Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved, as just and reasonable, cost allocations filed by PJM, the Mid–Atlantic’s regional transmission organization, for a project to improve the reliability of three New Jersey nuclear power plants. The Commission denied a complaint lodged by Delaware and Maryland alleging a large imbalance between the costs imposed on the Delmarva transmission zone and the benefits that zone would accrue from the project. On rehearing in 2018, the Commission reversed course, concluding that application of PJM’s cost–allocation method to the project violated cost–causation principles and was therefore unjust and unreasonable under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 824e. The Commission’s replacement cost–allocation method shifted primary cost responsibility for the project from the Delmarva zone to utilities in New Jersey.The New Jersey Agencies argued that the Commission departed from precedent without adequate explanation, made findings that are unsupported by substantial evidence, and failed to respond meaningfully to objections raised during the proceedings. The D.C. Circuit denied their petitions for review. The Commission reasonably decided to adopt a different cost–allocation method for the type of project at issue here and adequately explained its departure from the cost allocations it had approved in 2016. View "Public Service Electric and Gas Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' motion for summary judgment, holding that Petitioners were immune from Respondent's lawsuit pursuant to the litigation privilege and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine.Petitioners executed an oil and gas lease to a company that assigned 2,300 acres of Petitioners' tract to Respondent for a storage project. Respondent then applied to FERC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct and operate a storage field. Petitioners intervened in the FERC proceeding. FERC eventually granted Respondent's request. When Respondent did not complete construction of the storage facility within the required amount of time it sought a three-year extension. Petitioners opposed the extension, and FERC denied Respondent's request to extend the timeframe. Thereafter, Petitioners filed suit against Respondent alleging breach of contract and seeking declaratory judgment. Respondent filed a counterclaim alleging, inter alia, breach of contract. Petitioners filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that they were immune from suit pursuant to the litigation privilege and the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the litigation privilege and Noerr-Pennington doctrine provided Petitioners with immunity from all of Respondent's counterclaims. View "Smith v. Chestnut Ridge Storage, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a refinery unit (“Unit”) at the Sinclair Wyoming Refinery Co. (“Sinclair”) in Sinclair, Wyoming caught fire and exploded because its “FV-241” control valve fractured and released flammable hydrogen gas. A high temperature hydrogen attack (“HTHA”) weakened the valve and caused the fracture. FV-241 was made from carbon steel, which was more susceptible to HTHA than stainless steel. Sinclair had purchased the Unit in 2004. Sinclair moved the Unit from California to Wyoming and converted it from its previous use to a hydrotreater, a refinery unit that introduced hydrogen to remove impurities from the product stream. Sinclair contracted the design, engineering, and construction work to other companies. During the moving and conversion process, FV-241 was remanufactured and installed on the Unit. Sinclair brought a diversity action against seven companies involved in dismantling the Unit, converting it to a hydrotreater, rebuilding it in Wyoming, and remanufacturing and installing FV-241. Sinclair alleged various contract and tort claims. The district court granted several motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment that eliminated all of Sinclair’s claims. The court also entered summary judgment in favor of certain Defendants’ indemnity counterclaim. Although its analysis diverged from the district court's judgment in some respects, the Tenth Circuit affirmed orders dismissing or granting summary judgment on all of Sinclair's claims, and granting summary judgment on the indemnity counter claim. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining v. A & B Builders" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review brought by three electrical transmission companies (Transcos), subsidiaries of the same parent company, challenging FERC's decision to reduce the enhanced return on equity FERC had previously authorized them to collect from ratepayers due to their status as standalone transmission companies.The court rejected ITC's contention that FERC arbitrarily and capriciously departed from precedent establishing a particular methodology to assess Transco independence. The court explained that FERC, consistent with its stated intent in Order No. 679, never established any definitive methodology, let alone the one ITC claims it did. In this case, FERC has consistently applied a case-by-case approach to determining Transco independence, considering ownership and business structure as part of that inquiry since it first granted a Transco adder in 2003. When the adder was codified in 2006, Order No. 679 built on prior practice by identifying certain criteria that ITC now mistakenly claims constitute "a new corporate-structure test." The court also rejected ITC's contention that FERC exceeded its statutory authority by reducing ITC's Transco adders without first finding the adders to be unjust and unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that there was substantial evidence to support FERC’s finding that the merger had reduced ITC's independence, thereby rendering the existing adders unjust and unreasonable. View "International Transmission Co. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on two oil-and-gas-producing formations known as the Chester and the Marmaton, located in Beaver County, Oklahoma. In 1973, Arnold Petroleum, Inc., the predecessor in interest to plaintiffs (collectively, "Arnold") obtained six oil-and-gas leases covering land in Beaver County. Over the course of 1973 and 1974, Arnold Petroleum assigned its leases to Dyco Petroleum Corporation, expressly reserving an overriding royalty interest in any oil and gas produced under the leases. Dyco assigned the leases to Harold Courson, the predecessor in interest of defendant Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. This assignment, too, was expressly subject to Arnold's overriding royalty interest. Two wells drilled in the Chester formation produced "mostly gas with some oil" continuously since the mid-1970s, and at no point since then did Arnold ever stop receiving payments on its overriding royalty interest in those producing wells. In 1984, Courson obtained several new leases from the mineral owners who had granted the 1973 leases. The 1984 leases purported to cover the same rights as the original 1973 leases, but were silent as to any particular geologic formation or zone. Arnold did not become aware of the 1984 leases until 1999 when it and other royalty holders received a letter from Courson explaining he had recompleted a well in the Chester formation that had originally been drilled into the separate Lower Chester formation by Natural Gas Anadarko, Inc. (NGA). In the 1999 conversation, a Courson employee told the Arnold landman the 1984 leases covered only "deep rights" or "lower depths" that had expired under the 1973 leases. This assertion would exclude the Marmaton. For the next 13 years, the matter of the Marmaton formation would remain dormant. Courson assigned his leases to Cabot in August 2011, and Cabot drilled and completed several horizontal wells in the Marmaton. Cabot rejected Arnold's request for payment, and Arnold sued in October 2012, seeking damages for nonpayment of royalties. Cabot argued Arnold's claims were barred because the applicable statute of limitations began to run with the filing of the new leases in 1984, which event (in Cabot's view) should have put Arnold on notice of an adverse claim to the Marmaton. The issue presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether plaintiffs waited too long in asserting their right to payment of the overriding royalty interest. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of plaintiffs on those grounds. The Supreme Court disagreed: this litigation could not have arisen until defendant first developed the disputed formation in 2012, and then refused plaintiffs' request for payment of royalties from that production. "Nothing preceding that sequence of events could reasonably have foreclosed plaintiffs' ability to press their claim for the payments to which they were entitled under valid mineral leases." View "Claude C. Arnold Non-Operated Royalty Interest Properties v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit held that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (EPA) by issuing an easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil through federally owned land at the Lake Oahe crossing site without preparing an environmental impact statement despite substantial criticisms from the Tribes.The court rejected the Corps' and Dakota Access' contention that the district court applied the wrong standard by relying on National Parks Conservation Association v. Semonite, 916 F.3d at 1083, which emphasized the important role played by entities other than the federal government. The court explained that the Tribes' unique role and their government-to-government relationship with the United States demand that their criticisms be treated with appropriate solicitude. The court concluded that several serious scientific disputes in this case means that the effects of the Corps' easement decision are likely to be "highly controversial." The court also noted that, although the risk of a pipeline leak may be low, that risk is sufficient that a person of ordinary prudence would take it into account in reaching a decision to approve the pipeline's placement, and its potential consequences are therefore properly considered. The court affirmed the district court's order vacating the easement while the Corps prepares an environmental impact statement. However, the court reversed the district court's order to the extent it directed that the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil. View "Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review challenging FERC's determination that fuel transported by pipeline to Orlando's airport—after being delivered to the Port of Tampa—moves intrastate. The court upheld the ALJ's finding, under the three Northville factors, that the stop in Tampa broke the continuity of interstate transportation, and so the jet fuel moved intrastate through the Central Florida Pipeline. Therefore, FERC lacked jurisdiction to regulate the pipeline rates. The court rejected petitioners' claims that FERC misapplied the Northville factors; the Northville factors are inadequate to make the determination; the Commission misinterpreted the teachings of old Supreme Court cases: Texas & New Orleans R.R. Co. v. Sabine Tram Co., 227 U.S. 111 (1913); Carson Petrol. Co. v. Vial, 279 U.S. 95 (1929); United States v. Erie R.R. Co., 280 U.S. 98 (1929); and the Airlines' overarching intent to transport the fuel from ships through Tampa to Orlando means the pipeline movement is interstate in nature. View "Aircraft Service International, Inc. v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”)’s petition seeking review of a Commonwealth Court holding that a de facto taking of an unmined coal estate, owned by Penn Pocahontas and leased to PBS Coals, Inc. (collectively “the Coal Companies”), occurred under the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. sections 101-1106 (“Code”), when PennDOT’s construction of Highway 219 on an adjoining parcel destroyed options for constructing rights-of-ways to the coal estate’s surface. In reaching that conclusion, the Commonwealth Court held that the feasibility of mining the coal, as measured by the probability of obtaining a legally required permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), was relevant only to damages. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision, agreeing with PennDOT that the legality of extracting the coal went directly to the trial court’s duty to determine whether a taking occurred. Furthermore, the Court held the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to remand the case for consideration of whether consequential damages are available to the Coal Companies. The matter was remanded to the Commonwealth Court with instructions to remand to the trial court with respect to the Coal Companies’ consequential damages claim. View "PBS Coals, et al v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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Therese and Timothy Holmes appealed a Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision granting Acorn Energy Solar 2 a certificate of public good (CPG) to build and operate a solar net-metering system. The Holmeses argued the PUC erred in concluding that: (1) Acorn’s application was complete under the PUC Rules; (2) several proposed changes constituted minor amendments; (3) the project would be located on a preferred site; (4) the project would comply with setback requirements; and (5) the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, orderly development, wetlands, air pollution, greenhouse gases, and traffic. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's decision. View "In re Petition of Acorn Energy Solar 2, LLC (Therese & Timothy Holmes, Appellants)" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a coal mining company and the owner of a natural gas pipeline over whether the pipeline owner may recover for damage caused to the pipeline as a result of mining the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court in favor of the mining company, holding that surface damage liability waivers in the relevant property deeds were valid and enforceable.The mining company held its interest in the coal underneath the lands through property deeds that severed the surface estate from the mineral interest. The deeds included provisions waiving liability for damage to the land's surface caused by mining activities. The trial court entered judgment for the mining company. On appeal, the pipeline owner asserted that the surface damage liability waivers were rendered invalid by an administrative agency's regulation requiring mining operators to pay for damage to surface structures from mining activities. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the administrative agency lacked authority to enact a regulation requiring mining operators to pay damages irrespective of common law property rights to the extent those rights have not been limited by federal law; and (2) the surface damage liability waivers at issue remained valid and enforceable. View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. Ohio Valley Coal Co." on Justia Law