Oil and gas law is the subset of natural resources law that includes the exploration for, and the production, transportation, and processing of, crude oil, natural gas, and associated hydrocarbons.
Oil and gas law has developed around the three “streams” of business — (i) upstream is the “E&P” business, the actual exploration for, and production of, oil and gas; (ii) midstream is the gathering, processing, storing, transporting, and marketing of produced oil and gas; and (iii) downstream is the refining of crude oil and the selling and ultimate distribution of natural gas and products derived from crude oil. Oil and gas is the body of law that organizes the discovery, development, allocation, ownership, management, and ultimately use of oil and natural gas as energy sources that fuel modern civilization. Oil and gas law means the constellation of statutory, regulatory, and judicial law that customarily applies to the three streams of the oil and gas business.
This body of law draws heavily from contract, property, and corporate law, but also has substantial overlap with environmental, tax, employment, administrative, and even tort law. The set of legal issues that confront, for example, a client wishing to organize a company to acquire and develop a particular offshore or onshore oil and gas prospect, is unique. Therefore, the diversity and specificity of these issues led to the emergence of specialized oil and gas lawyers.
Oil and gas lawyers also must be familiar with the business realities that affect their clients. They are experienced with the operational details and points of negotiation in the contracts and physical operations that are common and also unique to oil and gas. They must alert clients to potential traps for the unwary in the case law of their jurisdiction, navigate government regulations to accomplish their clients’ goals, and assemble transactions from the myriad property and operational issues that exist for each particular oil and gas prospect or producing property. For example, the mechanics and economics of the development of oil and gas versus hard minerals such as coal has led to dramatically different business structures and contracts to develop these fossil fuel resources.
Some oil and gas lawyers specialize in unwinding the often Gordian mineral ownership of oil and gas in place; others are skilled in litigating the unique disputes that arise in the context of development joint ventures; and still others can structure oil and gas projects from exploration to development and sale. Additionally, the oil and gas industry has a significant international dimension; in this context, oil and gas lawyers can provide invaluable orientation and counsel to foreign companies investing in oil and gas exploration projects in the United States or domestic companies seeking to expand their presence globally.