Are the duties owed by an oil and gas operator to the surface estate owner the same as those owed to a neighboring property owner?

No.  The duties owed to a surface estate owner are much narrower than those owed to a neighboring property owner.  In Texas, when the mineral and surface estates are severed, the mineral estate is the dominant estate. 

Ownership of the dominant estate carries with it the right to enter and extract the minerals and all other rights as are necessary for getting and enjoying the minerals.  If particular damage to the surface estate cannot reasonably be avoided in legitimately pursuing the rights of the dominant estate, the owner of the dominant estate is not liable for the damage. 

Thus, the mere fact of damage to the surface does not equate to unreasonable conduct. The servient estate owner must prove that its opponent failed to act reasonably given the correlative rights and liabilities involved.  These same standards are not applicable to neighboring property owners who also claim that their property has been impacted by an oil and gas operator.  Accordingly, the status of the plaintiff as either a surface estate owner or neighboring property owner could vastly change the duties owed to him.

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