Texas court decides mineral rights for river’s land

Texas court decides mineral rights for river’s land

Aston, R Lee

An owner of a tract of land bordering the Brazos River brought a suit against the oil and gas lessee that had drilled a producing well on the property. The owner claimed that he was entitled to all mineral royalties from the land added to the tract due to accretion, the gradual addition or build-up of new land to old by the deposition of sediments carried by the waters of a stream, from the river while changing its course of flow.

In Ely v. Briley (Berg and U.P. Resources ), 959 S.W.2d 723 (Tex. App.Austin 1998), the court dealt with a case of first impression that required a decision of whether a constructively severed mineral estate interest is subject to the doctrine of accretion and whether a deed reserving a one-half mineral interest to the granter ceded the granter’s right to future accretion to the grantee.

In 1947, Briley’s and Berg’s predecessor-in-title deeded the land to Ely’s predecessor-in-title but reserved a one-half mineral interest “in and to all the oil, gas, and other mineral in and under the herein described property … together with the right of ingress and egress for the purpose of developing and producing said one-half mineral interest.”

Since 1947, Ely’s land increased by 266 acres due to the accretion from the Brazos River. Union Pacific Resources Co. (UPRC) holds oil and gas leases covering the property in question. Ely filed suit against UPRC alleging that he was entitled to all the mineral royalties from the accreted property. UPRC filed a thirdparty action against Briley and Berg, with each of them owning half of the undivided one-half mineral interest reserved under the 1947 deed. The parties disputed whether a one-half mineral interest was carried over to the accreted lands under the 1947 deed and mineral reservation.

The trial court decided in favor of Briley and Berg that each owned a one-fourth interest in the minerals in and under the accreted land. Ely appealed the decision.

The court first analyzed whether a mineral interest is subject to the doctrine of accretion.

The court stated: “Texas recognizes the doctrine of accretion, under which the owner of riparian lands gains title to the land that accretes to his or her property. And, under Texas law, a mineral interest is a property interest. This is true whether or not the mineral estate is constructively severed from the surface estate. A mineral estate possesses `all the incidents and attributes of an estate in land.’ Because a constructively severed mineral estate is a property interest of equal dignity as a surface estate, it logically should also be subject to accretion.

“A deed giving rise to competing riparian claims of accretion uses the shore of the body of water as a boundary. Thus, the location of the mineral estate boundary as it existed at the time of the reservation will often be undeterminable. The boundary of the mineral estate, as the boundary of the surface estate, can be determined only with regard to the river’s shore. To hold that a constructively severed riparian mineral estate is not subject to the doctrine of accretion, although an unsevered riparian mineral estate is, would create a groundless distinction in the bundle of property rights accorded the two groups of property owners. We will not countenance the inequity of such a system.”

Next, the court determined whether the deed limited the granter’s right to future accretion. Appel-lant Ely argued that the 1947 deed limited the granter’s reservation to the boundaries as they existed in 1947 because it reserved the right to minerals “in and under the herein described property.”

The court countered by saying, “We hold that the reservation of the right to minerals `in and under’ the property were words of description, not of limitation. An unqualified reservation of the mineral estate reserves the entire bundle of property rights accorded a mineral estate. Similarly, an unqualified reservation of a riparian mineral estate reserves the right to future accretion.”

The decision of the trial court was upheld with the Appeals Court holding that the deed conveying land “in and under the descibed property” retained in the granter the right to an increase of the reserved mineral estate by accretion of the river.

Copyright PRIMEDIA Intertec Aug 1998

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