Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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Robert Hall appealed a judgment entered in favor of the defendants Estate of John Hall, Deborah Hall, and Leslie Hall Butzer ("Hall defendants") in this action to quiet title to a non-participating royalty interest (NPRI) in certain real property. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in vacating a default judgment against John Hall. However, because res judicata did not bar Robert Hall’s claims, the court erred in granting summary judgment to the Hall defendants. The matter was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Hall, et al." on Justia Law

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This dispute involved ad valorem taxes for the tax years 2013 through 2016. In October 2012, D90 Energy, LLC, purchased two gas wells and one saltwater disposal well. The wells were subject to ad valorem property taxation in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. Relying on a Commission regulation applicable to oil and gas wells, D90 argued that a purchase price in a valid sale is fair market value; therefore, the wells should be valued at $100,000.00 for each of these tax years. For each tax year, the Assessor rejected D90’s documentation of the sale, explaining, in part, that his office never uses the sales price as fair market value for oil and gas wells. Rather, the Assessor used valuation tables provided by the Commission, which take into account age, depth, type, and production of the wells. D90 appealed each assessment to the Commission, presenting documentary evidence and live testimony to establish the $100,000.00 purchase price for the wells and the arms-length nature of the sale. It presented additional evidence to establish that the condition and value of the wells were virtually identical for each tax year. The district court affirmed the Commission’s valuations for all four tax years. Reviewing only what was presented to the Assessor, the court of appeal reversed the district court and reinstated the Assessor’s valuation. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted D90’s writ application to determine the correctness of the assessments, the proper scope and standard of review, and the legal effect of D90’s failure to pay taxes under protest. After review, the Court determined the district court was correct in affirming the Commission, thus reversing the appellate court's judgment. View "D90 Energy, LLC v. Jefferson Davis Parish Board of Review" on Justia Law

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The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. White Star Petroleum, LLC, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary, White Star Petroleum II, LLC were engaged in the business of exploring, acquiring, drilling, and producing oil and natural gas, either as an operator or non-operating working interest owner of various leaseholds across Oklahoma. In 2019, several of White Star's unpaid vendors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against White Star. White Star and its affiliates filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. During the bankruptcy proceedings, 78 unpaid vendors filed adversary proceedings seeking adjudication of statutory lien claims under 42 O.S. 144 against White Star's interests in various wells and establishment of trust fund claims under 42 O.S. 144.2. These proceedings were stayed when White Star initiated two adversary proceedings of its own. The first sought adjudication of the priority, validity, and value of approximately 2,000 mechanic's and materialman's liens ("M&M liens") asserted by the 78 unpaid vendors over various interests held by White Star. The second sought an order of the Bankruptcy Court directing several first purchasers of oil and gas to turn over to White Star approximately 2 million dollars, which were being held in suspense after the purchasers received statutory lien notices from the M&M lien claimants. The Bankruptcy Court certified the questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to aid in the resolution of these two adversary proceedings. The federal court asked: (1) were the "trust funds" created by Title 42 O.S. 144.2 limited to obligations due non-operator joint working interest owners, or did such funds include payments due holders of mechanic's and materialmen's liens arising under and perfected by Title 42 O.S. 144?; and (2) did the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act of 2010, grant an operator and non-operator working interest owners a lien in proceeds from purchasers of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialmen's lien asserted under Title 42 O.S. 144? The Supreme Court found that answering both questions would have been dispositive of issues pending in the underlying bankruptcy proceedings and that there was then no controlling law on the subject matter of either question. The Court answered both questions in the negative: funds which must be held in trust for payment of lienable claims pursuant to 42 O.S. 144.2 were not exclusively limited to joint-interest billing payments received by operators for services rendered by the lienholders; the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act did not grant operators and non-operating working interest owners a lien in proceeds from the sale of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialman's lien asserted under 42 O.S. 144. View "White Star Petroleum v. MUFG Union Bank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) arbitrarily and unlawfully reduced solar qualifying facility (QF) standard-offer rates by excluding carbon dioxide emissions costs and NorthWestern Energy's avoided costs of operating its internal combustion engine resource units from the avoided-cost rate, holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court did not err in determining that the PSC did not comply with the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) and Montana's mini-PURPA when it set the standard-offer contract rates and maximum contract lengths for qualifying small (QF-1) solar power producers. The PSC's decision to reduce the standard-offer QF-1 rates was arbitrary and unreasonable because the PSC failed to consider future carbon costs and failed to provide a reasoned decision in departing from its recent precedent. Further, the PSC unreasonably failed to consider NorthWestern's cost of operating its new internal combustion engine resources when setting the avoided-cost rate. View "Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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Appellant operating company, Stephens & Johnson Operating Company (Operator), requested an award of attorney fees and costs in this case brought under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act. Operator claimed it was entitled to the fees and costs as the prevailing party in the underlying suit since the State of Oklahoma ex rel. the Commissioners of the Land Office (Surface Owner) did not recover a jury verdict greater than the appraisers' award. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the statutes in question did not provide for fees and costs to the prevailing party but instead imposed specific conditions which were not satisfied in this case. View "Oklahoma, ex rel. Comm'rs of Land Office v. Stephens & Johnson Operating Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners and respondents owned real property in McClain County, Oklahoma, containing and abutting Colbert Lake (the Lake). Petitioners also owned real property containing Colbert Creek, which was the sole source of water that fed the Lake. Respondents sought a permit from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), to sell water from the Lake to oil companies for use in fracking operations. The only notice that the OWRB provided to petitioners of the respondents' permit application was by publication in newspapers. The permits were issued, and petitioners subsequently filed suit at the district court, arguing that they were not given proper and sufficient notice of the permit proceedings. The district court dismissed the lawsuit in a certified interlocutory order, and petitioners appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address the proper, constitutionally required notice to landowners in such proceedings. The Court held that the notice given was inadequate, therefore judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for for further proceedings. View "Purcell v. Parker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court overruled the decision of the Public Service Commission (PSC) rejecting a proposed development of an eighty-megawatt solar energy facility near Billings, Montana, holding that the PSC violated the requirements of the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) and state law precluding discrimination against solar energy projects.The district court reversed and remanded the PSC's order setting terms and conditions of MTSUN, LLC's proposed eighty megawatt solar project based on findings of violations of due process, PURPA, and Montana's mini-PURPA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that the PSC's determinations were arbitrary and unlawful; and (2) relied on record evidence in determining the existence of a legally-enforceable agreement and the avoided-cost rates. View "MTSUN, LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) determining that Direct Energy Business, LLC had established that Duke Energy Ohio, Inc.'s failure to provide accurate readings of the generation usage of one of Direct's customers constituted inadequate service, holding that Duke Energy was not acting as a public utility when serving as Direct's meter-data-management agent.Direct purchased electric generation services from the operator of a wholesale power market and resold them to end-use customers through Duke Energy's distribution system. Duke Energy acted as Direct's meter-data-management agent, providing electric usage data about Direct's customers to the wholesale market operator, which then used the data to invoice Direct for its purchases. When Duke Energy failed to calculate usage data for one of Direct's large customers, Direct filed a complaint against Duke Energy with the PUCO. The PUCO ruled in favor of Direct. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the PUCO with instructions for it to dismiss Direct's complaint, holding (1) the PUCO lacked jurisdiction over this matter because PUCO's jurisdiction is confined to the supervision of "public utilities"; and (2) Duke Energy did not act as a public utility under the facts of this case. View "In re Complaint of Direct Energy Business, LLC v. Duke Energy Ohio, Inc." on Justia Law

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Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council (“Appellants”) appealed from a district court judgment affirming the Public Service Commission’s order dismissing Appellants’ formal complaint on the basis of a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. This appeal arose from Meridian Energy Group, Inc.’s construction of a new oil refinery (“Davis Refinery”) in Billings County, North Dakota. In June 2018, Appellants filed a formal complaint with the Commission, alleging: Meridian was required to obtain a certificate of site compatibility from the Commission under N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1; and Meridian’s planned facility would have a capacity of refining 50,000 or more barrels per day (bpd). Appellants filed their complaint after the North Dakota Department of Health, now Department of Environmental Quality, granted Meridian a construction permit for a “55,000 bpd” oil refinery. The complaint sought a declaration that Meridian’s refinery was subject to N.D.C.C. ch. 49-22.1 and to the statutory siting process. The Commission determined the complaint stated a “prima facie case” under its pleading rule, and the Commission formally served the complaint on Meridian. Meridian asserted it was constructing a refinery with a capacity of 49,500 bpd, falling outside the Commission’s statutory jurisdictional threshold of 50,000 bpd. Meridian argued, as a result, the Commission did not have jurisdiction over this matter and the complaint must be dismissed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Commission did not err when it dismissed Appellants’ complaint. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment and the Commission’s order of dismissal. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center, et al. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2015, the owners of a 13,000-acre tract of land known as 70 Ranch successfully petitioned to include their tract in a special district. After 70 Ranch was incorporated into the district, the district began taxing the leaseholders of subsurface mineral rights, Bill Barrett Corporation, Bonanza Creek Energy, Inc., and Noble Energy, Inc. for the oil and gas they produced at wellheads located on 70 Ranch. The Lessees, however, objected to being taxed, arguing the mineral interests they leased could not be included in the special district because neither they nor the owners of the mineral estates consented to inclusion, which they asserted was required by section 32-1-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), of the Special District Act. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that section 401(1)(a) permitted the inclusion of real property covered by the statute into a special taxing district when (1) the inclusion occurred without notice to or consent by the property’s owners and (2) that property was not capable of being served by the district. The Court answered "no," however, 32-1-401(1)(a) required the assent of all of the surface property owners to an inclusion under that provision, and inclusion was only appropriate if the surface property could be served by the district. "Section 32-1-401(1)(a) does not require assent from owners of subsurface mineral estates because those mineral estates, while they are real property, are not territory. Thus, Lessees’ consent was not required for the inclusion of 70 Ranch in the special district." The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals on alternate grounds. View "Barrett Corp. v. Lembke" on Justia Law