Ryan Law’s Oil & Gas Royalties Team Secures Favorable Rulings from IBLA, Paves Way for Royalty Refunds

October 13, 2023

Ryan Law’s Oil & Gas Royalties Team recently secured a trifecta of favorable rulings[1] from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) – paving the way for future successes through Ryan Law’s defeat of the presumption of regularity traditionally enjoyed by the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) with respect to its decision-making and record-compiling processes.

The cases involve ONRR’s decisions to deny payors’ refunds of previously overpaid federal oil and gas royalties. As in these cases, when refunds are disputed, payors must generally first seek relief before the Department of the Interior, which includes the IBLA. See 5 U.S.C. § 704. The IBLA reviews both ONRR’s decision as well as its decision-making process for error.

ONRR, however, has typically enjoyed a strong presumption that its decision-making and record-compiling processes are proper and complete – and thus not to be supplemented or otherwise altered, absent clear evidence to the contrary. This presumption has historically allowed ONRR to effectively choose the evidence it wishes recorded and reviewed, allowing for withholding and exclusion of evidence demonstrating error.

In a major procedural breakthrough for industry, Ryan Law produced sufficient evidence of bad faith and bias to defeat this presumption of regularity in three consecutive rulings. ONRR has accordingly been ordered to produce several thousand documents and other evidence it had previously withheld to the IBLA for review.

The favorable effects of these rulings will also reach beyond the IBLA. Once evidence is included in the record, the evidence will remain available for use in federal court, should further review be required. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.

We are hopeful these recent rulings will present a shift in the administrative and ultimately judicial review processes, as we continue our work to level the playing field for oil and gas lessees seeking to obtain fair resolution of royalty disputes and refunds of previously overpaid fees and costs.

Ryan Law’s Oil & Gas Royalties Team is led by partner Rosario Doriott Domínguez and includes associate attorney Hastings Woolston and paralegal Audrey Ero. Technical assistance in these cases is provided by severance tax and royalty consultants from Ryan, LLC.

If you have a royalty dispute or are interested in pursuing a refund of overpaid royalties, please contact Rosario Doriott Domínguez directly at rosario.doriottdominguez@ryanlawyers.com.

[1] See Docket Nos. IBLA-2020-398, IBLA-2021-176, IBLA-2022-69.