Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) filed a petition in June 2014 to overturn a March 2014 order of defendant Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control District1 (Water Board) that sought to impose liability for remediation of metallic and acidic water pollution from an abandoned mine, the owner of which was the subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest. The trial court granted the petition in January 2018. The Water Board appealed, contending the trial court applied the wrong legal standard to determine whether the ARCO predecessors incurred direct liability for control over activities resulting in the hazardous waste that the mine discharges. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court employed too restrictive a standard in evaluating the evidence, and therefore reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the record under the proper standard. View "Atlantic Richfield v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order directing the DOE to publish four energy conservation standards in the Federal Register and rejected DOE's challenges to the district court's assertion of jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. 6305(a)(2). The panel held that DOE relinquished whatever discretion it might have had to withhold publication of the rules when it adopted the error-correction rule. Furthermore, the absence of genuine ambiguity in the rule's meaning precluded the panel from deferring to DOE's contrary interpretation. The panel also held that section 6305(a)(2) provides the necessary "clear and unequivocal waiver" of sovereign immunity from citizen suits predicated on a non-discretionary duty imposed either by statute or regulation. Therefore, plaintiffs properly invoked the Energy Policy and Conservation Act's citizen-suit provision to challenge DOE's failure to perform its nondiscretionary duty to submit the four rules at issue. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. Perry" on Justia Law

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In the November 2014 election, a majority of the City of Rialto’s (the City) voters approved Measure U, a ballot measure adopted by the City which imposed an “annual business license tax” of “up to One Dollar [($1.00)] per year for each One (1) cubic foot of liquid storage capacity” on “[a]ny person engaged in the business of owning[,] operating, leasing, supplying[,] or providing a wholesale liquid fuel storage facility” in the City. The four plaintiffs-appellants in these actions, Tesoro Logistic Operations, LLC (Tesoro), Equilon Enterprises, LLC (Equilon), SFPP, L.P. (SFPP), and Phillips 66 Company (P66), owned all of the wholesale liquid fuel storage facilities, also known as tank farms or terminals, in the City. Plaintiffs were engaged in the business of “refining and marketing fuel nationwide.” Gasoline and other fuels were transported from refineries to plaintiffs’ facilities in the City, where the fuels were placed in large storage tanks and mixed with additives before they were are transported to gasoline stations or other purchasers for retail sale. Beginning in 2015, the City assessed Measure U taxes on plaintiffs based on the liquid fuel storage capacity of plaintiffs’ wholesale liquid fuel storage tanks in the City. Plaintiffs paid the taxes under protest and filed these actions challenging Measure U’s validity on statutory and constitutional grounds. Plaintiffs moved for judgments on the pleadings, and for summary judgment or summary adjudication, then the City filed its own motions for judgments on the pleadings. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded there were no disputed issues of fact, that all of the motions presented the same questions of law, and that the Measure U tax was a valid business license tax. The court thus denied plaintiffs’ motions, granted the City’s motions, and entered judgments in favor of the City. In these appeals, plaintiffs renewed their legal challenges to Measure U. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Measure U tax was an invalid real property tax. Thus, the Court reversed judgments in favor of the City, and remanded to the trial court with directions to grant plaintiffs’ motions for judgments on the pleadings and to enter judgments in favor of plaintiffs on plaintiffs’ complaints. View "Tesoro Logistic Operations, LLC v. City of Rialto" on Justia Law

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Alternative Carbon claimed nearly $20 million in energy tax credits meant for taxpayers who sell alternative fuel mixtures under 26 U.S.C. 6426(e)(1). The Internal Revenue Service determined that Alternative Carbon should not have claimed these credits and demanded repayment, with interest and penalties. Alternative Carbon paid back the government, in part, and then filed a refund suit. The Claims Court decided that Alternative Carbon failed to establish that it properly claimed the credits or that it had reasonable cause to do so and granted the government summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Although the product at issue, a feedstock/diesel mixture, was a “liquid fuel,” it was not “sold” by Alternative Carbon; the transaction was more of a transfer for disposal. Alternative Carbon cannot show it had reasonable cause for claiming the alternative fuel mixture credits. View "Alternative Carbon Resources, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Pit River Tribe and environmental organizations in an action under the Geothermal Steam Act, against federal agencies responsible for administering twenty-six unproven geothermal leases located in California's Medicine Lake Highlands. Pit River alleged that the BLM's decision to continue the terms of the unproven leases for up to forty years violated the Act. Determining that it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the panel held that the statutory meaning of 30 U.S.C. 1005(a) is clear and unambiguous: it only permits production-based continuations on a lease-by-lease basis, not on a unit-wide basis. In this case, BLM failed to meet its burden of providing a compelling reason for the panel to depart from the plain meaning of section 1005(a). Therefore, the panel rejected BLM's argument that section 1005(a) authorizes forty-year continuations on a unit-wide basis once a single lease in a unit is deemed productive. View "Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' claims that Defendants' conduct violated section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2, and various state antitrust and consumer protection laws, holding that the claims were barred by the filed-rate doctrine. Defendants were two large energy companies that purchased natural gas from producers, resold it to retail natural gas consumers throughout New England, and transported the natural gas along the interstate Algonquin Gas pipeline. Plaintiffs, a putative class of retail electricity customers in New England, brought this action alleging that Defendants strategically reserved excess capacity along the pipeline without using or reselling it, which ultimately resulted in higher retail electricity rates paid by New England electricity consumers. The district court dismissed the claims, concluding that they were barred by the filed-rate doctrine and, alternatively, for lack of antitrust standing and Plaintiffs' failure to plausibly allege a monopolization claim under the Sherman Act. The First Circuit affirmed without reaching the district court's alternative grounds for dismissal, holding that all of Plaintiffs' claims were barred by application of the filed-rate doctrine. View "Breiding v. Eversource Energy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff/Appellant was the vested remainderman of his father's life estate in the surface rights of land in Canadian County, Oklahoma (the "Property"). Defendant Cimarex Energy Company was the lessee of the Property's mineral interests. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that he was entitled to compensation for the surface damages caused by the drilling of wells and entitled to be notified of negotiations to determine surface damages because he was a "surface owner" within the meaning of the Surface Damages Act (SDA), 52 O.S. sections 318.2 et seq. Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim arguing Plaintiff was not an owner within the meaning of the SDA, and even if he were an owner, his proper remedy was to seek compensation from the life tenant. The trial court sustained the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss finding the Remainderman was not a "surface owner" under the SDA. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling interpreting "surface owner" under the SDA to include vested remainder interests. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the SDA's definition of surface owner was ambiguous, and was persuaded by the common meaning, expressed legislative intent, and interests of justice that the SDA's use of surface owner applies only to those holding a current possessory interest. Under the SDA, a mineral lessee must negotiate surface damages with those who hold a current possessory interest in the property. A vested remainderman did not hold a current possessory interest until the life estate has come to its natural end. The Court of Civil Appeals’ decision was vacated and the trial court affirmed. View "Hobson v. Cimarex Energy Co," on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government’s power to take property by eminent domain, if the company has a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); was unable to acquire the property by contract or reach agreement about the amount to be paid; and the value of the property exceeds $3,000. PennEast, scheduled to build a pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, obtained federal approval for the project and filed suit under the NGA to condemn and gain immediate access to properties along the pipeline route, including 42 properties owned, at least in part, by New Jersey or arms of the state. New Jersey sought dismissal, citing the Eleventh Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of PennEast. The Third Circuit vacated. The Eleventh Amendment recognizes that states enjoy sovereign immunity from suits by private parties in federal court. New Jersey has not consented to PennEast’s condemnation suits and its sovereign immunity has not been abrogated by the NGA. The federal government’s power of eminent domain and its power to hale sovereign states into federal court are separate and distinct. In the NGA, Congress has delegated only the power of eminent domain. View "In re: PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC" on Justia Law

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Neighbors of a proposed solar electric-generation facility challenged the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) issuance of a certificate of public good for the project. At the heart of their appeal was a challenge to the PUC’s conclusions that the Apple Hill project would not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region and would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics. Both of these conclusions rested in substantial part on the PUC’s conclusions that the selectboard of the Town of Bennington took the position that the Apple Hill project complied with the applicable Town Plan, and that the 2010 Town Plan did not establish a clear, written standard. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the evidence and the PUC’s findings did not support these conclusions, so it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Petition of Apple Hill Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment against Northern Natural Gas Company, holding that certification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting Northern to expand the authorized boundaries of its underground storage field to encompass nearby wells changed the right-to-produce analysis for gas taken before June 2, 2010. Some of the storage gas owned by Northern migrated beneath the earth to nearby wells in areas that Northern did not control through eminent domain or contract. The wells' operators extracted that gas and sold it. In a previous appeal, the Supreme Court applied the common-law rule of capture to rule that the operators lawfully produced and sold Northern's storage gas taken before June 2, 2010, the date when Northern received its certificate from FERC. At issue in this appeal was whether the producers could take Northern's migrated storage gas from wells located within the newly certified boundaries for the storage field after June 2, 2010. The district court ruled on summary judgment that the producers had that right under the common-law rule of capture. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that once the new boundaries were certified Northern's identifiable storage gas within that designated area was no longer subject to the rule of capture. View "Northern Natural Gas Co. v. ONEOK Field Services Co., LLC" on Justia Law