Deep in the heart of Southeast Texas, oil wells are hard at work, earning people money. Erma Hall’s oil well pumps and churns near Caldwell in Burleson County. It’s run by Mineral Technologies out of Midland, but the land it sits on belongs to Hall, who is 99 years old. She lives on a street that bears her last name in the town of Normagee, about 40 miles from her oil well. The oil-rich land has been in Hall’s family for some time. In fact, her mother’s name, Amelia Whitfield Washington, is on the lease agreement. It’s up to folks like Lee Perry to make sure heirs like Hall get their oil royalty payments. But Hall hasn’t received any money at all.
“Well, the oil company at the time said they didn’t know how to find the relatives of Amelia Whitfield Washington, which is … that’s her mother,” Perry said. “Oil companies, all they have to say is, ‘we don’t know who to pay it to,’ and that’s it.”
Hall’s relatives didn’t even know they were entitled to any money at all – that is, until they started asking questions. Then they filed a lawsuit against the oil company and began fighting for royalties.
It’s money they say rightfully belongs to their mother.
“It’s like stealing. Oh gracious, any way you put it, it is theft,” Hall’s oldest daughter, Hilda Hall Harrell, said.
Perry said Hall’s well has been a moneymaker ever since drilling started in 1997, earning as much as $20 million. That means Hall’s family should get around $2.4 million. And it turns out Mineral Technologies is not alone. At least three other oil companies have used the same well, and not one of them has ever paid an heir to the land one dime. But that’s where the story gets complicated. In a way, the problem is that Erma Hall came from a big family. Even Mineral Technologies agrees Hall is a rightful heir, but she’s not the only one.
“The current heirs may total more than 40 different individuals of which Ms. Hall allegedly may own as little as 3/84 of the estate’s interest or less. There is, however, disagreement among the heirs that has made it necessary for MTI to turn over the proceeds to the court while the heirs resolve their differences,” the company’s president told 11 News in an e-mail.
Since the lawsuit, the company has put $75,000 in the court registry, and it contributes more money every month. The money will stay there until all the heirs are found.
“There are some other heirs – nephews and nieces – find those and try to get this thing resolved. But that was in December. Here we are in August, and it still hasn’t been done. She still hasn’t gotten one red cent,” Perry said of Hall.
And it seems Hall may have to wait even longer for her little piece of an oil fortune.