Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

by
The DC Circuit denied petitions for review challenging FERC's orders concerning SFPP's tariffs. SFPP challenges FERC's decisions to deny SFPP an income tax allowance, to decline to reopen the record on that issue, and to deny SFPP's retroactive adjustment to its index rates. Shippers challenge FERC's disposition of SFPP's accumulated deferred income taxes (ADIT) and its temporal allocation of litigation costs. The court held that FERC's denial of an income tax allowance to SFPP was both consistent with the court's precedent and well-reasoned, and that FERC did not abuse its discretion or act arbitrarily in declining to reopen the record on that issue. Furthermore, FERC reasonably rejected retroactive adjustment to SFPP's index rates. The court also held that FERC correctly found that the rule against retroactive ratemaking prohibited it from refunding or continuing to exclude from rate base SFPP's ADIT balance, and that FERC reasonably allocated litigation costs. View "SFPP, LP v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Plaintiffs, in their individual capacities and on behalf of similarly situated taxpayers, sought declaratory relief regarding chapter 61-33.1, N.D.C.C., relating to the ownership of mineral rights in lands subject to inundation by the Garrison Dam, was unconstitutional. The district court concluded that N.D.C.C. 61-33.1-04(1)(b) was on its face unconstitutional under the “gift clause,” and enjoined the State from issuing any payments under that statute. The court rejected Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to the rest of chapter 61-33.1. The Defendants appealed and the Plaintiffs cross-appealed the trial court’s orders, judgment, and amended judgment. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that portion of the judgment concluding N.D.C.C. 61- 33.1-04(1)(b) violated the gift clause and the court’s injunction enjoining those payments. The Supreme Court also reversed the court’s award of attorney’s fees and costs and service award to the Plaintiffs because they were no longer prevailing parties. The Court affirmed the remainder of the orders and judgment, concluding the Plaintiffs did not establish that chapter 61-33.1 on its face violated the North Dakota Constitution. View "Sorum, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Authority appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants, two vessels and their corporate owners, in an action brought under the federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and state law. The claims arose from the release of thousands of gallons of oil from a submarine power-transmission cable into Long Island Sound, which the Authority alleges was caused by the defendant vessels dropping anchor. The Second Circuit vacated the district court's order and held that the submarine cable is indeed "used for" one of the enumerated "purposes" in the OPA's definition of "facility." Consequently, the panel found that the cable system is used for at least one of the enumerated purposes in the statute. Therefore, the district court erred in dismissing the Authority's OPA claims and in concluding that the Authority's New York Oil Spill Law claims had to be brought in the parallel proceeding on that basis. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Power Authority of the State of New York v. M/V Ellen S. Bouchard" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed a citizen suit against Exxon, seeking to recover from more than 16,000 Clean Air Act violations arising from the Baytown, Texas complex. The Fifth Circuit held that Clean Air Act plaintiffs must prove standing for each violation in support of their claims. The court held that the evidence supports the district court's findings of injury, traceability, and redressability for a number of the violations. However, a limited remand is needed for the district court to determine what other violations could have contributed to plaintiffs' members' injuries and then to tabulate its findings. The court noted that it does not require line-by-line findings, but that the district court may group violations. Furthermore, plaintiffs have standing for at least some of the violations that Exxon asserts affirmative defenses against. The court remanded for findings on whether Exxon proved its Act of God defense for the relatively small number of violations occurring during Hurricane Ike. The court affirmed the district court's rejection of Exxon's Rule 52(b) motion, because Exxon failed to meet its burden in supporting its no-fault defenses by failing to identify evidence establishing that it met the relevant criteria for each individual emissions event. Because the court remanded for the district court to determine the number of violations for which plaintiffs have standing, as well as whether Exxon proved its Act of God defense for any violations, the court will also have to reassess the penalties. View "Environment Texas Citizen Lobby, Inc. v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law

by
Northern filed a quiet-title action in federal court against EOG over a dispute regarding the parties' competing interests in mineral rights in North Dakota. Northern and EOG both lease oil and gas rights, and their lessors litigated a similar matter in state court. The district court found that Northern was in privity with its lessor, holding that the lessors' case barred Northern's claims. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of EOG's motion to dismiss under principles of res judicata, holding that no privity exists between Northern and its lessor because Northern acquired its lease before the lessors' case. The court applied Gerrity Bakken, LLC v. Oasis Petroleum N. Am., LLC, 915 N.W.2d 677 (N.D. 2018), and held that the privity doctrine cannot be applied if the rights to property were acquired by the person sought to be bound before the adjudication. View "Northern Oil and Gas, Inc. v. EOG Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In three consolidated petitions for review, petitioners challenged five FERC orders on two intertwined El Paso rate cases under the Natural Gas Act, the 2008 Rate Case and the 2011 Rate Case. The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review, holding that FERC's removal of both the undistributed subsidiary earnings and the loan to El Paso's parent from the equity component of El Paso's capital structure was reasoned and supported by substantial evidence. The court also held that FERC's conclusion that El Paso had not demonstrated that its proposed rates would comply with the 1996 settlement was reasonable; FERC reasonably excluded the two compressor stations from El Paso's rate base; and FERC's approval of a zone-of-delivery rate design measured by contract-paths and its rejection of equilibration for lack of quantitative support were neither arbitrary nor contrary to law. View "El Paso Natural Gas Co., LLC v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

by
Hess Bakken Investments II, LLC; Arkoma Drilling II, L.P.; and Comstock Oil & Gas, LP, (together the “Hess Group”) appealed an order and judgment dismissing their claims against AgriBank, FCB; Intervention Energy, LLC; and Riverbend Oil & Gas VI, L.L.C. (together, “Appellees”). At issue was the meaning of the term “actual drilling operations” as used in continuous drilling clauses in two oil and gas leases. The district court interpreted the term as requiring “placing the drill bit in the ground and penetrating the soil.” Each side has advanced competing readings of the term based on understandings of English grammar and industry usage. Although at odds, both interpretations are supported by rational arguments. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous; "when ambiguity exists, the parties’ intent becomes a question of fact requiring a factual finding based on extrinsic evidence." Given this ambiguity, dismissal as a matter of law was improper. View "Hess Bakken Investments II, et al. v. AgriBank, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's order confirming a $622 million arbitration award. The parties are oil and gas companies incorporated in different countries, and the dispute arose from the Agreement for the Provision of Drilling Services (DSA). About two years into the DSA's term, Vantage and Petrobras executed the Third Novation and Amendment Agreement, which included an arbitration clause. As a preliminary matter, the court stated that it need not decide the issue of whether the appeal waiver was enforceable. On the merits, the court held that there was no public policy bar to confirmation of the arbitration award. In this case, the district court did not engage in inappropriate deference to the arbitrator's decision and the district court did not base its decision just on "mutual mistake." The court also held that Petrobras has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying the discovery motions. Finally, the court rejected Petrobras' motion to vacate the arbitration award. View "Vantage Deepwater Co. v. Petrobras America, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of orders related to FERC's efforts to remove existing barriers to the participation of electric storage resources (ESRs) in the Regional Transmission Organization and Independent System Operator markets (RTO/ISO markets), independent, nonprofit companies that manage segments of the federal grid. The court held that petitioners failed to show that Order Nos. 841 and 841-A run afoul of the Federal Power Act's jurisdictional bifurcation or that they are otherwise arbitrary and capricious. After determining that petitioners have standing to bring their claims and that the matters are ripe for review, the court held that because the challenged orders do nothing more than regulate matters concerning federal transactions – and reiterate ordinary principles of federal preemption – they do not facially exceed FERC's jurisdiction under the Act. The court also held that FERC's decision to reject a state opt-out was adequately explained. View "National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed an order of the State Corporation Commission denying Walmart's petitions filed pursuant to Va. Code 56-577(A)(4) seeking the Commission's permission to combine the electric-energy demand of separate Walmart locations to qualify to buy electricity from sources other than the incumbent public utilities regulated by the Commission, holding that the Commission exercised its delegated discretion in a manner consistent with its statutory authority. On appeal, Walmart conceded that the Commission was given the discretion under section 56-577(A)(4) to grant or deny Walmart's request but that the Commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously and erred as a matter of law in denying its petitions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission interpreted section 56-577(A)(4) correctly; (2) there was no error in the Commission's fact-finding; and (3) the Commission did not abuse its discretion in denying Walmart's motion to reconsider. View "Wal-Mart Stores East, LP v. State Corporation Commission" on Justia Law