Face Challenges Confidently

157 Villareal v. Grant Geophysical, Inc.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Richard F. Brown

The following is not a legal opinion. You should consult your attorney if the case may be of significance to you.
In Villareal v. Grant Geophysical, Inc., 136 S.W.3d 265 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2004, pet. denied), the San Antonio Court of Appeals determined Texas law requires actual physical entry or injury to the surface estate lying above the mineral estate in order to sustain a claim of geophysical trespass. Villareal owned a mineral estate. Grant conducted seismic surveys using three- dimensional technology across three counties, including acreage near Villareal. While conducting the surveys, Grant obtained permission to conduct survey operations from over 2,100 surface and mineral estate owners. Grant was unable to obtain permission from everyone within the survey and did not obtain permission from Villareal. In order to avoid trespassing on approximately 125 tracts where permits were not originally obtained, including the Villareal property, Grant reconfigured the survey. Grant placed shot and receiver points only on permitted tracts. Thus, Grant never trespassed on the surface of the estate above the Villareal mineral estate, and Grant contended it never intentionally obtained unpermitted data from the subsurface of the Villareal property.
Villareal filed suit against Grant contending that data was obtained from the mineral estate without first obtaining Villareal’s permission to conduct seismic testing on the Villareal mineral estate. Villareal filed claims for geophysical trespass, assumpsit in lieu of geophysical trespass (reasonable value of the use and occupation of the land in lieu of actual damages), and unjust enrichment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Grant on all of the claims. The San Antonio Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The Court of Appeals noted that trespass includes subsurface trespass in the oil and gas context. However, based upon interpretation of precedent, the Court held that lack of physical invasion or injury precluded both trespass and assumpsit claims. Because a trespass did not occur under current Texas law, Grant also did not wrongfully secure a benefit nor did Grant passively receive one which would have been unconscionable to retain. Therefore, Grant was not unjustly enriched. Although the court was not happy with existing precedents, it confirmed that the law in Texas continues to be that a geophysical trespass will not be actionable unless there is a surface injury or trespass.