The Supreme Court of Texas delivered good news to policyholders insured under a “Joint Venture Provision” endorsement commonly used in the oil and gas industry. In Anadarko Petroleum Corp. v. Houston Casualty Co.—a case arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster—the court held that insurers assumed the obligation to reimburse the full amount of a joint venture partner’s defense costs, rejecting the insurers’ argument that their obligation was reduced by the “scaling” language of a Joint Venture Provision. As a result, the court held the insurers liable to Anadarko for over $100 million in defense costs, not just the $37.5 million they had already paid.
A panda is sitting in a bar, polishing off his dinner. He pulls out a gun, fires a shot in the air, and heads toward the exit. A stunned waiter demands an explanation. The panda pauses at the door and tosses the waiter a badly punctuated wildlife manual. “I’m a panda—look it up.” The waiter turns to the appropriate entry: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” 
Beware the missing Oxford comma!
That was the lesson of a recent decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the omission of an Oxford comma in a Maine employment statute created an ambiguity that must be resolved in favor of dairy delivery drivers. For want of a comma, the dairy is out $10 million.
Barely removed from the Super Bowl, football fans have begun their long hibernation in anticipation of next season. But the Patriots’ incredible comeback reminds me that it coincided with the tenth anniversary of one of the great NFL coach rants, courtesy of the late Dennis Green of the Arizona Cardinals. Coach Green was interviewed after his team blew a 20-0 halftime lead to my beloved Chicago Bears. Using some other choice words, Green said about the comeback kids: “the Bears are who we thought they were!”
So what does this have to do with insurance? Well, unlike Coach Green, not all policyholders can say that their insurance policies are exactly what they thought they were. A recent Fifth Circuit case, Richard v. Dolphin Drilling Ltd., is such a case. There, the policy exclusions were so broadly construed that 99 percent of the insured’s operations were excluded from coverage.
In Texas and other states, the mineral owner can freely use the surface estate to the extent reasonably necessary for the exploration, development and production of oil and gas. That includes activities such as building roads, drilling wells and transporting equipment and personnel. But frustrated property owners are increasingly bringing nuisance claims based on bright lights, loud noises, traffic, dust, odors, wastewater and other effects of these activities. A question facing the oil and gas industry is whether the costs of such nuisance claims are covered by insurance.