Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries
Sierra Club v. FERC
Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC has been trying to build its eponymous Mountain Valley Pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia. In 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission first issued a certificate approving the project. To build an interstate natural gas pipeline, a company often needs additional federal permits from agencies other than the Commission. Mountain Valley needed approvals from the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and Fish and Wildlife Service. While Mountain Valley initially obtained each of those additional permits, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated all of them over time. The Commission responded with a series of follow-up orders. As Mountain Valley reacquired permits from the other agencies, the Commission extended the deadline for completing construction and authorized work to resume. Several environmental groups petitioned for a review of the Commission’s orders allowing the project to proceed. The DC Circuit denied most of their claims and concluded that one is moot. But the court agreed with one of the claims: that the Commission inadequately explained its decision not to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement addressing unexpectedly severe erosion and sedimentation along the pipeline’s right-of-way. While the court granted the petitions for review in part on that ground, it did not vacate the Commission’s orders allowing work on the project to resume. Instead, the court remanded the orders without vacatur to enable the Commission either to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement or to better explain why one is unnecessary. View "Sierra Club v. FERC" on Justia Law
Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC v. 1776 Energy Partners, LLC
The Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's holding that, as a matter of law, a statutory "safe-harbor" provision applied and relieved an operator of oil-and-gas wells from any obligation to pay interest in the amounts withheld, holding that the safe-harbor provision applied as a matter of law.At issue was the "safe harbor" provision that permits operators to withhold payments without interest under certain circumstances. In reliance with the safe harbor provision the operator in this case withheld production payments it was contractually obligated to make to one of the wells' owners. The owner brought suit seeking to recover the payments with interest. The operator made the payments but without interest. The trial court concluded that the safe-harbor provision allowed the operator to withhold the funds. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the operator established as a matter of law that it was entitled to withhold distribution of production payments without interest under the statutory safe-harbor provision of Tex. Nat. Res. Code 91.402(b)(1)(A) and (b)(1)(B)(ii). View "Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC v. 1776 Energy Partners, LLC" on Justia Law
Center for Biological Diversity v. FERC
The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation sought authorization to build and operate a system of natural gas facilities. After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted that authorization, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club (collectively, “CBD”) petitioned the DC Circuit for review.The DC Circuit dismissed the petition in part and denied it in part. The court explained that in approving the Alaska Liquid Natural Gas Project, the Commission complied with the NGA, NEPA, and the APA. CBD failed to provide any reason for the court to disturb the Commission’s reasonable determinations. Further, the court explained that the Commission properly assessed the cumulative impacts on beluga whales. CBD may disagree with the Commission’s policy choice to approve the Project, but the Commission comported with its regulatory obligations. To the extent the issues raised in the petition for review were not exhausted, the court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction View "Center for Biological Diversity v. FERC" on Justia Law
GPA Midstream Association v. DOT
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) prescribe safety standards for pipelines on behalf of the Secretary of Transportation. Two oil and gas associations, GPA Midstream and the American Petroleum Institute, petitioned for review of a safety standard requiring their members to install remote-controlled or automatic shut-off valves in some types of new or replaced gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Petitioners challenged the standard as it applies to “gathering” pipelines used to collect raw gas or crude oil from a well. They argued the PHMSA unlawfully failed to disclose the economic basis for regulating gathering pipelines when it proposed the standard and also failed to make a reasoned determination that regulating these pipelines was appropriate. The DC Circuit granted the petition. The court explained that the PHMSA said nothing about the practicability or the costs and benefits of the standard for gathering pipelines until promulgating the final rule, even though the law required it to address those subjects when publishing the proposed rule for public comment and peer review. The PHMSA also ultimately failed to make a reasoned determination that the benefits of regulating gathering pipelines would exceed the costs and that doing so would be practicable, as required by law. View "GPA Midstream Association v. DOT" on Justia Law
Finley Resources, Inc. v. Headington Royalty, Inc.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's conclusion that contract language releasing claims against a named entity's predecessors barred the releasor's recovery against an unaffiliated and unrelated predecessor in title, holding that the court of appeals correctly rendered judgment that, as used in the release agreement, the term "predecessors" refers only to corporate predecessors.On appeal, Appellants argued that the neither the contract language nor the circumstances surrounding the execution of the release supported limiting the term "predecessors" to "corporate" predecessors and that "predecessors" naturally refers to predecessors in title. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the release was not ambiguous as to the meaning of "predecessors"; and (2) Appellees were entitled to summary judgment on the affirmative defenses of release, waiver, and third-party beneficiary. View "Finley Resources, Inc. v. Headington Royalty, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Contracts, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Supreme Court of Texas
Steven Greenbaum v. Islamic Republic of Iran
The United States seized oil cargo it claims belongs to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Appellants attached the oil in order to satisfy money judgments they hold against Iran. The district court upheld the United States' claim of sovereign immunity and quashed the attachments. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held (1) federal sovereign immunity prevents the attachment and garnishment of oil proceeds in a bank account of the United States and (2) the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 (TRIA) does not waive that immunity. The court explained that the TRIA does not expressly mention the United States, its sovereign immunity, or its susceptibility to suit under the statute. Because the TRIA has nothing express to say about federal sovereign immunity, the notwithstanding clause cannot aid Appellants. Because sovereign immunity prevents Appellants from taking further steps to seize the proceeds from the United States’ sale of the contested oil, the court wrote it has no occasion to reach the alternative grounds for affirmance raised by the Government. View "Steven Greenbaum v. Islamic Republic of Iran" on Justia Law
Granite State Trade School, LLC v. New Hampshire Mechanical Licensing Board
Plaintiff Granite State Trade School, LLC (GSTS) was a gas training school providing fuel gas fitting training courses and licensing exams in New Hampshire since 2007. GSTS was approved as a gas training school prior to the adoption of the current gas fitting regulatory framework. In 2020, defendant New Hampshire Mechanical Licensing Board (Board) directed GSTS to submit to an audit by producing its curriculum, instructor information, and exam materials. In response, GSTS brought suit seeking a declaration that “GSTS training and testing is grandfathered and exempt from compliance” with the audit request because its programs predated the current regulations. Alternatively, GSTS asked the trial court to find Rules Saf-Mec 308 and 610 “arbitrary and capricious” because the rules failed to protect the “integrity and security of the program education materials, and exams,” and were “overburdensome.” GSTS sought to enjoin the Board from: (1) requiring the production of proprietary materials created by GSTS; (2) terminating its training program; and (3) declining to accept certification from GSTS. The Board moved to dismiss; the trial court granted the Board’s motion. The court ruled that the plain and ordinary meaning of the language contained in Rules Saf-Mec 308 and 610 did not “relieve prior approved programs from their continuing obligations” to comply with the regulatory scheme. The trial court also ruled that Saf-Mec 610 “is a valid exercise of the state’s police power and not arbitrary or capricious” and dismissed GSTS’s claim that Saf-Mec 308 was arbitrary and capricious. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Granite State Trade School, LLC v. New Hampshire Mechanical Licensing Board" on Justia Law
Apache Corp. Apollo Exploration, LLC
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in this contract dispute, holding that the court of appeals erred by failing to apply a common-law default rule to the parties' dispute involving the sale of working interests in 109 oil-and-gas leases.According to the Court, Texas cases have long followed a default common-law rule in the circumstances that the words "from" or "after" a specific date to measure a length of time. Under the rule, courts must treat the time period as excluding the specified date (measuring date), and therefore, a period measured in years "from" or "after" a measuring date ends on the anniversary of the measuring date, not the day before. In the instant case, the parties asked the Supreme Court to resolve key issues of contract construction. Noting that the parties could have easily departed from the default rule by indicating as much within the four corners of the relevant lease, the Supreme Court held that because the parties' agreement implicated the default rule without displacing it, the default rule must be applied to the dispute. View "Apache Corp. Apollo Exploration, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Contracts, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Supreme Court of Texas
Environmental Law & Policy Center v. Iowa Utilities Bd.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's petition for judicial review of an order of the Iowa Utilities Board approving a regulated public utility's emissions plan and budget, holding that the Board erred in failing to consider certain intervenors' evidence in determining whether the "Emissions Plan and Budget" (EPB) met the statutory requirements.The utility submitted an EPB - its initial plan and budget and subsequent updates - requesting approval for operations and maintenance expenditures associated with emissions controls previously approved at four coal-fueled power plants. The Board granted several motions to intervene in the contested case proceeding, including three environmental parties. Prior to the contested case hearing, the Board approved the utility's EPB. The environmental parties petitioned for judicial review, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board erred in rejecting the evidence brought by the intervening parties that the retirement of coal-fueled electric power generated facilities was more cost effective than the utility's plan and budget as outside the scope of Iowa Code 476.6 and thus not relevant. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center v. Iowa Utilities Bd." on Justia Law
L&D Investments, Inc. v. Antero Resources Corp.
The Supreme Court held that the circuit court erred by denying Petitioners' counsel's request for an attorney fee and costs pursuant to the common fund doctrine in the underlying lawsuit involving a quiet title action and concomitant claim for unpaid and gas royalties, holding that the circuit court erred.The underlying lawsuit ultimately resulted in two separate monetary settlements, one for the benefit of Petitioners and one for the benefit of a separate group of individuals whose interests were wholly aligned with Petitioners' interests but with whom Petitioners' counsel had not been able to establish contact. At issue was whether counsel was entitled to payment of attorney fees and costs from the separate settlement fund he negotiated with the second settlement, despite the fact that counsel had no contractual relationship with those individuals. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that counsel was entitled under the common fund doctrine to require the beneficiaries for whom he was not acting by agreement to contribute to the "reasonable and necessary expense" of securing the common bond for their benefit. View "L&D Investments, Inc. v. Antero Resources Corp." on Justia Law