Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Petitioners challenged the Commission's order authorizing Nexus Gas to construct and operate an interstate natural gas pipeline and exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire any necessary rights-of-way. Although the DC Circuit rejected many of petitioners' arguments, the court agreed with petitioners that the Commission failed to adequately justify its determination that it was lawful to credit Nexus Gas's contracts with foreign shippers serving foreign customers as evidence of market demand for the interstate pipeline. Accordingly, the court remanded without vacatur to the Commission for further explanation of this determination. View "City of Oberlin v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Alon Petitioners' petition for review of EPA's decision not to revise its 2010 point of obligation regulation requiring refineries and importers, but not blenders, to bear the direct compliance obligation of ensuring that transportation fuels sold or introduced into the U.S. market include the requisite percentages of renewables. The court also denied Coffeyville Petitioners' petition challenging EPA's refusal to reassess the appropriateness of the point of obligation in the context of its 2017 annual volumetric rule, which set the 2017 applicable percentages for all four categories of renewable fuel and the 2018 applicable volume for one subset of such fuel, biomass-based diesel. Furthermore, the court rejected Coffeyville Petitioners' claim that EPA arbitrarily set the 2017 percentage standards too high. Finally, the court rejected NBB's separate claim that EPA set the 2018 applicable volume for biomass-based diesel too low. View "Alon Refining Krotz Springs, Inc. v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The alleged misconduct tied to the trading of crude oil extracted from Europe's North Sea constitutes an impermissibly extraterritorial application of the Commodity Exchange Act. Plaintiffs, individuals and entities who traded futures and derivatives contracts involving North Sea oil, appealed the district court's dismissal of their claims alleging that defendants, entities involved in various aspects of the production of Brent crude, conspired to manipulate, and did in fact manipulate, the market for physical Brent crude and Brent Futures by executing fraudulent bids, offers, and transactions in the underlying physical Brent crude market over the course of the Class Period. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims under the Act, holding that the presumption of extraterritoriality has not been displaced in this case, and plaintiffs have not pleaded a domestic application of the Act by merely alleging a winding chain of foreign, intervening events connected to the purchase of Brent Futures. The court also affirmed the district court's dismissal of all other defendants and all other claims in a separately filed summary order. View "Prime International Trading Ltd. v. BP PLC" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Plaintiffs Rhonda Pennington, Steven Nelson, Donald Nelson, and Charlene Bjornson executed oil and gas leases for property in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Each lease term was three years with a lessee option to extend for an additional year. The leases were assigned to Continental Resources in September 2014, and it exercised an extension option. The leases included a provision that the leases would not terminate if drilling operations were delayed by an inability to obtain permits. In May 2012, Continental applied for a drilling permit on a 2,560-acre spacing unit that included the lands covered by the leases. The 2,560 acres included lands inhabited by the Dakota Skipper butterfly, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Continental could not begin drilling operations until receiving federal approval. In August 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion relating to the impact of Continental’s proposed drilling on the Dakota Skipper. On October 1, 2015, Continental proposed measures to minimize the impact of its operations on the Dakota Skipper. On October 21, 2015, Continental recorded an affidavit of regulation and delay, stating it had not yet obtained federal regulatory approval to drill, and the primary term of the leases was extended under the “regulation and delay” paragraph of the leases. The following day, Continental applied to terminate the 2,560-acre spacing unit and create a 1,920-acre spacing unit to remove the Dakota Skipper habitat. In November 2015, the Industrial Commission approved the 1,920-acre spacing unit. In January 2016, the commission pooled all of the oil and gas interests in the 1,920-acre spacing unit for the development and operation of the spacing unit. Following the January 2016 order, Continental began drilling operations. In August 2017, the Plaintiffs sued Continental, alleging the leases expired on October 25, 2015, and Continental’s delay in obtaining regulatory approval to drill did not extend the leases. Plaintiffs appealed a district court ruling the “regulation and delay” provision in their oil and gas leases with Continental Resources extended the term of the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court concluded the delay in obtaining drilling permits for the 2,560-acre spacing unit was beyond Continental’s control and was not because of Continental’s fault or negligence. However, the court did not address whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith in pursuing a permit to drill the 2,560-acre spacing unit for more than three years. Viewing the evidence and inferences to be drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the Plaintiffs, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on that issue. View "Pennington, et al. v. Continental Resources, Inc." on Justia Law