Andrus v. Shell Oil Company

RESPONDENT: Shell Oil Company
LOCATION: Rincon Island

DOCKET NO.: 78-1815
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 657 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 02, 1980

Fowler Hamilton - on behalf of the Respondents
Lawrence G. Wallace - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Andrus v. Shell Oil Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1980 in Andrus v. Shell Oil Company

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 78-1815, Andrus v. Shell Oil Company.

Mr. Wallace, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case presents the question of whether claims to oil shale on federal lands made some sixty or more years ago under the mineral laws, the mining laws I should say, pardon me, of 1870 and 1872 are valid and entitle the claimant successors an interest to patents under those laws conveying title to these public lands to them.

Such unpatented oil shale claims are outstanding on an estimated five million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

All of the claims date from before February 25, 1920, which was the date of enactment of the Mineral Leasing Act which withdrew oil shale and other specified minerals from further location under the mining laws and provided for future access to these minerals only by leasing with the title to the lands remaining in the United States.

The law was part of the conservation movement designed for protection of the public domain from what Congress considered to be unwarranted alienation by claims to widespread minerals specified in the act.

The particular claims at issue here date from 1917 and 1918, in the period this Court has characterized in Hickel v. Oil Shale Company is one of speculative fever in oil shale claims.

And the precise question involved is whether the precise claims are invalid because of the failure of Oil Shale to meet the requirement of the mining law of discovery of a valuable mineral deposit.

In this case, the Administrative Law Judge, the Interior Board of Land Appeals, the District Court and the Court of Appeals all agreed that the claim did not meet the traditional discovery standard under the mining laws.

Byron R. White:

Well, do you think that is an issue here?

Isn't that one of the issues?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

The issue tested --

Byron R. White:

So initially we must decide what how are the mining laws to be construed insofar as discovery is concerned.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, this is far from a novel question in this Court, Mr. Justice White, and --

Byron R. White:

Well, it was a novel question in the Interior Department until recently.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, I can't agree with that proposition either.

Byron R. White:

Well, it had been decided forty years ago.

William H. Rehnquist:

Certainly, Freeman v. Summers treat it differently than you do.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But this is a different issue.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

It treated it differently than other decisions of both the Interior Department and of this Court, which is what I wish to turn to --

Potter Stewart:

That is of course the big issue, but as I understand it, what you were talking about with my brother White was this, that your opponent, despite all the findings to the contrary, argues that under the traditional normal criteria of valuable discovery, these discovery meet those criteria.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

That argument --

Potter Stewart:

So That is an issue in this case.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

That is an issue --

Potter Stewart:

And if that is true, if he is correct, then that is the end of the case, you don't get into anything else, do you?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, that is correct, although our submission is that it is not correct.

Of course, that would be dispositive of the case.

Potter Stewart:


Lawrence G. Wallace:

But that is a factual issue but it is mixed up with an issue of law which I think has long been settled and let me turn to the considerations that bear on that and that bear on other aspects of the case as well.