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Piney Woods Country Life School v. Shell Oil Co.

726 F.2d 225, 79 O. & G.R. 244 (1984), reh'g denied, 750 F.2d 69 (1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1005 (1985)

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Piney Woods Country Life School v. Shell Oil Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

726 F.2d 225, 79 O. & G.R. 244 (1984), reh'g denied, 750 F.2d 69 (1984), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1005 (1985)

Facts

Piney Woods Country Life School and others (plaintiffs) leased oil and gas rights to Shell Oil Co. (defendant). The leases provided for royalties to be paid to the plaintiffs based on the market value of the gas at the well. Shell signed contracts selling the gas to third parties for a set price. Shell’s sales contracts provided that title to the gas was transferred when the gas was produced at the well. Shell took this to mean that its actual proceeds from the sales at the well were the proper royalty payment under the “market value at the well” clause. Shell thus paid royalties to the plaintiffs based on the actual proceeds from the sales, because the sales were made at the well. The gas that the wells produced was “sour,” in that it contained hydrogen sulfide. As a result, the gas needed to be processed before it could actually be marketed. As a result, Shell deducted from its royalty payments a proportion of the processing costs that Shell later incurred. Subsequent to Shell’s sales contracts being signed, the price of oil went up significantly. As a result, the plaintiffs brought suit, claiming that Shell’s basing its royalty payments on its contract prices, rather than the current market value of the gas when it was produced was improper. The plaintiffs also claimed that Shell’s processing deductions were improper. The district court found (1) market value means current market value at the well at the time of production, and (2) that deductions for processing costs were proper. The plaintiffs appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Wisdom, J.)

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