Hastings Oil Co. v. Texas Co., 234 S.W.2d 389 (Tex. 1950). Hastings Oil is one of the earliest reported Texas Supreme Court cases involving subsurface trespass and oilfield operations. Under Hastings and other slant-well cases that followed, subsurface trespass is actionable if the wellbore itself breaks the plane of the plaintiff’s leasehold boundary.
Humble Oil & Refining Co. v. L & G Oil Co., 259 S.W.2d 933 (Tex. Civ. App.—Austin 1953, writ ref’d n.r.e.). In Humble Oil, M&M directionally drilled from an adjacent tract that it owned to its own adjoining mineral estate. In doing so, the wellbore passed through Humble’s mineral estate and Humble sought an injunction, which the trial court denied. The Court of Civil Appeals then affirmed, despite the fact that Humble’s lease gave it the “exclusive” right to explore for and produce oil and gas. The court’s reasoning suggests an early departure from a strict application of the ad coelum doctrine.
Gregg v. Delhi-Taylor Oil Corp., 344 S.W.2d 411 (Tex. 1961). For decades, Greggstood as the Texas Supreme Court’s last word directly related to subsurface trespass by hydraulic fracturing. Gregg drilled 37.5 feet from the adjacent lease boundary and was planning to fracture his well, but Delhi-Taylor sought an injunction to stop the alleged subsurface trespass. After stating that “the allegations [were] sufficient to raise an issue as to whether there is a trespass,” the court continued, in dicta: “While the drilling bit of Gregg’s well is not alleged to have extended into Delhi-Taylor’s land, the same result is reached if in fact the cracks or veins [from fracking] extend into its land and the gas is produced therefrom by Gregg.” This reasoning is in line with the ad coelum doctrine.
Railroad Commission of Texas v. Manziel, 361 S.W.2d 560 (Tex. 1962). InManziel, the court faced the issue of whether secondary recovery operations—specifically, “waterflooding”—constituted subsurface trespass. Rather than strictly applying the ad coelum doctrine, the court considered whether this activity authorized by the Texas Railroad Commission authorized activity was based on sufficient justification, weighing the social interest in the activity against the individual “who is damaged.” Similar to the aircraft exception to trespass, the Texas Supreme Court recognized that waterflooding had evolved sufficiently to justify an exception to the notions of the ad coelum doctrine.
Chevron Oil Co. v. Howell, 407 S.W.2d 525 (Tex. Civ. App.—Dallas 1966, writ ref’d n.r.e.). In Howell, Chevron began directionally drilling from Howell’s tract to reach its leasehold under Lake Texoma. In the process, it passed through Magna’s mineral estate, and the trial court granted an injunction against Chevron. The appellate court disagreed with Chevron’s contention that there was no evidence of damage to the surface and the mineral estates, and affirmed the grant of an injunction. This case appears to be in line with the more absolute ad coelumnotions of subsurface ownership.
Amarillo Oil v. Energy-Agri Products, 794 S.W.2d 20 (Tex. 1990). Energy-Agri perforated into a gas zone, and Amarillo Oil, which owned the gas rights, sued for an injunction and damages. The Texas Supreme Court held that Amarillo was not entitled to an injunction, reasoning that the railroad commission’s approval of the production operation must be respected. But the court drew a “distinction between the right of possession through the Railroad Commission-granted right to produce, and the right of ownership.” The court then remanded for a determination of damages based on how much of the gas that Energy-Agri produced was casing-head gas.
Geo Viking v. Tex-Lee Operating, 1992 WL 80263 (Tex. 1992), withdrawn, 839 S.W.2d 797. Citing Gregg and Amarillo Oil, the court held that “[f]racing under the surface of another’s land constitutes a subsurface trespass.” The court stated further that “the rule of capture would not permit Tex-Lee to recover for a loss of oil and gas that might have been produced as a result of fracing beyond the boundaries of its tract.” About six months after issuing its opinion, the court withdrew its opinion, stating that the writ of error was “improvidently granted.” This left lingering uncertainty over the legality of fracturing beyond one’s lease boundary, which the Texas Supreme Court would not address again for several years.
Gifford Operating v. Indrex, No. 2:89-CV- 0189, 1992 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22505 (N.D. Tex. 1992). Before the Geo Viking opinion was withdrawn, another court faced the issue of subsurface trespass by hydraulic fracturing. In Indrex, Gifford hydraulically fractured a Granite Wash well located about 1,340 feet from the lease line and about 2,640 feet from a second well. The court cited Gregg for the proposition that “sand fracing under the surface of another’s land constitutes subsurface trespass.”