Is a breach of contract claim sometimes available in an environmental lawsuit?

Yes.  It is not uncommon for plaintiffs to assert a breach of contract claim in an environmental lawsuit.  Contractual duties typically arise from lease agreements especially in the oil and gas context.  For instance, a breach of contract claim could arise from a breach of a mineral lease agreement between the mineral estate owner and the operator or breach of a surface use agreement between the operator and the surface estate owner. 

Such agreements might contain clauses that require the operator to restore the property to pre-drilling conditions following operations.  The presence of contamination might be a breach of these agreements as well as a breach of an implied covenant to manage and administer the lease as a reasonably prudent operator. In order to prove a breach of contract, the plaintiff must show that:

  1. There is a valid and enforceable contract;
  2. The plaintiff is a proper party to sue for breach of the contract;
  3. The plaintiff performed, tendered performance of, or was excused from performing its contractual obligations; 
  4. The defendant breached the contact; and
  5. The defendant’s breach caused the plaintiff’s injury.

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