Damage to Land Caused by Oil and Gas Drilling In Oklahoma Law

The fundamental rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the Legislature as expressed in the statute. Legislative intent is ascertained from the whole act in light of its general purpose and objective. Where possible, all relevant portions of a statute and related enactments will be considered together to give force and effect to all of them. Kratz v. Kratz, 1995 OK 63, 905 P.2d 753, 755; Joshua C. by and Through Denise L. v. Western Heights Independent School Dist. No. 1-41 of Oklahoma County, 1995 OK CIV APP 73, 898 P.2d 1324, 1327; J.D. Graham Const. Inc. v. Pryor Public Schools Independent School Dist. No. 1, Mayes County, 1993 OK CIV APP 44, 854 P.2d 917, 920 (cert. denied). Section 318.5(A) is consistent with our interpretation and construction of 318.9, i.e., that the petition to appoint appraisers must be filed before entering the property if the surface owner and operator have been unable to reach an agreement. Otherwise, 318.5(A) would be meaningless. This construction of 318.9 is also consistent with the policy and purpose of the Act, to strike a balance between two competing interest owners, as explained by the Supreme Court in Schneberger v. Apache Corporation, 1994 OK 117, 890 P.2d 847, 853: We begin by stating the obvious; the state of Oklahoma is committed to protecting the environment and preserving the state's natural resources. This is all the more evident given the passage of the Surface Damage Act, 52 O.S.Supp. 1982, 318.2 et seq., which states Oklahoma's policy regarding damage to land caused by oil and gas drilling operations. However, the intent of the Act was never to tip the scale in favor of one interest over the other, but rather, provide a balance between these two competing interests. It cannot be said that the surface of the land constitutes a less vital resource to the State of Oklahoma than does the mineral wealth which underlies it. The surface supports development for business, industrial and residential purposes. It also supports our vital agricultural industry. The passage of the surface damages act guarantees that the development of one industry is not undertaken at the expense of another when the vitality of both is of great consequence to the well-being of our economy. In times when both the agricultural and oil and gas segments of our economy are suffering it is especially important that such legislation is enforced. Davis Oil Co., 766 P.2d 1347, 1351 (Okla. 1986). Prior to the Surface Damage Act, the holder of an oil and gas lease had almost an unrestricted right to go on the leased land and prospect for oil. the only basis for recovery of damages was proof of wanton or negligent destruction of the land or use of lands not reasonably necessary for oil and gas exploration. Wilcox Oil Co. v. Lawson, 341 P.2d 591, 594 (Okla. 1959). The measure of damages for negligent destruction of land or crops was the difference between the value of such land before the injury and the value after the injury. Id. at 595. The Surface Damage Act changed the standard of liability for damages to the surface estate, requiring the holder of an oil and gas lease to negotiate with the surface owner, prior to beginning operations, for the payment of damages which may be caused by the drilling. 52 O.S. 1991, 318.5. As noted above, this change in liability reflected a legislative effort to balance the interests of the two resource owners and expressed a change in policy toward promoting environmental conservation. Davis Oil Co., 766 P.2d at 1351. Accord, Turley v. Flag-Redfern Oil Co., 1989 OK 144, 782 P.2d 130, 136: Under the Act, surface owners are provided a means of participating in a judicial procedure to determine losses suffered because of oil and gas mining operations.