Surface Owner Damages by Operator on Oklahoma
52 O.S. 1991 318.9 provides:
Any operator who willfully and knowingly fails to keep posted the required bond or who fails to notify the surface owner, prior to entering, or fails to come to an agreement and does not ask the court for appraisers, shall pay, at the direction of the court, treble damages to the surface owner.
Treble damages would not be awarded against an operator which:
(1) failed to reach an agreement with the surface owner
(2) which failed to ask the court to appoint appraisers, but (3) which did not go onto the property.
Clearly, the operator's entry upon the surface triggers the application of the statute. This interpretation is consistent with another section of the Act, 52 O.S. 1991 318.5(A), which provides:
318.5. Negotiating surface damages--Appraisers--Report and exceptions thereto--Jury trial
A. Prior to entering the site with heavy equipment, the operator shall negotiate with the surface owner for the payment of any damages which may be caused by the drilling operation.
If the parties agree, and a written contract is signed, the operator may enter the site to drill.
If agreement is not reached, or if the operator is not able to contact all parties, the operator shall petition the district court in the county in which the drilling site is located for appointment of appraisers to make recommendations to the parties and to the court concerning the amount of damages, if any. Once the operator has petitioned for appointment of appraisers, he may enter the site to drill.