Gregg County oil lease dispute to carry into 2017

Vernon Webb of the Texas Department of Transportation speaks with Debra Christian and Darnell Jones about the proposed widening of George Richey Road between Texas 300 and FM 2275 in June.

A dispute between a Gregg County landowner and the man she claims has been drilling oil illegally on her property for years will stretch into 2017 after she told a court this week that she has a new lawyer.

Debra Christian traces her family's roots to 1872 and to land north of White Oak, settled by her great-great-grandfather, Butcher Christian. A Texas Historical Commission marker is planned for a 2017 dedication on the property.

This past year, she renewed a legal battle with oilfield operator David Chandler and three companies he controls, seeking royalties she claims her family has been denied for years.

"This has been going on for 12 years," she said, referring to this and related lawsuits in her long-running dispute with the Longview oilman. "This is an accounting case, because we have not been paid our royalties."

Chandler's attorney, Kyle Kutch, said Tuesday that Marshall attorney William Hughey, designated Monday by Christian, is the third lawyer he has faced in defending his client.

"Apparently, we're going to start over on the scheduling order," he said.

Kutch said Christian is mistaken in calling the matter a question of accounting.

"I think she's confusing accounting with a title opinion," he said. "(Chandler) is the operator of the Butcher Christian lease."

Kutch said in August that Chandler has no interest in one of the three tracts cited by Christian in her lawsuit against him and his Acirema Corp., TOGS Energy and M-C Production and Drilling Co.

"There's other (un-sued) people that operate on part of the property she's suing on," Kutch said. "It's somebody up in Colorado."

He added that Chandler is on firm legal ground with the leases he is operating.

"She thinks that he doesn't have a right to operate those leases," he said. "He's got an assignment saying he's got the good faith to operate those leases. She's asking for accounting, and she thinks that's going to define what interest she has. And that's not done by accounting."

Hughey declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. Christian followed his lead later that day.

"My attorney and I are in one accord," she wrote in an email. "Our case will be handled in the system."

The lawsuit is filed in Judge David Brabham's 188th District Court.

Kutch said the wells in question were dug in the 1930s, with some natural gas play occurring more recently.

The assignments — a legal term for rights held to drill on specific properties — have passed from operator to operator to his client, he said.

"Chandler got his assignment from one of the previous operators," he said. "And it's a mess. ... I think what's happened over the years is, as the years have gone on, the owners have sold them, and you don't know who owns what or who's drilling now."

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