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An owner of refined hydrocarbons does not, ipso facto, lose title to escaped hydrocarbons unless it is shown by competent evidence that he has abandoned same.
The refiner operated an oil refinery in a unit. Refined hydrocarbons escaped from the refinery and leaked onto the refiner's land and adjoining land. The operator collected the escaped hydrocarbons and sold them. When the refiner discovered the leaks, it dug trenches on its land and recovered the hydrocarbons. The operator filed an action against the refiner and other surface owners in the unit for an accounting and a declaratory judgment as to the ownership of the escaped hydrocarbons. The trial court entered a judgment for appellees. On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court's judgment.
Did a refiner lose title to refined hydrocarbons when they escape from him into the ground?
The court held that an owner of refined hydrocarbons did not lose title to escaped hydrocarbons unless it was shown by competent evidence that he had abandoned the hydrocarbons. The court ruled that the law of capture as to chattels previously reduced to possession by an owner was conditioned upon the theory of abandonment of lost property. The court determined that the refiner recaptured the hydrocarbons after it discovered the leaks, so there was no abandonment by the refiner. The court held that the refiner owned the recaptured hydrocarbons.