Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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RW Trucking pumped fracking water from frac tanks at oil-well sites and hauled it away for disposal. Jason Metz worked as a driver for RW Trucking. When his trailer reached capacity, Metz turned off the pump and disengaged the hose. According to Metz, he then left a ticket in the truck of another well-site worker, David Garza. Metz testified that as he began walking back to his truck’s cab from its passenger side, and about sixty feet from the frac tanks, he flicked his lighter to light a cigarette. This ignited fumes and caused a flash fire that injured Garza (as well as Metz and another nearby RW Trucking employee). In this appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was which of two insurers’ insurance policies covered bodily injuries. Carolina Casualty Insurance Company and Burlington Insurance Company had earlier issued policies to RW Trucking. By design, the two policies dovetailed each other’s coverage. Each insurer contended that the other was solely liable to indemnify the insureds, RW Trucking and Metz, for damages arising from Garza’s bodily injuries suffered in the fire. After Burlington and Carolina jointly settled Garza’s claims, with each reserving its rights against the other, Carolina filed this declaratory-judgment action, contending that it had no duty to defend or indemnify RW Trucking or Metz, and seeking reimbursement of its paid portion of Garza’s settlement. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled: (1) that Carolina owed a duty to defend but not a duty to indemnify; (2) Burlington owed a duty to indemnify (and so implicitly, also a duty to defend); (3) that Carolina paid its share of the settlement as a volunteer, disabling itself from recovering its portion of the settlement payment from Burlington; and (4) that Carolina owed Burlington for half the total defense costs. After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court as to the duty-to-defend and voluntary-payment issues, and affirmed on the duty-to-indemnify issue. The Court remanded with the instruction that the district court vacate its judgment granting Burlington reimbursement of half its defense costs. View "Carolina Casualty Ins. Co. v. Burlington Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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North Star Water, LLC, provided water to oil drilling companies. In September 2014, North Star hired Northwest Grading, Inc., to construct an underground water pipeline from the Missouri River to North Star’s various pumping stations. Northwest Grading sent regular invoices to North Star during the course of construction. In August 2015, Northwest Grading informed North Star it owed a balance of $91,072.99. Northwest Grading notified North Star it would repossess the pipeline if it were not paid immediately. Northwest Grading did not receive payment. Employees of Northwest Grading made the pipeline inoperable by closing valves and filling the valve boxes with dirt and concrete. As a result, North Star was temporarily unable to sell water to at least one of its customers. Northwest Grading sued North Star for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and foreclosure of a construction lien. North Star counterclaimed for fictitious billing, trespass, and damage to property through unlawful repossession. The district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment in October 2018. The court found a business relationship existed between Northwest Grading and North Star, but not based on a written contract. The court concluded Northwest Grading was not authorized to repossess the pipeline by pouring concrete in the valve boxes, and its doing so was a breach of the peace. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err as to either party’s damages and did not abuse its discretion by denying Northwest Grading’s motion to strike testimony. The Court modified the judgment to correct the calculation of interest, and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Wyoming’s anti-indemnity statute would not defeat possible insurance coverage to an additional insured. In this second appeal and cross-appeal, the issue presented for the Court's review centered on whether the district court correctly ruled that additional-insured coverage existed under the applicable insurance policies; whether the district court entered judgment for the additional insured in an amount greater than the policy limits; and whether the district court correctly ruled that the additional insured was not entitled to prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees. Ultra Resources, Inc. held a lease for a Wyoming well site. In January 2007, Ultra contracted with Upstream International, LLC under a Master Service Agreement to manage the well site. The Ultra-Upstream contract required Upstream to obtain insurance policies with a stated minimum amount of coverage for Ultra and Ultra’s contractors and subcontractors. To do so, Upstream obtained two policies from Lexington Insurance Company - a General Liability Policy (“General Policy”) and a Commercial Umbrella Policy (“Umbrella Policy”). Lexington issued and delivered the two policies in Texas. Ultra contracted with Precision Drilling (“Precision”) to operate a drilling rig at the well site. Precision maintained a separate insurance policy with Lloyd’s of London (“Lloyd’s”), covering Precision for primary and excess liability. Upstream employed Darrell Jent as a contract management of some Ultra well sites. Jent assumed that Precision employees had already attached and tightened all A-leg bolts on a rig platform. In fact, Precision employees had loosened the A-leg bolts (which attach the A-legs to the derrick) and had not properly secured these bolts. After supervising the pin removal, Jent had just left the rig floor and reached “the top step leading down from the rig floor” when the derrick fell because of the “defectively bolted ‘A- legs’ attaching the derrick to the rig floor.” Jent was seriously injured after being thrown from the steps, and sued Precision for negligence. Precision demanded that Ultra defend and indemnify it as required by the Ultra-Precision drilling contract. Ultra, in turn, demanded that Upstream defend Precision under the insurance policies required by the Ultra-Upstream Contract. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court ruled correctly on each issue presented, so it affirmed. View "Lexington Insurance Company v. Precision Drilling Company" on Justia Law

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In this case involving a written assignment of an overriding royalty interest in minerals produced from land in Wheeler County the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment declaring that the assignment conveyed an overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed the assignor's overriding royalty interest in all production under the lease. The assignment in this case identified the single well that was producing at the time of the assignment, the land on which the well was located, and the lease under which the overriding royalty interest existed. At issue was whether the assignment conveyed the assignor's interest in all production under the identified lease or only in production from the identified well or from any well drilled on the identified land. The court of appeals held that the assignment conveyed only the 3.75 percent overriding royalty interest in production from the tract of land on which the well was located. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the assignment unambiguously conveyed all of the interest that the assignor owned at the time of the conveyance. View "Piranha Partners v. Neuhoff" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal of LOGI's complaint for failure to state a claim. The magistrate judge and district court concluded that LOGI failed to provide Shell and Gulfport with notice under Article 137 of the Louisiana Mineral Code of their alleged failure to pay royalties timely and properly, and that LOGI consequently was barred from recovering under Article 138. Applying Louisiana law, the court held that the magistrate judge and district court did not err in determining that plaintiff's January 2014 communication was insufficient under Article 137. Furthermore, LOGI's second communication also did not satisfy the requirements of Article 137. View "Louisiana Oil & Gas Interests, LLC v. Shell Trading U.S. Co." on Justia Law

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Cheryl Reese appealed an amended judgment entered after the district court granted summary judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests and the right to receive the mineral royalties and bonus payments. In 2005, Dennis Reese and Tia Reese-Young, who both owned an interest in the minerals at the time, entered into an oil and gas lease for the property. After several conveyances, Dennis and Cheryl Reese owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as joint tenants, and Reese-Young owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as a tenant in common with Dennis and Cheryl. In July 2008, Dennis and Cheryl conveyed their 12.5% interest to Reese-Young by quit claim deed and reserved a life estate interest in the minerals. Dennis died in September 2008. In 2017, Cheryl sued Tia Reese-Young to quiet title and for declaratory judgment determining that Cheryl was the sole remaining life tenant in the property and that she was entitled to all of the proceeds to be derived from the minerals during her lifetime. Reese-Young argued the deed creating the life estate in Cheryl Reese did not explicitly reserve to Cheryl Reese an interest in the royalties, the deed was unambiguous, there were no disputed issues of material fact, and Tia Reese-Young is entitled to all of the income derived from the oil and gas production as a matter of law. Cheryl argued the unambiguous language of the deed established she reserved a life estate in the minerals and she was entitled to receive the royalty payments under the open mines doctrine because an oil and gas lease had been executed and oil and gas were being produced before the life estate was created. When the district court ruled in favor of Reese-Young, Cheryl appealed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded as a matter of law, Cheryl was entitled to the proceeds from the oil and gas production, including the royalties and bonus payments, and she was not required to hold the proceeds in trust for Reese-Young. Judgment was reversed. View "Reese v. Reese-Young" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that FERC's action against financial trading entities and an individual trader was timely-filed within the five-year statute of limitations on civil penalty actions under 28 U.S.C. 2462. The court held that FERC did not have a complete and present cause of action to file suit in federal district court until 60 days elapsed after it had issued the penalty assessment order and appellants refused to pay the assessed penalty. Therefore, FERC's claim had not accrued until then and this action was timely filed. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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UGI builds natural gas pipelines. It obtained authorization to construct and operate an underground pipeline along 34.4 miles of land in Pennsylvania under the Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C. 717, The Landowners rejected UGI’s offers of compensation for rights of way, so UGI sought orders of condemnation. UGI prevailed; only the amount of compensation remained. The Landowners’ expert set the before-taking value of the land by comparing properties in the area and estimating what each is worth relative to the market but, in estimating the post-taking property values, the expert relied on his own “damaged goods theory,” drawing on his experience working in his grandfather’s appliance shop. The expert cited the impact on real estate values from the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979, the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill in 1989, and assorted leaking underground storage tanks. The expert’s reports contain no data relating to those incidents. The district court agreed “that some form of ‘stigma’ attaches to the property as a whole” and adjusted the awards accordingly. The Third Circuit vacated. Rule 702 requires reliable expert testimony that fits the proceedings. The expert testimony presented by the Landowners bound only to speculation and conjecture, not good science or other “good grounds.” View "UGI Sunbury LLC v. Permanent Easement for 1.7575 Acres" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) affirming a tax assessment against Rockies Express Pipeline, LLC (Rockies), holding that Rockies' gross receipts for tax year 2015 from the transportation of natural gas within the state of Ohio were not excluded from taxation under Ohio Rev. Code 5727.33(B)(1) as "receipts derived wholly from interstate business" and that such taxation does not violate the Commerce Clause. Rockies is an interstate pipeline that transports natural gas for others. For tax year 2015, the Ohio Tax Commissioner assessed Rockies on transactions in which natural gas entered and exited Rockies' pipeline within Ohio. Rockies petitioned the tax commissioner for reassessment, arguing that its receipts derived wholly from interstate business and were thus eligible for exclusion under section 5727.33(B)(1). The tax commissioner upheld the assessment. The BTA affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rockies did not meet its burden of showing that its receipts fall under the exclusion in section 5727.33(B)(1) as "receipts derived wholly from interstate business"; and (2) imposing the tax under these circumstances does not violate the Commerce Clause because Rockies has substantial nexus with Ohio based on its physical presence within the State. View "Rockies Express Pipeline, LLC v. McClain" on Justia Law

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Pitchblack and Whitetail filed suit against Hess, alleging that their overriding royalty interests in a number of oil and gas leases should continue to burden various top leases that Hess acquired over the subject leases. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Hess, holding that Hess did not owe Pitchblack or Whitetail any fiduciary duty that would have required Hess to treat the top leases as extensions or renewals. Based on North Dakota law and the lack of any fiduciary duties expressed in the parties' agreement, the court held that Hess did not owe Pitchblack and Whitetail any fiduciary duty to extend or renew the subject leases. Consequently, Pitchblack and Whitetail's argument that the top leases were extensions or renewals of the subject leases based on a fiduciary duty fails. The court also held that the district court correctly concluded that the top leases were not extensions or renewals of the subject leases. Therefore, because the top leases were new leases, the extension or renewal clause did not attach the overriding royalty interests to the top leases. The court held that the top leases were thus not burdened by the overriding royalty interests. View "Hess Bakken Investments II, LLC v. Whitetail Wave" on Justia Law