Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries
Albrecht, et al. v. UGI Storage Co. et al.
In consolidated appeals, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the Commonwealth Court’s holding that, to be held liable for damages under Pennsylvania’s inverse condemnation statute, an entity had to be "clothed with the power of eminent domain" to the property at issue. In 2009, Appellee, UGI Storage Company filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (the “Commission” or “FERC”), seeking a certificate of public convenience and necessity to enable it to acquire and operate certain natural gas facilities. Appellee wished to acquire and operate underground natural gas storage facilities, which the company referred to as the Meeker storage field. Appellee also sought to include within the certificated facilities a 2,980-acre proposed "buffer zone." FERC ultimately granted the application for Appellee to acquire and assume the operation of the Meeker storage field, but denied Appellee’s request to certificate the buffer zone. Appellants petitioned for the appointment of a board of viewers to assess damages for an alleged de facto condemnation of their property, alleging that though their properties had been excluded by FERC from the certificated buffer zone, they interpreted Appellee’s response to the Commission’s order as signaling its intention to apply for additional certifications to obtain property rights relative to the entire buffer zone. The common pleas court initially found that a de facto taking had occurred and appointed a board of viewers to assess damages. Appellee lodged preliminary objections asserting Appellants’ petition was insufficient to support a de facto taking claim. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court: "we do not presently discern a constitutional requirement that a quasi-public entity alleged to have invoked governmental power to deprive landowners of the use and enjoyment of their property for a public purpose must be invested with a power of eminent domain in order to be held to account for a de facto condemnation. ... a public or quasi-public entity need not possess a property-specific power of eminent domain in order to implicate inverse condemnation principles." The case was remanded for the Commonwealth Court to address Appellants’ challenge to the common pleas court’s alternative disposition (based upon the landowners’ purported off-the-record waiver of any entitlement to an evidentiary hearing), which had been obviated by the intermediate court’s initial remand decision and that court’s ensuing affirmance of the re-dismissal of Appellants’ petitions. View "Albrecht, et al. v. UGI Storage Co. et al." on Justia Law
National American Ins. Co. v. New Dominion
National American Insurance Company ("NAICO") brought suit against New Dominion, LLC, seeking a declaratory judgment that four consecutive commercial general liability policies it issued to New Dominion did not provide coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims asserted in a number of separate lawsuits ("the Earthquake Lawsuits"). These claims allegedly arose out of seismic activity caused by New Dominion's oil and gas operations. New Dominion filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract, seeking defense and indemnity, and asserting equitable claims for estoppel and reformation. The trial court bifurcated the issues pleaded, conducted separate bench trials for the contract interpretation questions and the equitable claims. Following the first bench trial, the court issued a declaratory judgment holding that the Total Pollution Exclusions and the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions in the commercial general liability policies clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage for the claims asserted in the Earthquake Lawsuits. Following the second trial, the court estopped NAICO from denying claims for bodily injury during one of the four policy periods but denied all other equitable claims. Both parties appealed, raising "a litany" of issues with the trial court's orders. The Oklahoma Supreme Court joined the cases and held: (1) the Total Pollution Exclusions did not clearly and unambiguously preclude coverage; (2) the Subsidence and Earth Movement Exclusions clearly and unambiguously precluded coverage; and (3) there was no basis for New Dominion's estoppel or reformation claims. View "National American Ins. Co. v. New Dominion" on Justia Law
Orville Young, LLC v. Bonacci
The Supreme Court affirmed the summary and declaratory judgment order of the circuit court determining that Frank Bonacci and Brian Bonacci (together, the Bonacci brothers) were the owners of an undivided and unsevered oil and gas estate, holding that there was no error.The circuit court's order found that the Bonacci brothers were the owners of the undivided oil and gas estate at issue because the tax deeds through which Petitioners, two Florida limited liability companies, had allegedly obtained title to the same mineral estate were void. Petitioners appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in concluding that the underlying tax deeds were void. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the tax deeds were void and conveyed no interest in the oil and gas estate underlying the surface panel now owned by the Bonacci brothers. View "Orville Young, LLC v. Bonacci" on Justia Law
Duke Energy Carolinas v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff
The issue presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court in this case involved two consolidated cross-appeals from the Public Service Commission's (PSC) determinations regarding ratemaking applications filed by Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (DEC) and Duke Energy Progress, LLC (DEP) (collectively, Duke). Each Duke entity owned one coal-fired power plant in South Carolina and seven coal-fired power plants in North Carolina, for a total of sixteen affected plants. In their ratemaking applications, the two Duke entities sought recovery for expenses related to their plants in both states, with those costs shared proportionately between their North and South Carolina customers. The PSC allowed in part and disallowed in part the requested expenses. On appeal, Duke contended the PSC erred in disallowing: (1) environmental compliance costs associated with North Carolina law; (2) litigation costs incurred by Duke in defending itself from various lawsuits; and (3) carrying costs on specified deferred accounts. In the cross-appeal, the South Carolina Energy Users Committee (SCEUC) contended the PSC erred in allowing DEC recovery of costs associated with a now-abandoned nuclear project in Cherokee County because of the South Carolina General Assembly's repeal of the Base Load Review Act (BLRA). After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the PSC's decisions in full because its decisions were supported by substantial evidence in the record, were not arbitrary or capricious, and were not controlled by an error of law. View "Duke Energy Carolinas v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff" on Justia Law
Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq
In 2019 the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin issued a permit authorizing two transmission companies and an electric cooperative to build and operate a $500 million, 100-mile power line. Environmental groups filed lawsuits in both federal and state courts, alleging that two of the three commissioners had disqualifying conflicts of interest and should have recused themselves.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the commissioners’ motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. The commissioners were sued in their official capacities, so sovereign immunity blocks this suit in its entirety unless it falls within the Ex parte Young exception, which authorizes a federal suit against state officials for the purpose of obtaining prospective relief against an ongoing violation of federal law. The environmental groups seek an order enjoining the permit’s enforcement, prospective relief; they contend that the violation is ongoing as long as the permit remains in force and effect and the commissioners have the power to enforce, modify, or rescind it. Ex parte Young applies.The court, sua sponte, remanded with instructions to stay the case pending resolution of the state proceedings. Both cases raise materially identical due-process recusal claims. The case implicates serious state interests regarding the operation of Wisconsin administrative law and judicial review. Litigating the same questions in both court systems is duplicative and wasteful; comity and the sound administration of judicial resources warrant abstention. View "Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Valcq" on Justia Law
Pennington v. BHP Billiton Petroleum, LLC
The Supreme Court answered a certified question from federal court about whether Arkansas law prevented Plaintiffs from pursuing their breach of contract claim when the first breach occurred outside of the state of limitations period, holding that a separate statute of limitations period began as each monthly oil-and-gas royalty payment became due.The contract in this case required monthly oil-and-gas payments. Plaintiffs brought this action alleging that Defendants had been underpaying those royalties for several years. In response, Defendant raised the affirmative defense of statute of limitations. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that, under Arkansas law, the existence of royalties outside the limitations period did not bar recovery for monthly underpayments within the limitations period. View "Pennington v. BHP Billiton Petroleum, LLC" on Justia Law
Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. County of Monterey
Ordinances banning “land uses in support of” new oil and gas wells and “land uses in support of” wastewater injection in unincorporated areas of Monterey County were enacted as part of Measure Z, an initiative sponsored by PMC and passed by Monterey County voters.The trial court upheld, in part, a challenge to Measure Z by oil companies and other mineral rights holders. The court of appeal affirmed. Components of Measure Z are preempted by state laws. Public Resources Code section 3106 explicitly provides that the State of California’s oil and gas supervisor has the authority to decide whether to permit an oil and gas drilling operation to drill a new well or to utilize wastewater injection in its operations. Those operational aspects of oil drilling operations are committed by section 3106 to the state’s discretion and local regulation of these aspects would conflict with section 3106. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law
Matthews v. Centrus Energy Corp.
The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allowed private construction, ownership, and operation of commercial nuclear power reactors for energy production. The 1957 Price-Anderson Act created a system of private insurance, government indemnification, and limited liability for federal licensees, 42 U.S.C. 2012(i). In 1988, in response to the Three Mile Island accident, federal district courts were given original and removal jurisdiction over both “extraordinary nuclear occurrences” and any public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident; any suit asserting public liability was deemed to arise under 42 U.S.C. 2210, with the substantive rules for decision derived from state law, unless inconsistent with section 2210.The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program and later to fuel commercial nuclear reactors. Plaintiffs lived near the plant, and claim that the plant was portrayed as safe while it discharged radioactive material that caused (and continues to cause) them harm.Plaintiffs, seeking to represent a class, filed suit in state court asserting claims under Ohio law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the removal of the case on the grounds that the complaint, although it did not assert a federal claim, nonetheless raised a federal question under the Price-Anderson Act, and affirmed the subsequent dismissal. The Act preempted plaintiffs’ state law claims and the plaintiffs did not assert a claim under the Act but asserted that their “claims do not fall within the scope of the Price-Anderson Act.” View "Matthews v. Centrus Energy Corp." on Justia Law
Continental Resources v. Armstrong, et al.
Phillip Armstrong appealed a judgment adjudicating ownership of interests in an oil and gas lease and the parties’ claims to revenue proceeds from production on those interests. Continental Resources operated wells located on lands covered by the lease. When Continental learned of competing claims to the leasehold interests in question, it began holding production royalties in suspense and recouping amounts it had paid on the wells. Continental sued Armstrong alleging it had overpaid him. Continental later amended its complaint to add the other defendants and request interpleader relief. Continental requested the district court determine ownership of the interests and the amount of revenue proceeds to which each defendant was entitled on production from wells the parties referred to as the Hartman Wells. The defendants filed various crossclaims and counterclaims. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment to the extent it determined ownership of the disputed interests and dismissed Armstrong’s claims against Continental Resources. The Court reversed and vacated the judgment to the extent it ordered Armstrong to pay Citation 2002 Investment Limited Partnership restitution for unjust enrichment. View "Continental Resources v. Armstrong, et al." on Justia Law
In re Application of Duke Energy Ohio, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Ohio Power Siting Board granting Duke Energy Ohio, Inc. a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to construct, operate, and maintain a natural-gas pipeline, holding that the Board's decision was not manifestly against the weight of the evidence and was not so clearly unsupported by the record as to show a mistake or willful disregard of duty.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) assuming without deciding that the Board misapplied its filing requirements, the error was harmless; (2) the Board did not err in determining that Duke's proposal met the conditions of Ohio Rev. Code 4906.10(A)(1); (3) the Board properly accounted for the interest of safety in evaluating Duke's proposal; (4) the Board did not err by not requiring Duke to evaluate the pipeline's impact against the City of Blue Ash's most recent comprehensive plan; (5) the Board did not err in evaluating the pipeline's estimated tax benefits; and (6) the Board did not deprive Blue Ash of due process of law. View "In re Application of Duke Energy Ohio, Inc." on Justia Law