ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio — A Belmont County judge has ruled that one oil and gas company can not hold a lease in perpetuity.
The case of Oxford Oil verses the West family is one of many lawsuits in Belmont County courts over oil and gas issues. The West family owns 97 acres in Wayne Township.
The decision was made Oct. 4 by Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato, who ruled in the case of Oxford Oil (now Eclipse) against the West family.
The family included Barry M. West, Stacey L. West, Brian K. West and Shelly West.
In October 2011, Oxford Oil filed a lawsuit against the West family for the breach of contract and other issues. The family then filed a counter claim in December 2011.
The West family claimed that the lease Oxford Oil has on their land was in perpetuity and therefore void.
According to the ruling, Fregiato found that the West lease was being held in perpetuity and that Oxford’s rights to the lease were forfeited and the lease was rescinded.
The West family was ordered to return to Oxford all money that have received as result of the void lease.
Fregiato said in his decision that the lease was for a period of five years and “so much longer” if production or the capacity to be productive in Oxford’s opinion.
However, the judge said that it is the public policy of the state of Ohio to encourage oil and gas production when it can be accomplished without undue threat or safety to citizens. He said production is the issue in this case and there wasn’t enough in his opinion.
“Oxford has constructed a no-term lease which may be extended indefinitely. Oxford has retained the right to determine the nature of its performance and the length of its obligations and interest in the property. It is more in the nature of fee simple ownership than a leasehold interest,” wrote Fregiato in the opinion.
Fregiato went on to declare that all oil and gas leases which are leases in perpetuity void from the beginning.
This decision could change leasing acreage in Belmont County.
The Belmont County recorder’s office stated that there were 264 documents involving the Oxford Oil Company over the past two years but did not know if they were all leases.
A call was made to Eclipse Resources but never returned.