Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (“PEDF”) challenged for the third time, the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In previous trips before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, PEDF challenged several 2009-2025 budgetary provisions enacted challenging the use of proceeds from oil and gas leasing on the Commonwealth’s forest and park lands as violative of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment. (“Section 27” or “ERA”). In the first two cases, PEDF challenged several 2009-2015 budgetary provisions enacted in the wake of dramatic increases in oil and gas revenue resulting from Marcellus Shale exploration in Pennsylvania. Applying trust principles, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the budgetary provisions violated Section 27 by utilizing the oil and gas revenue for non-trust purposes via transfers to the General Fund. PEDF v. Commonwealth, 161 A.3d 911 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF II”); PEDF v. Commonwealth, 255 A.3d 289 (Pa. 2021) (“PEDF V”). The underlying case here was one for a declaratory judgment, and named the Commonwealth and Governor as parties. Here, PEDF raised numerous constitutional challenges to provisions of the General Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018, as well as the 2017 Fiscal Code amendments, all of which were enacted after the Supreme Court’s decision in PEDF II. After review , the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court, whilst rejecting that court;s analysis derived from PEDF III. View "PA Enviro Defense Fdn, Aplt. v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the merger of two electrical grid operators, Louisville Gas & Electric Company and Kentucky Utilities Company. To protect customers from the merger’s potential anticompetitive effects, the Commission required the combined company (collectively, “Louisville Utilities”) to join a then-new regional electrical grid organization, the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”).   Louisville Utilities asked the Commission to end its depancaking responsibilities under Schedule 402. Most of the customers protected by Schedule 402 objected. The Commission largely approved the request on the ground that sufficient competition in electricity sales existed to provide Louisville Utilities customers alternative competitive sources for electricity even without depancaking. At the same time, the Commission took steps to protect customers that had reasonably relied on depancaking under Schedule 402 in their contracting and investing decisions. A group of customers previously protected by Schedule 402 (collectively, “Municipal Customers”) and Louisville Utilities both petitioned for a review of the Commission’s orders.   The DC Circuit vacated the Commission’s decision to end depancaking under Schedule 402. While the Commission adequately supported its conclusion that customers would continue to enjoy a competitive market without depancaking, it was arbitrary for the agency to completely ignore the significant effect that duplicative charges would have on customer rates. The court also concluded that the Commission’s decisions protecting reliance interests were reasonable, with two exceptions. As a result, the court granted the petitions for review in part and vacated and remanded the challenged orders in part. View "Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
In three FERC orders, FERC found that the State Board had engaged in coordinated schemes with the Nevada Irrigation District, the Yuba County Water Agency, and the Merced Irrigation District (“Project Applicants”) to delay certification and to avoid making a decision on their certification requests. According to FERC, the State Board had coordinated with the Project Applicants to ensure that they withdrew and resubmitted their certification requests before the State’s deadline for action under Section 401 in order to reset the State’s one-year period to review the certification requests. FERC held that, because of that coordination, the State Board had “fail[ed] or refuse[d] to act” on requests and therefore had waived its certification authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. See 33 U.S.C. Section 1341(a)(1).The Ninth Circuit granted petitions for review, and vacated orders issued by FERC. The court held that FERC’s findings of coordination were unsupported by substantial evidence. Instead, the evidence showed only that the State Board acquiesced in the Project Applicants’ own unilateral decisions to withdraw and resubmit their applications rather than have them denied. The court held that even assuming that FERC’s “coordination” standard was consistent with the statute, the State Board’s mere acquiescence in the Project Applicants’ withdrawals and resubmissions could not demonstrate that the State Board was engaged in a coordinated scheme to delay certification. Accordingly, FERC’s orders could not stand. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "CALIFORNIA STATE WATER RESOURC V. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC for a permit to construct a wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC acted within its discretion in this case.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) neither of the Intervenors' evidentiary claims were sustainable; and (2) even if the Intervenors' claims were preserved for appeal, the PUC acted within its discretion when it denied the Intervenors' challenges to certain testimony. View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the application of Crowned Ridge Wind II, LLC to construct a large wind energy farm in northeast South Dakota, holding that the PUC followed the applicable statutory directives in granting the construction permit and properly determined that Crowned Ridge satisfied its burden of proof under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22.After a contested hearing, the PUC issued a written decision approving the permit. Two individuals who lived in rural areas near the project and had intervened to oppose Crowned Ridge's application sought review. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the PUC did not err when it determined that Crowned Ridge met its burden of proof to comply with all applicable laws and rules; and (2) the PUC's findings were not clearly erroneous as they related to crowned Ridge's burden under S.D. Codified Laws 49-41B-22(3). View "Christenson v. Crowned Ridge Wind, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Highline Exploration, Inc. (“Highline”) Nisku Royalty and others (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) sued QEP Energy Company (“QEP”), alleging QEP breached overriding royalty interest assignments held by Plaintiffs because QEP deducted post-production costs from royalties (“ORRIs”) in the oil, gas, and other minerals it paid to Plaintiffs. The district court granted summary judgment to QEP and denied the same to Plaintiffs. Highline appealed the district court’s summary judgment order.The Eighth Circuit affirmed and agreed with the district court’s conclusion: the free and clear clause was intended to specify which costs were not deductible from the ORRIs. This interpretation does not render the free and clear clause meaningless. The assignments provide for nonstandard ORRIs, and the free and clear clause clarifies that the standard costs (production costs) are excluded from royalty payment calculations. Therefore, Highline’s argument that the district court failed to provide meaning to the free and clear clause fails.Further, the court held that the “free and clear” language does modify the ORRIs: it limits the expenses that can be deducted from the parties’ nonstandard ORRI grants. Given this interpretation, the free and clear clause’s modification of the ORRIs supports summary judgment. View "Highline Exploration, Inc. v. QEP Energy Company" on Justia Law

by
Adelphia Gateway, LLC, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission)_  for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to acquire an existing pipeline system. It also sought authorization to construct two short lateral pipeline segments extending from the existing pipeline infrastructure it would acquire. Adelphia also sought approval to construct facilities necessary to operate the pipeline. Together, these acquisitions and improvements would comprise the Adelphia Gateway Project (“the Project”).   In their joint brief, Petitioners challenge: (1) the Commission’s finding of market need for the Project under the Natural Gas Act; (2) the sufficiency of the Commission’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”); and (3) the constitutionality of the Commission’s purported preemption of state and local authorities’ ability to protect public health.   The Court is persuaded that the Commission did not act arbitrarily and capriciously. The court explained that as in Birckhead v. FERC, 925 F.3d 510 (D.C. Cir. 2019), Petitioners here “have identified no record evidence that would help the Commission predict the number and location of any additional wells that would be drilled as a result of production demand created by the Project.” Further, Petitioner did not argue before the Commission that section 1502.21(c) required the use of the Social Cost of Carbon tool. Their rehearing request referred to the regulation once in a footnote, and only in the context of the version of the argument petitioners then relied on and that passing reference was not enough to “alert the Commission” to the position Petitioners now take. View "Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
The Wabash Valley Power Association is an Indiana-based cooperative established to generate and transmit electricity. This case centers on a provision newly added to the 2020 contracts. Section 22 of these contracts purport to subject any changes to the Formulary Rate Tariff to the Mobile-Sierra presumption of justness and reasonableness. After Wabash submitted the new contracts to FERC, Tipmont Rural Electric Membership Cooperative, one of the two-member utilities that did not sign, filed a protest arguing that the Mobile-Sierra presumption should not apply to changes to the Formulary Rate Tariff. The Commission agreed. After FERC failed to act on an application for rehearing within 30 days, Wabash filed a petition for review.   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review finding that the Commission reasonably rejected Wabash’s new contracts. The court wrote that  FERC reasonably determined that the 2020 contracts do not set a contractually negotiated rate. Under the Mobile Sierra doctrine, the key question is whether rates are set bilaterally or unilaterally. Here, the governing contracts give the Wabash board broad discretion to raise rates unilaterally: The board may approve rates that it believes are necessary to cover Wabash’s expenses and to maintain a reasonable profit margin, which is what any utility filing a unilateral tariff rate may seek to do. View "Wabash Valley Power Association, Inc. v. FERC" on Justia Law

by
In this appeal from a judgment of the Seventh District Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that Ohio's Marketable Title Act (MTA), Ohio Rev. Code 5301.47 et seq., applied to an oil and gas interest that had been severed from its surface property.Senterra, Ltd., the owner of the surface property at issue in this case, sought to quiet title to the disputed one-quarter oil and gas interest in its favor, urging the Court to apply the deed-interpretation rule of equity set forth in Duhig v. Peavy-Moore Lumber Co., 144 S.W.2d 878 (Tex. 1940) (the Duhig rule). The heirs to the oil and gas interest argued, in response, that the Duhig rule was inapplicable and that the MTA applied and gave them marketable record title to the interest. The trial court granted summary judgment to Senterra. The Seventh District reversed, ruling that the Duhig rule was inapplicable and that the MTA applied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the oil and gas interest retained by the heirs was not subject to the Duhig rule; and (2) the heirs' interest was preserved under the MTA. View "Senterra, Ltd. v. Winland" on Justia Law

by
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”), anticipating Petitioner Gulfport Energy Corporation’s (“Gulfport”) insolvency, issued four orders purporting to bind the petitioner to continue performing its gas transit contracts even if it rejected them during bankruptcy. Petitioner asked the Fifth Circuit to vacate those orders. The court granted the petitions and vacated the orders holding that FERC cannot countermand a debtor’s bankruptcy-law rights or the bankruptcy court’s powers.   Gulfport attacked attacks FERC’s orders on two fronts. Gulfport first says that FERC lacked authority to issue them. It then contends that the orders are unlawful because they violate the Bankruptcy Code and purport to restrain Gulfport’s bankruptcy-law rights and the powers of the bankruptcy court. The court explained that FERC did have authority to issue the orders. But because the orders rested on an inexplicable misunderstanding of rejection, the court must vacate them all. The court wrote that each order rests on the incorrect premise that rejecting a filed-rate contract in bankruptcy is something more than a breach of contract.   The court further wrote that FERC can decide whether actual modification or abrogation of a filed-rate contract would serve the public interest. It even may do so before a bankruptcy filing. But rejection is just a breach; it does not modify or abrogate the filed rate, which is used to calculate the counterparty’s damage. So FERC cannot prevent rejection. It cannot bind a debtor to continue paying the filed rate after rejection. And it cannot usurp the bankruptcy court’s power to decide Gulfport’s rejection motions. View "Gulfport Energy Corporation v. FERC" on Justia Law