Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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Riverkeeper petitioned for review of FERC's Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity conditionally approving the Leidy Project. The DC Circuit denied the petition and held that it had jurisdiction to consider Riverkeeper's challenge to the Certificate Order on the ground that FERC violated the sequencing requirement of the Clean Water Act (CWA) by issuing its Certificate Order before Pennsylvania issued its section 401 certification; the sequencing requirement of section 401 was not triggered because the Commission's conditional approval of the Leidy Project construction did not authorize any activity which might result in a discharge in navigable waters; the court need not decide whether the letter orders impermissibly approved activity that might have resulted in a discharge before Pennsylvania issued its section 401 certification; FERC did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by misclassifying wetlands; even if FERC technically erred in some of its classifications, Riverkeeper has not shown any prejudice; and FERC's NEPA review of the Leidy Project's proposed gas flow velocities appeared to be fully informed and well-considered. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the computation of economic losses arising out of the BP oil spill and based on the BP Settlement Agreement. The district court approved a policy adopted by the Claims Administrator (Policy 495) that consists of five methodologies to calculate claimant compensation: one Annual Variable Margin Methodology (AVMM) and four Industry-Specific Methodologies (ISMs). The Fifth Circuit held that the AVMM was consistent with the text of the Settlement Agreement, but that the four ISMs were not. The district court erred in approving the ISMs because they required the Claims Administrator to move, smooth, or otherwise reallocate revenue in violation of the Settlement Agreement. However, the ISMs, also required the Claims Administrator to match all unmatched profit and loss statements. Accordingly, the court affirmed as to the AVMM, reversed as to the ISMs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: Deepwater Horizon" on Justia Law

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Respondent was a party to an oil and gas lease that restricted its use of the surface estate and required it to drill from off-site locations when feasible. Briscoe Ranch, Inc. owed an adjacent surface estate and agreed that Respondent could use horizontal drilling to drill from the surface of the Ranch in order to produce minerals from Respondent’s lease. The lessee of the minerals underlying the Ranch (Petitioner) was not a party to the agreement and sought to enjoin Respondent from drilling on the Ranch and asserted claims for both trespass and tortious interference with a contract. Petitioner claimed that its consent was necessary before Respondent could drill through the Ranch’s subsurface covered by its mineral lease. The district court dismissed the claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the loss of minerals Petitioner will suffer by a well being drilled through its mineral estate is not a sufficient injury to support a claim for trespass; and (2) Respondent’s drilling plans did not tortiously interfere with Petitioner’s contractual lease rights. View "Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC" on Justia Law

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Section 309 of the Federal Power Act (FPA), 16 U.S.C. 825h, vests the Commission with broad remedial authority, including the authority to grant recoupment when it is justified; Section 201(f) does not limit the authority of the Commission to grant relief under Section 309 with respect to matters that are beyond the strictures of Sections 201(f) and 205; and an order of recoupment, as distinguished from an order to refund under Section 205, is beyond the strictures of Sections 201(f) and 205. In this case, Chehalis sought relief from the Commission by filing a Motion for an Order Requiring Recoupment of Payments, but the Commission concluded that it could not order recoupment because the Commission's refund authority does not extend to exempt public utilities such as the Intervenor Bonneville. The DC Circuit held that the Commission erred when it held that it lacked the authority to grant the Order Requiring Recoupment where the Commission clearly had jurisdiction over the subject of this dispute and the Commission retained the authority to order Bonneville to return the funds when the agency acknowledged that its initial order was mistaken. The court granted in part and denied in part Chehalis's petitions for review, and remanded for further proceedings. View "TNA Merchant Projects v. FERC" on Justia Law

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A district court has broad discretion to decide whether and when to grant an agency's request for a voluntary remand. But a voluntary remand is typically appropriate only when the agency intends to revisit the challenged agency decision on review. After the Department rejected Limnia's two loan applications, Limnia filed suit alleging that the Department's rejection of Limnia's applications was unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court then granted the Department's voluntary remand request. The DC Circuit held that the district court erred by granting the Department's request for a voluntary remand in this case because the Department did not intend to revisit the original application decisions under review. Therefore, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Limnia, Inc. v. DOE" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, two municipalities sought to provide electric service through municipal electric utilities. Central to both cases was the applicability Michigan Administrative Code Rule 411 (sometimes referred to as a utility’s right to first entitlement). Rule 460.3411 (Rule 411) was inapplicable when a municipal utility is involved and has not consented to the jurisdiction of the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC). Additionally, under the circumstances of each case, the Michigan Supreme Court found there was not a customer already receiving service from another utility; accordingly, MCL 124.3 did not prevent either plaintiff from providing electric service. View "City of Holland v. Consumers Energy Co." on Justia Law

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Substantively, in three somewhat interconnected claims, Joe and Yvette Hardesty (collectively, Hardesty) attacked State Mining and Geology Board (Board) findings, contending the trial court misunderstood the legal force of his 19th century federal mining patents. He asserted he had a vested right to surface mine after the passage of SMARA without the need to prove he was surface mining on SMARA’s operative date of January 1, 1976. He argued the Board and trial court misapplied the law of nonconforming uses in finding Hardesty had no vested right, and separately misapplied the law in finding that his predecessors abandoned any right to mine. These contentions turned on legal disputes about the SMARA grandfather clause and the force of federal mining patents. Procedurally, Hardesty alleged the Board’s findings did not “bridge the gap” between the raw evidence and the administrative findings. Hardesty also challenged the fairness of the administrative process itself, alleging that purported ex parte communications by the Board’s executive director, Stephen Testa, tainted the proceedings. The Court of Appeal reviewed the facts, and found they undermined Hardesty’s claims: the fact that mines were worked on the property years ago does not necessarily mean any surface or other mining existed when SMARA took effect, such that any right to surface mine was grandfathered. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusions that, on this record, neither of these procedural claims proved persuasive. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment denying the mandamus petition. View "Hardesty v. State Mining & Geology Board" on Justia Law

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The most natural reading of La. R.S. 30:103.1 and 103.2 is that operators forfeit their right to contribution when they fail to send timely reports to lessees with oil and gas interests in lands upon which the operator has no lease, and that interpretation is most consistent with the statute's context and purpose. TDX filed suit seeking its share of revenues from a unit well without deduction of drilling costs because Chesapeake did not provide the requested reports. The Fifth Circuit rejected Chesapeake's contention that even if sections 103.1 and 103.2 provide a remedy for lessees, applying them in that way would violate Article III of the Louisiana constitution. The court explained that, given the liberal construction courts must give titles, a title which gave notice that an act dealt with operators' reporting requirements cannot fail because it did not specify every party to whom they must report. Finally, the court rejected Chesapeake's counterclaim asserting that TDX was required to pay a risk fee under La. R.S. 30:10(A) because TDX did not make an election regarding the risk fee under that provision. The court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. View "TDX Energy v. Chesapeake Operating" on Justia Law

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The trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of a gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. This appeal arose out of a condemnation action in which Fred Southam and Southam & Son (collectively, Southam) sought to introduce evidence of the value of their land for an underground natural gas storage project based on reservoir volume. The trial court’s in limine ruling excluded Southam’s valuation approach based on evidence all independently operated gas storage projects in California compensate landowners based on surface acres contributed to the project. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of an independently operated gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding a volume-based valuation approach based on Southam’s failure to present any evidence this vaulation approach had ever been used in the market for natural gas storage leases. Southam did not establish his entitlement to cross examine an expert before that expert may give a declaration in support of a pretrial motion. The remainder of Southam’s arguments were deemed forfeited for failure to develop the argument, to cite any legal authority, or to provide any citation to the appellate record. View "Central Valley Gas Storage v. Southam" on Justia Law

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Stephens Production Company sought to condemn underground natural gas storage easements and surface easements to complete an underground natural gas storage facility on and underneath approximately 900 acres of mostly rural property in Haskell County. Approximately 140 Defendants were named in the Petition. Stephens Production had previously offered such Defendants "just market value" for their respective interests, but the Defendants refused the offers. The trial court appointed three commissioners to value just compensation due for each Defendant listed in the Petition. All Defendants except one, appellant Royce Larsen, settled with Stephens Production. The Commissioners valued Larsen's property taken and the damage to the remainder at $12,400.00. Larsen objected to this amount, and his case proceeded to trial. Larsen's expert testified the just compensation value was approximately $419,000.00; Stephens Production's expert valued the just compensation at $9,000.00. The trial court determined that just compensation for the property was $9,000.00. Without any evidence from Larsen regarding the reasonable probability of combination or the market demand for underground gas storage in the area, the highest and best use of the property was the use to which it was subject at the time of the taking - natural resource, agricultural, and recreational use. The Supreme Court concluded the record supported the trial court's valuation of just compensation at $9,000.00. View "Stephens Production Co. v. Larsen" on Justia Law