Seismic Survey Damage: Boone Pickens Awarded $1.5 Million

An oil and gas company has been directed to pay more than $1.5 million for surface damages to a Texas Panhandle ranch owned by energy executive Boone Pickens, who has spent the past two decades under-grazing and restoring the land to its natural state and creating one of America's finest quail habitats.

Latigo Petroleum Texas LP, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based oil and gas operating company, had offered Pickens $5 an acre to settle his claim for damages caused by its seismic survey. The $1.5 million award ordered by a three-member arbitration panel that heard the case in Dallas last June effectively increased the damage recovery to $250 an acre. About 6,000 acres were the focus of the seismic survey conducted in the fall of 2004 on Pickens' Mesa Vista Ranch in Roberts County, Texas.

Pickens said the landmark award, a unanimous decision by the arbitration panel, should send a strong signal to oil and gas companies. Said Pickens: "3-D seismic operations are invasive and destructive to the land. Landowners have had to settle for nominal surface damages that have been offered by oil and gas companies for far too long. Hopefully this will result in better management practices to the benefit of the landowners and the environment."

Last fall, Latigo and Pickens entered into an agreement requiring Latigo to compensate Pickens for all damages caused to the surface of his property. In the agreement, Latigo acknowledged the unique nature of the ranchland and agreed to take efforts to minimize property damage.

Seismic operations conducted at Mesa Vista involved three 31-ton vibrator trucks traveling in unison in a tight grid pattern across the property. The vibrator trucks caused deep indentations in the land and tire tracks that destroyed native grasses and plants. Pickens believes the tracks will contribute to land erosion and have caused scarring that will take years to heal.