Face Challenges Confidently

057 Satanta Oil Co. v. Henderson

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of some significance to you.
Satanta Oil Co. v. Henderson, 855 S.W.2d 888 (Tex. App.–El Paso 1993, no writ), examines the liability of the oil operator to the surface user for the death of cattle from the lethal ingestion of oil. Henderson’s valuable cow died from drinking oil. Satanta was one of the oil operators on the ranch, and it had six or seven oil wells, flow lines, tank batteries, and a slush pit. The jury found for the rancher Henderson.
Held: Reversed and rendered that Henderson take nothing. In Texas, the owner/operator of an oil and gas lease has the right to use so much of the land, both surface and subsurface, as is reasonably necessary to comply with the terms of the lease contract and to carry out the purposes and intentions of the parties. In the absence of a lease provision to the contrary, the only duty owed by the operator of the oil lease to the owner/lessee of the surface, who is pasturing cattle, is not to injure such cattle intentionally, wilfully or wantonly. There is no duty on the part of an operator to put fences around his operations. If the injury was not “intentional,” then the cattle owner must plead and prove that the oil operator used more land than was reasonably necessary to his operation and was negligent in some respect that proximately caused the injury.
Thus, the owner/lessee of the surface estate in order to recover against the mineral lessee or operator for injury to his cattle must plead, prove and obtain a jury finding on one of the following:

  • That the lessee/operator intentionally, wilfully, or wantonly injured the cattle; or
  • That the lessee/operator used more land than was reasonably necessary for carrying out the purposes of the lease and that as a result of some negligent act or omission on his part, he proximately caused an injury to the surface owner/lessee’s cattle.

In this case, Henderson did not try to prove that Satanta intentionally injured the cow, failed to submit a negligence issue, and failed to produce evidence sufficient to prove negligence. At best, Henderson proved only an unreasonable use of the surface, which is not enough in injury-to- livestock cases. The case is significant because it provides a good summary of the current state of the law in injury-to-livestock cases, and it serves as a reminder that the time for lessor to protect himself is during the leasing transaction.