Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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FES distributes electricity, buying it from its fossil-fuel and nuclear electricity-generating subsidiaries. FES and a subsidiary filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court enjoined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from interfering with its plan to reject certain electricity-purchase contracts that FERC had previously approved under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a or the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act, 16 U.S.C. 2601, applying the ordinary business-judgment rule and finding that the contracts were financially burdensome to FES. The counterparties were rendered unsecured creditors to the bankruptcy estate. The Sixth Circuit agreed that the bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to decide whether FES may reject the contracts, but held that the injunction was overly broad (beyond its jurisdiction) and that its standard for deciding rejection was too limited. The public necessity of available and functional bankruptcy relief is generally superior to the necessity of FERC’s having complete or exclusive authority to regulate energy contracts and markets. The bankruptcy court exceeded its authority by enjoining FERC from “initiating or continuing any proceeding” or “interfer[ing] with [its] exclusive jurisdiction,” given that it did not have exclusive jurisdiction. On remand, the bankruptcy court must reconsider and decide the impact of the rejection of these contracts on the public interest—including the consequential impact on consumers and any tangential contract provisions concerning such things as decommissioning, environmental management, and future pension obligations—to ensure that the “equities balance in favor of rejecting the contracts.” View "In re: FirstEnergy Solutions Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying the Board's petition to enforce five requests issued by the Board in subpoenas following an explosion and chemical release at an ExxonMobile refinery. The panel held that, although the district court did an admirable job, it erred in finding these five requests unenforceable. In this case, the five subpoena requests relating to the alkylation unit and the modified hydrofluoric acid stored there were relevant to the February 2015 explosion and accidental release of modified hydrofluoric acid. The panel held that a review of the specific disputed requests confirmed that each sought material that might cast light on the Board's investigation into the February 2015 release. View "United States v. Exxon Mobil Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order granting summary judgment to Arnold Bakie and determining that Mines Management, Inc.'s (MMI) use of an adit and underground tunnel traversing Defendants' unpatented mining claims constituted trespass, holding that the district court erred in determining that Bakie possessed valid unpatented mining claims, thus entitling him to summary judgment, and in determining that MMI's use of the adit and underground tunnel constituted a trespass. MMI filed a complaint against Bakie and other defendants seeking a declaratory judgment that the mining claims owned by Defendants were invalid. Defendants countersued, alleging that MMI's use of the adit and underground tunnel constituted a trespass. The district court granted summary judgment to Bakie, determining that Bakie's claims were valid unpatented mining claims and that MMI was liable for trespass. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Bakie because there was no evidence of valuable mineral deposits on the claims at issue; and (2) for the same reasons, the district court erred in determining that MMI committed trespass by using the adit and underground tunnel. View "Mines Management, Inc. v. Fus" on Justia Law

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Continental Resources, Inc. appealed a district court judgment dismissing its declaratory judgment action against the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (“Department”). Continental’s action for declaratory judgment requested the district court find “that if an approved control device is installed and operating at an oil and gas production facility, the mere presence of an emission from a closed tank hatch or control device does not, in and of itself, establish a violation of N.D. Admin. Code 33-15-07-2(1).” The district court dismissed Continental’s declaratory judgment action after finding the Environmental Protection Agency was an indispensable party, the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the matter was not ripe for judicial review. While this appeal was pending, the Department moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment dismissing Continental’s request for declaratory judgment as not ripe for judicial review. View "Continental Resources v. N.D. Dept. of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for quiet title and declaratory judgment based on their contention that an oil and gas lease had terminated by its terms due to lack of production, holding that the twenty-one-year limitations period in Ohio Rev. Code. 2305.04 applied. In their complaint Plaintiffs alleged that the well at issue did not produce any oil or gas from its inception until 1999 and that the well had been inoperative for enough time to terminate the lease. Defendants asserted a statute of limitations defense to Plaintiffs' claims. The trial court held that Plaintiffs had not presented any evidence to satisfy their burden of proving that the well was no longer profitable and that Plaintiffs' claims were subject to a fifteen-year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the correct limitations period was the twenty-one-year period under Ohio Rev. Code 2305.04. The court of appeals rejected the argument and affirmed the trial court's summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the twenty-one-year statute of limitations period applied and that evidence of lack of production prior to 1999 was not irrelevant. View "Browne v. Artex Oil Co." on Justia Law

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A tax sale of real property described in the deed as pertaining to surface rights does not include oil and gas rights which are "restrictions of record" in a previously recorded oil and gas lease. The Court of Appeal held that defendant was the surface owner of the property at issue, but he did not own an interest in the oil and gas under the property. The court modified the judgment to show that upon termination of the oil and gas lease, any remaining oil and gas rights described in the 1939 Memorandum of Oil and Gas Lease revert to the surface owner. View "Leiper v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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Vaquero filed suit challenging provisions of a new zoning ordinance requiring permits for new oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production. The ordinance imposed a wide range of environmental and other standards on permit applicants, adopting two procedural pathways for obtaining permits when the proposed activity would be conducted on split-estate land zoned for agriculture. Vaquero alleged that the new provisions violated its constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The trial court rejected Vaquero's claims and the company appealed. Based on its interpretation of a line of relevant United States Supreme Court cases, the Court of Appeal held that the new ordinance did not violate Vaquero's right to due process because the owner of the surface rights does not have final control over how an owner of mineral rights uses those rights. Rather, the final authority over permits is retained by the County. In regard to the equal protection claim, the court applied the deferential rational basis test and held that the board of supervisors rationally could have decided the availability of an expedited seven-day pathway would promote cooperation between owners of mineral rights and owners of surface rights and reduce conflicts, which is a legitimate public purpose. View "Vaquero Energy v. County of Kern" on Justia Law

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New Energy Economy (NEE) appealed a New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC) order approving Public Service Company of New Mexico’s (PNM) renewable energy procurement plan (Plan) for the year 2018. In its application, PNM sought to demonstrate its compliance with Renewable Energy Act requirements and obtain the Commission’s approval of renewable energy procurements, among other items. NEE challenged the Commission’s approval of PNM’s 2018 Plan by arguing that PNM’s proposed procurement of solar energy generating facilities relied on an unfair request for proposal (RFP) process. NEE contended PNM designed its RFP to limit the universe of potential bidders and select its predetermined, preferred type of renewable energy bid. After review, the New Mexico Supreme Court concluded NEE did not meet its burden of proving that the Commission’s approval of the solar energy procurement was unreasonable or unlawful because evidence in the record supported the Commission’s determination that the challenged provisions of the RFP were reasonable under the facts and circumstances of this case. The Court, therefore, affirmed the Commission's final order approving PNM's 2018 Plan. View "N.M. Indus. Energy Comm'n v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision to decline discretionary review of the denial of claimant's claim for damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At issue was whether a claimant's alleged unlawful conduct wholly or partially disqualifies it from the Settlement Program and, if so, what evidence is adequate to show that the claimant engaged in such conduct. The court held that the parties have been unable to give the court clear answers that were rooted in the Settlement Agreement or other law. The court found a three-way split among appeal panels on the significance of wrongdoing, and the parties have neither agreed nor persuaded the court as to what the legal framework ought to be. Therefore, and in light of the recurrence of the issues this appeal implicated, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Claimant ID 100235033 v. BP Exploration & Production, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations, Inc. appealed an amended judgment ordering Mitchell’s Oil Field Services, Inc. and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America (collectively “Mitchell’s”) to pay Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees. Rocky Mountain argued the district court erred by failing to award it all of the attorney’s fees it requested. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the judgment awarding Rocky Mountain attorney’s fees incurred before the prior appeal, but reversed the portion of the judgment denying the attorney’s fees Rocky Mountain requested for the prior appeal and on remand. The matter was remanded for the trial court to properly determine a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees. View "Rocky Mountain Steel Foundations. v. Brockett Co., et al." on Justia Law