure against loss of royalties after they are out of the payor’s control.

Several oil and gas companies (“Defendants”) owned a majority of the leasehold (the “Leasehold”) and the same interest in the only producing well (the “Well”) on certain lands. Defendants executed an assignment to another company (“Plaintiff”) but a dispute arose as to what was assigned. Plaintiff brought a declaratory judgment action to quiet title in Plaintiff in the entire Leasehold and the Well. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and the appellate court affirmed, holding that Defendants unambiguously assigned the portion of the Leasehold held by the Well and the Well itself since the assignment contained no limiting language such as “wellbore only” or using only the Well name in the granting language.

Trustees (“Trustees”) of a trust (the “Trust”) contracted to sell certain tracts of land along with half of the minerals to an individual (“Buyer”). Upon closing, a deed (the “Deed”) was recorded in which the exhibit referencing the mineral conveyance was omitted. After Trustees distributed the omitted minerals to the Trust’s beneficiaries, Buyer brought suit for reformation of the Deed to include the additional exhibit. The trial court found in favor of Buyer, and the appellate court affirmed, holding that the exclusion of the exhibit in the recorded deed amounted to a scrivener’s error and was against the intent of both parties.

A secondary recovery unit operator (“Operator”) took a mortgage from a
financing company (“Mortgage Lienholder”) covering Operator’s leasehold and
production revenue in the unit. A service company (“Contractor”) then performed work
for Operator, but Operator failed to pay both Contractor and Mortgage Lienholder.
Mortgage Lienholder brought suit to enforce its lien and was challenged by Contractor as to which party’s lien had priority. The trial court found the Contractor’s lien had priority, and the appellate court affirmed, holding that a lien granted pursuant to 52 O.S. § 287.8 is a first and prior lien on participating interests in the unit for the operating expenses of the unit.

A group of mineral owners (the “Class”) brought a class action suit against their oil and gas lessee (“Lessee”) claiming that Lessee allowed drainage to occur from the Class’s property without compensating the Class members and Lessee had been unjustly enriched by the settlement of a “take or pay contract” without compensating the Class. The jury found that Lessee owed a fiduciary duty to the Class to prevent drainage, the Class was uncompensated for drainage and Lessee was unjustly enriched. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, but after granting certiorari, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the Class could recover for uncompensated drainage, but there was no fiduciary duty to prevent drainage and the Class could not recover for unjust enrichment since there was an adequate remedy at law.

WIDNER V. ENERLEX, INC., 2013 OK 91, 313 P.3D 930
A mineral owner (“Owner”) died, leaving his mineral interests (the “Interests”) in trust. After Owner’s death, the Interests were compulsorily pooled after Owner’s heirs were not locatable. The Interests began accruing mineral proceeds (the “Proceeds”) and were put in suspense. After learning of the Proceeds, a purchaser (“Appellant”) located Owner’s heirs (“Appellees”) and offered to buy the Interests without disclosing the Proceeds. After selling the Interests including “all royalties, accruals and other benefits,” Appellees learned of the Proceeds and brought suit for damages and rescission. The trial court granted the rescission and cancelled the mineral deeds. The appellate court reversed, but after granting certiorari, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Appellant had a duty to inform Appellees of the Proceeds before the sale and that rescission was an appropriate remedy.

2 See e.g. Wolf v. Blackwell Oil & Gas Co., 186 P. 484 (Okla. 1920).
3 EUGENE KUNTZ, ET AL., THE LAW OF OIL AND GAS § 2.4 (Matthew Bender & Company, Inc. 2014) (citing Rich v. Doneghey, 177 P. 86 (Okla. 1918)). 4 EUGENE KUNTZ, ET AL., THE LAW OF OIL AND GAS § 2.2 (Matthew Bender & Company, Inc.
2014) (citing Peppers Ref. Co. v. Barkett, 256 P.2d 443 (Okla. 1953)).
5 See Colonial Royalties Co. v. Keener, 266 P.2d 467 (Okla. 1953).
6 See e.g. Bonner v. Oklahoma Rock Corp., 863 P.2d 1176 (Okla. 1993).
7 See Bruce M. Kramer, Lease Maintenance for the Twenty-first Century: Old Oil and Gas Law Doesn’t Die, It Just Fades Away, 41 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 15, 15.02 (1995).
8 See id.
9 See id.
10 See id.
11 See XAE v. SMR Prop. Mgmt. Co., 968 P.2d 1201 (Okla. 1998).
12 “If the term ‘free from defects’ means free from all flaws or defects, both of record and in fact, we are speaking of the perfect title, and long ago Lord Chancellor Hardwick stated that ‘it is impossible in the nature of things that there should be a mathematical certainty of a good title.” G.D. Ashabranner, Standards of Mineral Title Examination—Marketable Title vs. Defensible Title, 9 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 95 (1964).
13 The Oklahoma Supreme Court views the terms “merchantable title” and “marketable title” as synonyms. See Knowles v. Freeman, 1982 OK 89, ¶ 16, 649 P.2d 532, 535 (using both terms interchangeably); see also Hawkins v. Wright, 1951 OK 12, ¶ 14, 226 P.2d 957, 961 (“The terms ‘merchantable title’ … and ‘marketable title’ have been generally held to be synonymous”.). The Arkansas Supreme Court also views the terms “merchantable title”, “marketable title”, and “good and indefeasible title” as synonymous. See Hinton v. Martin, 151 Ark. 343, 236 S.W. 267, 268, 271 (1921) (“The word ‘merchantable’ … is synonymous with the word ‘marketable,’ and is used interchangeably with it by all the courts in discussions of titles …”. Moreover, “there is … no difference between a ‘good and indefeasible” title and a ‘marketable’ title.”).
14 52 O.S. § 570.10.D.2a provides, in part: “Marketability of title shall be determined in accordance with the then current title examination standards of the Oklahoma Bar Association.” (emphasis added); see also, Hull v. Sun Ref. & Mktg. Co., 1989 OK 168, ¶ 9, 789 P.2d 1272, 1277 (“Marketable title is determined under §540 [now §570.10] pursuant to the Oklahoma Bar Association's title examination
15 16 O.S. App. § 1.1 (OSCN 2009); see also Holt v. Manuel, 186 Ark. 435, 54 S.W.2d 66, 67 (1932) (defining marketable title as title that “is free from reasonable doubt); see also, Camp v. Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co., 787 F.2d 1258, 1261 (8th Cir. 1986) (applying Arkansas law and holding, “marketable title is one which imports such ownership as enables and ensures to the owner the peaceable control and use of the property as against everyone else.… To be marketable, title need only be free from reasonable doubt, not ‘ultimately prove impervious to assault.’”) (citing Holt, 54 S.W.2d 66).
16 See Thomas P. Schroedter, Oil and Gas Title Examination and Title Curative: Marketable v. Defensible Title, Comprehensive Land Practices, an AAPL Publication, at III-48 (1st ed. 1984).
17 See Knowles, 1982 OK 89, ¶ 16, 649 P.2d at 535 (holding that the title examination standards are persuasive in authority); see also 1979 OK AG 230 (indicating that the examination standards are uniform interpretations for use in examining title but not statutes, and Oklahoma statutes should prevail where there is a conflict with the examination standards).
18 Allen D. Cummings & Randy Browne, Meeting of the Minds on Title Defects, 48 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 27, 27.07 (2002).
19 See e.g. Robert G. Pruitt, Jr., Mining Claim Titles for Investors and Lenders, 33 Rocky Mtn. Min. L. Inst. 9, 9.08 fn. 71 (1988).
20 Schroedter, supra, at note 17.
21 See Colonial Royalties Co. v. Keener, 266 P.2d 467 (Okla. 1953).
22 See Bonner v. Oklahoma Rock Corp., 863 P.2d 1176 (Okla. 1993).
23 See Bonner v. Oklahoma Rock Corp., 863 P.2d 1176 (Okla. 1993).
24 EUGENE KUNTZ, ET AL., THE LAW OF OIL AND GAS § 16.1 (Matthew Bender & Company, Inc. 2014).
25 Case summaries by the Newsletter of the Energy and Natural Resources Section of the Oklahoma Bar Association. This is an excellent publication, and is highly recommended.

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