Brief Fact Summary. After a well blew out, neighboring gas and oil escaped underground.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The negligent waste and destruction of a person’s gas and oil will permit that person to recover damages because he has been deprived of his rights in that property.
Issue. Will a party be liable for the negligent waste or destruction of another’s oil and gas when that waste and destruction occurred after the minerals had been drained from beneath the person’s land?
In Texas, the landowner is regarded as having absolute title to the oil and gas beneath his land. The only limit to the rule is that it must be considered in connection with the law of capture and is subject to police regulations. Each owner of land owns the oil and gas under his land and is accorded the usual remedies against trespassers who appropriate the minerals or destroy their market value.
The law of capture states that the owner of a tract of land acquires title to the oil or gas which he produces from wells on his land, though part of the oil or gas may have migrated from adjoining lands. He may take those minerals without the consent of the owners of those lands. Despite what it seems, the rule does not conflict with the rule of absolute ownership of minerals. If the owners of adjacent lands have the right to appropriate the minerals from their neighbor’s lands, the neighbors have the same right to appropriate minerals from adjacent lands.
Under the law of capture, there is no liability for reasonable and legitimate drainage from the common pool of minerals. Each owner is given a reasonable opportunity to produce his share of oil and gas from the common pool.
But, this immunity does not extend to the negligent waste or destruction of oil and gas. The negligent waste and destruction of Petitioners’ gas and oil was neither a legitimate drainage of the minerals from beneath their lands nor a lawful or reasonable appropriation of them. Petitioners’ did not lose their right, title and interest in the minerals under the law of capture. The minerals belonged to Petitioners’ at the time they were wasted, so they should be able to recover damages.
Discussion. Negligently wasting natural resources deprives a person of his property rights in those resources, including the right to profit from them. So, the waster should compensate the injured party for his loss.