February 27, 2015 Articles

A Look at Underground Trespass under Texas Law

Courts are still wrestling with the issue of subsurface trespass.

By Donald D. Jackson – February 27, 2015

The “Shale Revolution” has resulted in a widespread increase in development activity, rapidly evolving operations, and more chances for alleged underground interference across lease boundaries. It has also led to a number of subsurface-trespass claims. Despite guidance from several opinions involving subsurface trespass, courts are still wrestling with underground trespass issues in Texas and elsewhere.

The Shale Revolution

Until relatively recently, the oil and gas industry relied primarily on vertical wells for production. For decades, the industry has hydraulically fractured these vertical wells to overcome low permeability and enhance production. But even with hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), these vertical wells were limited by the substantial distances oil had to flow to reach the induced fractures.

Advancements in drilling technology have opened up new formations once thought too impermeable for commercial development. The Shale Revolution in Texas and elsewhere has been based primarily on two technologies: (1) horizontal drilling with accurate steering and measuring “on the fly,” and (2) multi-stage fracking of horizontal wells. This revolution has reversed what had been a declining state of oil and gas reserves nationwide.

This altered landscape has not only increased activity in the oil fields—it has also brought numerous operators into close proximity to one another. Precision horizontal drilling allows a number of scenarios unlikely to occur with traditional vertical wells. For example, two operators may both have wellbores running parallel for long distances along lease lines or an operator may wish to drill through one mineral estate to reach another.

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