Oil fields, refineries and other properties associated with the manufacture of gasoline and other petroleum products are most often located in rural areas. As such, their property commonly abuts land owned by farmers and ranchers. If you are in charge of running a rural crude oil or natural gas operation, then, it is critical that you understand how to protect your company from legal liability, and the steps you can take to help prevent a potentially lengthy lawsuit by disgruntled neighbors.
A new legal standard for nuisances
In 2016, the Texas Supreme Court established a new standard for what constitutes a valid cause of action for nuisance. In other words, they laid out exactly what a farmer or rancher needs to be able to show in court in order to hold your company liable for a nuisance.
The case involves a natural gas pipeline that runs adjacent to several ranches and other rural properties. The ranch owners sued the gas pipeline company, alleging that the noise from the compressor station’s diesel engines made it impossible for them to enjoy their property in peace.
The Court determined that, in order to give rise to a valid cause of action, a nuisance has to interfere with a landowner’s enjoyment of their land in a substantial and unreasonable manner. These terms are subjective, and courts will determine whether plaintiffs meet the standard on a case-by-case basis, depending upon their individual circumstances.
What this means for your company
Just because you have received complaints of noise, odors or smoke from neighboring landowners does not necessarily mean that your operation is in legal danger. It’s possible that a court will recognize the steps that you have taken to minimize the nuisance as much as reasonably possible.
A farmer or rancher is only likely to succeed in a lawsuit against your company if it is apparent that your actions are unreasonable under the circumstances – such as if the nuisance is the result of negligence, or if the inconvenience on the landowner far outweighs the benefit to your company.
There is no surefire way to guarantee that your company will not encounter legal opposition to your actions. But by taking steps to keep your operation’s impact on neighbors within reasonable bounds, you can help to minimize the chances of an unfavorable verdict against you.