Oil and Gas Leases: What Northern Michigan Landowners Should Know

Oil and Gas Leases: What Northern Michigan Landowners Should Know
Recently, many of my firm's clients who own multiple acres of land in northern Michigan have been contacted by petroleum company representatives and offered oil and gas rights leases for their land. While many of these companies are reputable and offer fairly standard terms in their leases, they are generally trying to secure leases that are most favorable to them. The landowner should be aware of provisions that can be included to protect their investment and maximize the owner's financial return. Know What Your Oil and Gas Rights are Worth Most oil and gas leases propose two financial benefits. The first is the oil and gas lease price per acre. Recently, one major oil and gas company paid up to $5,000.00 per acre for what they had determined to be land located strategically close to what the company believed would be a very fertile and productive natural gas field. While not all landowners will be fortunate enough to garner that type of lease price, it is not unusual for companies to make initial offers at a fraction of the amount they are willing to pay to lease a landowners oil and gas rights. Rarely is the first offer the best offer they are willing to make. The second financial benefit is the "royalty" to be paid by the oil and gas company in the event their exploration results in the installation of an active well to extract oil or gas. Recently, oil and gas companies negotiated oil and gas leases for thousands of acres of state lands and agreed to pay the state royalties at a rate of 1/6th of the gross revenue resulting from an active well. As a result, landowners should not agree to anything less than the State of Michigan was able to negotiate for its royalty rate. I recently reviewed an oil and gas lease for a client that proposed a 1/10th royalty rate which we easily negotiated to the more favorable 1/6th rate being paid to the State. Avoid Deduction of "Post Production Costs" From Royalties Many proposed oil and gas leases will include provisions allowing an oil and gas company to deduct a portion of the company's "post production costs" (PPCs) which essentially is simply a practice of the companies lowering their overhead and increasing their profits by passing overhead costs on to the landowner to be deducted from royalties. Landowners should be careful to make sure their royalties are to be paid off the gross revenue from a well with nothing other than a proportionate share of applicable government taxes being deducted from the royalty payment. Require the Inclusion of a "Pugh Clause" in the Lease
A "Pugh Clause" protects the landowner by requiring the oil and gas company to release certain land subject to the lease after termination of the lease term that has not been pooled into the land subject to the royalty payment in the event an active well results from the lease and exploration. For example, an oil and gas company may only pool an apportion of the leased land for royalty purposes and without a Pugh Clause, the companies in some instances can tie up the entire parcel subject to the lease even though they are only paying royalties on a portion of the land. There are other concerns that also should be addressed and included in the lease to protect the landowner including where the placement of well will be allowed, where facilities can be constructed on the landowners property and provisions specifying that the companies must restore the land to its original condition after completing various activities on the land. Be Prepared There has been a significant increase in the oil and gas activity in northern Michigan in the last six months. Oftentimes the oil and gas leases are presented in a fast and furious fashion. Don't be afraid to take your time and carefully consider any proposed lease and determine whether there are other companies also interested in the oil and gas rights to your land. A little competition never hurts the process. Also, seeking the advice and input of a qualified attorney to protect your rights as the landowner is also recommended. Dan A. Penning