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Andrew McElwaine

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A federal lawsuit filed by an oil company that has been drilling for oil in Southwest Florida the last six years claims the company was double-crossed by a consultant hired to help them acquire leases to drill more wells.

BreitBurn Management Company, LLC, based in Los Angeles and its subsidiary, BreitBurn Florida LLC, alleges consultant Robert J. Armijo, owner of Patriot Energy Partners, failed to turn over the leaseholds he acquired on behalf of BreitBurn to the company as contracted. Instead, Armijo kept them for himself or to market to BreitBurn’s competitors, the company claims.

Armijo and his company, based in Jupiter, are accused of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and violation of the Florida Trade Secrets Act in the June 17 lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and more than $75,000 in damages.

The lawsuit shortly will be re-filed in state court, said Greg Brown, BreitBurn vice president. He declined further comment.

BreitBurn has been drilling in the Sunniland Trend, a 150-mile long, 20-mile wide swath of land that runs from Fort Myers to Miami, since 2007.

The lawsuit comes at a time of escalating interest in and competition for leases of mineral rights to explore oil reserves of the Sunniland. It also comes at a time when plans announced by the Dan A. Hughes Petroleum Geological Company of Texas to drill exploratory wells within one mile of the Golden Gate Estates community has caused an uproar.

The majority of mineral rights in the trend belongs to Collier Resources of Naples, which owns 800,000 acres. BreitBurn leases more than 35,000 acres in the trend and the majority of Collier Resources’ available mineral rights. BreitBurn drills in five oil fields: Racoon Point, Felda, Mid-Felda and West Felda, Lehigh Park and Bear Island. The leases in dispute are amid the Felda fields in parts of Collier and Hendry counties.

BreitBurn officials and the company’s attorney declined comment. Armijo could not be reached for comment.

Andrew McElwaine, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said the lawsuit clearly shows companies’ interest in exploring the Sunniland Trend.

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“Like the drilling going on, the test wells on the border of the Golden Gate Estates, it is one of the indicators that there will be a lot more drilling in eastern Collier County,” he said.

The lawsuit states BreitBurn contracted with Armijo in 2010 and 2012 as a “trusted partner” who could help in acquiring leases in and around the Sunniland. BreitBurn said it provided proprietary and confidential information about specific target areas identified as having exploration potential. After doing a title review for a specific area, the lawsuit states Armijo was to enter into a lease in his Patriot Energy Partners name, for the benefit of BreitBurn. BreitBurn would pay consideration for the lease agreement and Armijo would assign the lease agreements to BreitBurn.

The contract stipulated Armijo would not perform consulting work for himself or any third parties that posed a conflict of interest with work being performed for BrietBurn, unless BreitBurn was notified in advance and agreed to it.

In March, Armijo notified BreitBurn he had acquired more leasehold positions in the Felda fields. But in April, the lawsuit claims BreitBurn discovered Armijo also was doing consulting work for another company. When BreitBurn requested the newly-acquired leaseholds to be assigned to the company, Armijo did not respond, the lawsuit says.

The day before BreitBurn filed its lawsuit, state Division of Corporations records show Armijo formed another company, Patriot Energy Partners Oil Reserve Group.

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