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A July 3, 2017 ruling from the 17th Judicial District establishes that a mineral servitude owner’s obligation under Mineral Code article 22 “to restore the surface to its original condition” means the condition of the property at the creation of the servitude—and not the property’s pristine, pre-operation condition.  The court’s commonsense ruling in Sterling Sugars v. Amerada Hess Corporation, No. 100091 (17th JDC) appears to be the first time a state court has directly interpreted the meaning of the phrase “original condition” in the Article 22 context.

Mineral Code article 22 (La. R.S. 31:22) provides:

“The owner of a mineral servitude is under no obligation to exercise it.  If he does, he is entitled to use only so much of the land as is reasonably necessary to conduct his operations.  He is obligated, insofar as practicable, to restore the surface to its original condition at the earliest reasonable time.”

In Sterling Sugars, mineral operations on the subject property began in the 1930s.  After more than forty years of operations, a mineral servitude was created by reservation in 1979.

The plaintiff landowner sued the present mineral servitude owner in 2012, and argued that under Article 22, the servitude owner was required to restore the property to its “original condition” as of the 1930s—before the commencement of oil and gas operations.

Adopting the mineral servitude owner’s memoranda as its reasons for judgment, the court rejected this argument, agreeing that “the phrase ‘original condition’ in Article 22 is tied to the exercise of a servitude and means the condition in which it was originally found by the servitude owner immediately before the servitude is exercised.”

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