Ohio's Fifth District Court of Appeals issues a decision on unitization

On August 13, 2018, the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals issued a decision in Am. Energy-Utica, LLC v. Fuller, 2018-Ohio-3250, holding that an order unitizing the landowner’s parcel under R.C. 1509.28 after the landowner chose not to voluntarily consent to the unit “retroactively impair[ed] the obligation of the contract,” namely a provision in the landowner’s oil and gas lease stating, “UNITIZATION BY WRITTEN AGREEMENT ONLY.” In this case, Fuller executed an oil and gas lease in 1981, covering a 40-acre parcel, that contained no explicit restrictions on the formations or depths covered by the lease and included handwritten changes that crossed out the provision allowing for unitization and, instead, provided: “UNITIZATION BY WRITTEN AGREEMENT ONLY!”  After a series of assignments, American Energy-Utica, LLC acquired the deep rights under the Fuller parcel. American Energy approached Fuller to execute an amendment to allow for unitization of the Fuller parcel. The parties were unable to reach an agreement, and Fuller refused to consent to the unit. American Energy then included his parcel in a unitization application to ODNR under R.C. 1509.28.

In the case, American Energy filed a claim for injunctive relief to gain access to the Fuller property to conduct seismic testing, as well as an application with ODNR to force a portion of Fuller’s property into a drilling unit. Fuller filed a counterclaim for breach of the lease agreement provision related to unitization by written agreement only. The trial court held that the oil and gas lease covered all formations under the property and that “R.C. 1509.28 permits the unitization of the lease.” On appeal, the Fifth District reversed the trial court’s decision on unitization, relying on the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Burtner-Morgan-Stephens Co. v. Wilson, 63 Ohio St.3d 257 (1992). The Fifth District held that application of R.C. 1509.28 in this case constituted breach of the express provisions of the lease. 

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation