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SpaceX is sparring with a Texas oil company to drill for natural gas

SpaceX is sparring with a Texas oil company to drill for natural gas


The process could take several months to resolve

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A Starship prototype in Boca Chica

SpaceX is locked in a legal fight with a Texas oil company for a plot of land it wants to use to drill for natural gas, according to public records. The 806-acre site in southern Texas sits near SpaceX’s Starship facilities, a sprawling testing ground for its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine.

Tim George, an attorney for the SpaceX subsidiary fighting for the land, was quoted by Bloomberg News, which first reported the legal despute, as saying methane reserves from the land will be used “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”

In filings with a Texas energy regulator, the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development LLC demanded that Dallas Petroleum Group (DPG) LLC, which claims ownership to wells on the land, vacate the wells by the end of 2020. The filings allege that the oil firm doesn’t have the right to own them and that it “illegally trespassed and installed a lock on the entry gate to prevent Lone Star’s access to” the wells.

Public records show SpaceX leased the land from Mesquite Energy Inc. in June 2020. DPG says it maintains the right to the wells on the same plot of land and asked a judge to dismiss Lone Star’s claims. 

None of the Lone Star or SpaceX attorneys involved in the case could be reached for comment. DPG attorneys likewise could not be reached for comment.

The case is currently before the Railroad Commission of Texas, a state regulatory agency. The Commission’s three commissioners will vote on the outcome of the case once a judge issues a “proposal for decision,” a spokesman for the agency said, a process that could take several months.

SpaceX’s Raptor engines power the company’s heavy-lift Starship system, a shiny rocket tailored for routine flights to Mars. SpaceX has been conducting test flights of early Starship prototypes in Boca Chica, Texas, a rural beachside area in Cameron County.

Last year, the company purchased two deepwater oil rigs for $3.5 million each that it plans to convert into seafaring launchpads for Starship. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, named the rigs Deimos and Phobos.

Lone Star’s dispute with DPG is the latest legal hurdle faced by SpaceX as it aims to turn its Boca Chica site into a launch facility capable of supporting routine orbital Starship missions. Attorneys with SpaceX and its other Texas-based subsidiary, Dogleg Park LLC, have been negotiating with residents of a small Boca Chica community to buy out their properties to make way for SpaceX personnel and other test site expansions.