An oil and gas farmout agreement is an agreement by the owner of an oil and gas lease (the “farmor”) to assign all or part of the working interest in that lease to another party (the “farmee”), who agrees to drill a well and do testing on the property in exchange for the opportunity to earn a formal assignment of working interest. The farmout agreement usually requires the farmee to drill a well to a certain depth, at a specified location, and within a certain time frame, at the farmee’s own risk and expense. Typically, the farmee must complete the well as a commercial producer to earn an assignment, because the farmor desires to preserve the lease (although some farmouts require only drilling to earn). Generally speaking, the greater the risks a farmee takes, the greater the area in which the farmee will earn an interest.

In a farmout, the farmor usually reserves an overriding royalty interest, with the option to convert the overriding royalty interest to a working interest in the lease upon payout of drilling and production expenses, otherwise known as a back-in after payout (BIAPO). As an example, the agreement may provide for:

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Payout occurs when the farmee has recovered all of its drilling costs out of its share of production after deducting its operating costs, certain taxes, and other expenses. The farmout should include a complete definition of “payout” by stating exactly what will be deducted in calculating the payout amount.

Farmouts can present a number of potential issues for land departments and title examiners. First, the parties often fail to record notice of the farmout. As a result, the farmee’s rights under the farmout may not be protected against a third-party bona fide purchaser or the bankruptcy of the farmor. It is critical for a farmee to provide notice of the farmout and protect its operator’s lien rights by perfecting its interest under the farmout. Fortunately, this issue can be easily resolved by recording a memorandum of the farmout agreement in the county where the lands are located.

Second, a farmout is different than a lease assignment in that the farmor retains leasehold title until the farmee has completed the required drilling and testing of the property and has earned an assignment. Without a formal assignment of interest from the farmor, the records may not be clear as to whether the farmee has in fact earned an interest under a farmout agreement, and a factual inquiry and careful analysis is required. To aid this analysis, the conditions for earning an assignment and when the assignment will be delivered to the farmee should be clearly drafted in the farmout. Once the farmee receives the assignment, it should be timely recorded in the county where the lands are located for the same reasons as discussed above.

Third, the election of the farmor to retain an overriding royalty interest or convert it to a BIAPO working interest affects the rights of both parties and their successors-in-interest. Therefore, the farmor’s election must be clear from the records. The election should be reflected either in the recorded assignment or in a subsequently recorded instrument.

Other farmout provisions of note include the formation of an AMI, or “area of mutual interest,” which obligates one party to the farmout to offer the other party a certain percentage of the interest the first party acquires in oil and gas rights within the defined geographic boundary of the AMI. Additionally, a farmout may contain a call on production clause, under which the farmor has a continuing preferential right to purchase all oil and gas production from the farmout acreage.

Farmouts are negotiated agreements taking many different forms that often include complex provisions. The parties would be wise to carefully review the terms and conditions of the farmout to ensure their rights and obligations. In addition, the parties should protect their rights under the farmout by recording a memorandum of the farmout, the interest earned by the farmee, and the elections of the farmor.