Pennington, et al. v. Continental Resources, Inc.Annotate this Case
In 2011, Plaintiffs Rhonda Pennington, Steven Nelson, Donald Nelson, and Charlene Bjornson executed oil and gas leases for property in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Each lease term was three years with a lessee option to extend for an additional year. The leases were assigned to Continental Resources in September 2014, and it exercised an extension option. The leases included a provision that the leases would not terminate if drilling operations were delayed by an inability to obtain permits. In May 2012, Continental applied for a drilling permit on a 2,560-acre spacing unit that included the lands covered by the leases. The 2,560 acres included lands inhabited by the Dakota Skipper butterfly, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Continental could not begin drilling operations until receiving federal approval. In August 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion relating to the impact of Continental’s proposed drilling on the Dakota Skipper. On October 1, 2015, Continental proposed measures to minimize the impact of its operations on the Dakota Skipper. On October 21, 2015, Continental recorded an affidavit of regulation and delay, stating it had not yet obtained federal regulatory approval to drill, and the primary term of the leases was extended under the “regulation and delay” paragraph of the leases. The following day, Continental applied to terminate the 2,560-acre spacing unit and create a 1,920-acre spacing unit to remove the Dakota Skipper habitat. In November 2015, the Industrial Commission approved the 1,920-acre spacing unit. In January 2016, the commission pooled all of the oil and gas interests in the 1,920-acre spacing unit for the development and operation of the spacing unit. Following the January 2016 order, Continental began drilling operations. In August 2017, the Plaintiffs sued Continental, alleging the leases expired on October 25, 2015, and Continental’s delay in obtaining regulatory approval to drill did not extend the leases. Plaintiffs appealed a district court ruling the “regulation and delay” provision in their oil and gas leases with Continental Resources extended the term of the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court concluded the delay in obtaining drilling permits for the 2,560-acre spacing unit was beyond Continental’s control and was not because of Continental’s fault or negligence. However, the court did not address whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith in pursuing a permit to drill the 2,560-acre spacing unit for more than three years. Viewing the evidence and inferences to be drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the Plaintiffs, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on that issue.