Mobile Register

Though Tuesday's verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. stands to be the biggest of the state's suits for recovering underpaid offshore natural gas royalties, it wont necessarily be the last.

Four more companies, Shell, Amoco, Mobil and Hunt Oil, face suits for similar failures to pay all the royalties demanded by their leases of Alabama's mineral rights in Mobile Bay and parts of the Gulf of Mexico within three miles of shore.

State audits found the other companies owe much less than the $87.7 million the jury found Exxon owes in compensatory damages.

Shell was estimated to owe $25.4 million in 1999, Amoco $8 million, Mobil $3.5 million and Hunt $1.6 million.

Though Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, the suits have been kept separate.

Lawyers from the Mobile firm of Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder and Brown said that barring a settlement, the next suit could come to trial by late spring 2001. All the remaining suits are filed in Mobile County Circuit Court. The Exxon case was tried in Montgomery because Exxon beat the state to court, filing suit there a day ahead.

Carrie Kurlander, Gov. Don Siegelman's spokeswoman, said it was too soon to tell whether the state would resume settlement talks with the companies. But Conservation Commissioner Riley Boykin Smith, whose agency oversees leasing, said he wouldn't be surprised by settlements.

"I think they're surely going to take notice," Smith said.

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