An exploration & production company urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling which held that the doctrine of estoppel-by-deed applied to an oil and gas lease. “Parties should not be able to convey, under a covenant of warranty, more than they actually own, only to quiet title when the value or price goes up, and then demand more to resell the same property that was not previously conveyed,” the E&P company argued in its brief filed October 27, 2014.
The dispute stems from a 2006 lease covering a 62-acre property. After signing the lease, a title search revealed a previously unknown 1894 deed reserving half of the property’s subsurface rights in favor of a third party. As a result, the E&P company reduced its bonus payment to the landowners by half. In 2008, the landowners filed a motion to quiet title to the half interest reserved by the 1894 deed, ultimately acquiring full title to all 62 acres of subsurface rights.
In 2011, the E&P company exercised its right to extend the lease in exchange for another bonus payment, paying the landowners for the full 62 acres and claiming that the original lease was operative to hold the entire 62 acres. The landowners argued that because they did not own the rights to all 62 acres when they signed the lease in 2006, the E&P company could not extend the lease with respect to all 62 acres, but only with respect to the half interest they owned in 2006.
The E&P company argued that the doctrine of estoppel-by-deed, which mandates that lessee be given the benefit of property that lessors erroneously claim to control at the time of executing a lease agreement, operated to prevent the landowners from excluding the half interest. In March 2014, the Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with the E&P company, and the landowners appealed.