Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries
PA. Environ. Defense Fd. v. Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“PEDF”) challenged amendments the Pennsylvania General Assembly made to the state Fiscal Code that diverted to the General Fund revenues generated from oil and gas leases on state forest and game lands. PEDF claimed the legislation was unconstitutional, violating the Environmental Rights Amendment (the “ERA”). When this case returned to the Commonwealth Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the ERA created a constitutional public trust subject to private trust principles. Applying trust law, the Supreme Court determined that royalty revenue streams generated by the sale of gas extracted from Commonwealth lands represented the sale of trust assets and had to be returned to the corpus of the trust. To the extent that 72 P.S. sections 1602-E and 1603-E diverted royalties to the General Fund, the Court found the provisions violated the ERA. The Court lacked sufficient advocacy to determine if the remaining three revenue streams, consisting of large upfront bonus payments, yearly rental fees, and interest penalties for late payments that were allocated to the General Fund under Sections 1604-E and 1605-E, as well as Section 1912 of the Supplemental General Appropriations Act of 2009, also constituted the sale of trust assets. Thus the case was remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings. On remand, the Commonwealth Court, sitting en banc, determined that the three revenue streams did not constitute the sale of trust assets. On return to the Supreme Court, it was determined the Commonwealth Court's holding was at odds with the Supreme Court's holding before remand. Another remand was unnecessary; the Supreme Court determined the record was sufficiently developed, and based upon that record it held the incomes generated under these oil and gas leases had to be returned to the corpus. As a result, the decision of the Commonwealth Court was reversed. View "PA. Environ. Defense Fd. v. Pennsylvania" on Justia Law
Phelps Oil and Gas v. Noble Energy
Phelps Gas & Oil brought a class action in Colorado state court against Noble Energy and DCP Midstream for underpayments on oil and gas royalties Noble allegedly owed Phelps and other owners of royalty interests. DCP Midstream removed the class action to federal district court. Phelps then moved to remand the case to state court, arguing the case failed to meet the federal $75,000 amount-in-controversy requirement. The district court denied the motion, and later entered summary judgment, dismissing all of Phelps’s claims. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in denying Phelps’s motion to remand, thus dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. "[N]either the value to Phelps nor the cost to either defendant in this case would result in more than $75,000 at controversy. Though the contracts between Noble and DCP are worth millions of dollars, we cannot base federal jurisdiction on potential future litigation involving the defendants." View "Phelps Oil and Gas v. Noble Energy" on Justia Law
Growth Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency
The Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program (42 U.S.C. 7547(o)(2)(A)(i)) calls for annual increases in the amount of renewable fuel introduced into the U.S. fuel supply and sets annual targets for renewable fuel volumes. Each year, EPA implements those targets but has certain waiver authorities to reduce the annual targets below the statutory levels. Companies that produce renewable fuels argued that EPA’s 2019 volume levels (83 Fed. Reg. 63,704) were too low; fuel refiners and retailers argued that the 2019 volumes were too high. Environmental organizations challenged various aspects of the 2019 Rule relating to environmental considerations.The D.C. Circuit denied their petitions for review except for the environmental organizations’ challenges concerning whether the 2019 Rule would affect listed species, which it remanded without vacatur. The court upheld EPA’s 2019 continuation of its practice of granting exemptions to small refineries after promulgating the annual percentage standards; EPA’s decision to exclude electricity generated from renewable biomass (a form of cellulosic biofuel) from its cellulosic biofuel projection in the 2019 Rule; EPA’s determination that the 2019 volumes would not cause severe economic harm; and EPA’s decision not to obligate ethanol blenders under the RFS Program. EPA adequately explained its refusal to exercise the inadequate domestic supply waiver. EPA did not act arbitrarily in estimating that 100 million gallons of sugarcane ethanol were “reasonably attainable” for 2019. View "Growth Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law
Virginia Electric & Power Co. v. State Corporation Commission
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the State Corporation Commission finding that a pumped storage hydroelectric facility (or pumped storage) generates "renewable energy" under the former definition in Va. Code 56-576 and that the amended definition would not apply to contracts executed before the amendment's effective date, holding that there was no error.The Commission concluded that pumped storage satisfied the statutory definition of renewable energy in effect at the time that the service provider executed its contracts and declined to find that the amended definition would apply retroactively to contracts executed before the amendment's effective date. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not err in its interpretation of the statute or its finding that pumped storage satisfied the former definition of renewable energy; and (2) the Commission did not err in refusing retroactively to apply the amended statutory definition of renewable energy to the service provider's contracts that were executed before the amendment took effect. View "Virginia Electric & Power Co. v. State Corporation Commission" on Justia Law
Delaware Division of the Public Advocate v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates the transmission and wholesale of electric energy in interstate commerce, 16 U.S.C. 824(b), and must approve changes to any rate or charge. PJM, a regional transmission organization that manages an electric grid covering 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and the District of Columbia, meets its obligation to ensure sufficient generating capacity by conducting a yearly auction in which electricity suppliers submit offers to be available to provide capacity during a one-year period, three years in the future. The Variable Resource Requirement Curve (VRR Curve) represents the prices that consumers should pay for varying quantities of capacity. The intersection of the VRR and supply curves dictates the amount of capacity committed and the price suppliers are paid. The VRR Curve is set based on the amount of capacity that must be produced to meet peak demand to allow no more than one power outage every decade and how much revenue a hypothetical new generator (Reference Resource) would need to earn in the capacity market to justify construction.The Commission accepted PJM;s proposed revisions to the capacity market auction mechanism: keeping a combustion turbine plant as its Reference Resource and increasing the value of the Reference Resource’s estimated offer to supply energy by 10% (10% adder). The D.C. Circuit affirmed the approval of the Reference Resource as just and reasonable but vacated the approval of the 10% adder. View "Delaware Division of the Public Advocate v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
Khosravan v. Chevron Corp.
Malekeh Khosravan appealed the denial of her motion to strike or tax costs with respect to the expert witness fees incurred by defendants Chevron Corporation, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., and Texaco Inc. (Chevron defendants) following the trial court’s granting of the Chevron defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Malekeh and her husband Gholam Khosravan brought claims for negligence, premises liability, loss of consortium, and related claims, alleging Khosravan contracted mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos while he was an Iranian citizen working for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) at the Abadan refinery the Khosravans alleged was controlled by the predecessors to the Chevron defendants, Exxon Mobil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Oil Corporation (Exxon defendants). The trial court concluded the Chevron and Exxon defendants did not owe a duty of care to Khosravan, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed. The trial court awarded the Chevron defendants their expert witness fees as costs based on the Khosravans’ failure to accept the Chevron defendants’ statutory settlement offers made to Khosravan and Malekeh under Code of Civil Procedure section 998. On appeal, Malekeh contended the trial court erred in denying the motion to strike or tax costs because the settlement offers required the Khosravans to indemnify the Chevron defendants against possible future claims of nonparties, making the offers impossible to value; the Khosravans obtained a more favorable judgment than the offers in light of the indemnity provisions; and the offers were “token” settlement offers made in bad faith. The Court of Appeal concurred with this reasoning and reversed: "We recognize the desire by defendants to reach a settlement that protects them from all liability for the conduct alleged in the complaint, whether as to the plaintiffs or their heirs in a wrongful death action. But if defendants seek that protection through indemnification, they may well need to give up the benefit of section 998." View "Khosravan v. Chevron Corp." on Justia Law
North Carolina Department of Environmental Equality v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The Fourth Circuit considered two petitions for review challenging FERC's issuance of a license to McMahan, authorizing McMahan to operate the Bynum Hydroelectric Project on the Haw River in North Carolina. Assuming without deciding that a state may waive its certification authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act by coordinating with an applicant in a scheme to defeat the statutory review period through a process of withdrawing and resubmitting the certification application, the court concluded that FERC's finding of coordination between McMahan and NCDEQ is not supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, without evidence of improper coordination, the court concluded that FERC erred by determining that North Carolina waived its certification authority under section 401.In Case No. 20-1655, the court granted NCDEQ's petition for review of FERC's determination that NCDEQ waived its rights under the Clean Water Act to issue a water quality certification for the Project. The court vacated the license issued by FERC and remanded with instructions for FERC to reissue the license to include the water-quality conditions imposed by NCDEQ. In Case No. 20-1671, the court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction that portion of PK Ventures' petition for review challenging the validity of McMahan's state applications for a section 401 certification. Finding no merit to the remaining claims, the court otherwise denied the petition for review. View "North Carolina Department of Environmental Equality v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp.
In this complaint alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCA), 42 U.S.C. 6901 et seq., the First Circuit vacated the order of the district court granting a motion to stay the proceedings under the so-called doctrine of primary jurisdiction, holding that the district court improperly stayed the case.Conservation Law Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, brought this suit against ExxonMobil Corporation, ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, and ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (collectively, ExxonMobil), alleging unlawful violations at ExxonMobil's petroleum storage and distribution terminal in Everett, Massachusetts. After the district court denied ExxonMobil's motion to dismiss, ExxonMobil moved to stay the case under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a decision on ExxonMobil's pending permit renewal application for the Everett terminal. The First Circuit vacated the stay order, holding that the district court erred in granting a stay under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction until EPA issues a new permit for ExxonMobil's Everett terminal. View "Conservation Law Foundation v. ExxonMobil Corp." on Justia Law
Louisiana v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co. et al.
Arising under the 2006 version of La. R.S. 30:29 (referred to as Act 312), this oilfield remediation case involved the Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB”), individually and on behalf of the State of Louisiana, as petitioner, and Union Oil Company of California, Union Exploration Partners (collectively, “UNOCAL”), Chevron U.S.A., Inc., Chevron Midcontinent LP, and Carrollton Resources, LLC as defendants. Although the exact date of VPSB’s knowledge of contamination to the land was disputed, it was clear that VPSB became aware of such sometime in 2003 or 2004. In September 2004, VPSB filed a petition, urging causes of action for negligence, strict liability, unjust enrichment, trespass, breach of contract, and violations of Louisiana environmental laws. VPSB sought damages to cover the cost of evaluating and remediating the alleged damage and contamination to the property. It also sought damages for diminution of the property value, mental anguish, inconvenience, punitive damages, and stigma damages. UNOCAL sought reversal of the lower courts’ finding that VPSB’s strict liability claim was not prescribed. UNOCAL also contested the court of appeal’s ruling that the jury verdict was inconsistent and its remand for a new trial. Finding UNOCAL failed to prove that VPSB’s strict liability cause of action was factually prescribed, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeal’s ruling on prescription, but on alternative grounds. Finding the jury was improperly allowed to decide issues reserved solely for the trial court, and cognizant the extraneous instructions and verdict interrogatories permeated the jury’s consideration of the verdict as a whole, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and affirmed the court of appeal’s remand for new trial. View "Louisiana v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co. et al." on Justia Law
In re Application of Hawaiian Electric Co.
The Supreme Court held that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) did not abuse its discretion in deciding not to reopen a December 2014 order (Order No. 32600) upon allegations raised in 2019 that changed circumstances warranted relief from the order.The order at issue approved a purchase power agreement (PPA) in which Hawaiian Electric Company agreed to purchase wind energy generated by Na Pua Makani on a wind farm to be constructed on the island of O'ahu. Life of the Land (LOL) sought to reopen the order with reference to Hawai'i Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 60(b). The PUC denied LOL's motion for relief, concluding that it was without jurisdiction to consider the motion because LOL had not timely appealed the order under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-15.5 and, alternatively, that the motion for relief was an untimely motion for rehearing or reconsideration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PUC did not abuse its discretion in declining to turn to HRCP Rule 60(b) to reopen Order No. 32600. View "In re Application of Hawaiian Electric Co." on Justia Law