Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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Therese and Timothy Holmes appealed a Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision granting Acorn Energy Solar 2 a certificate of public good (CPG) to build and operate a solar net-metering system. The Holmeses argued the PUC erred in concluding that: (1) Acorn’s application was complete under the PUC Rules; (2) several proposed changes constituted minor amendments; (3) the project would be located on a preferred site; (4) the project would comply with setback requirements; and (5) the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, orderly development, wetlands, air pollution, greenhouse gases, and traffic. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's decision. View "In re Petition of Acorn Energy Solar 2, LLC (Therese & Timothy Holmes, Appellants)" on Justia Law

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In this dispute between a coal mining company and the owner of a natural gas pipeline over whether the pipeline owner may recover for damage caused to the pipeline as a result of mining the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court in favor of the mining company, holding that surface damage liability waivers in the relevant property deeds were valid and enforceable.The mining company held its interest in the coal underneath the lands through property deeds that severed the surface estate from the mineral interest. The deeds included provisions waiving liability for damage to the land's surface caused by mining activities. The trial court entered judgment for the mining company. On appeal, the pipeline owner asserted that the surface damage liability waivers were rendered invalid by an administrative agency's regulation requiring mining operators to pay for damage to surface structures from mining activities. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the administrative agency lacked authority to enact a regulation requiring mining operators to pay damages irrespective of common law property rights to the extent those rights have not been limited by federal law; and (2) the surface damage liability waivers at issue remained valid and enforceable. View "Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC v. Ohio Valley Coal Co." on Justia Law

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In this dispute over the meaning of an oil and gas lease covering an 11,300-acre tract in Howard County, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Energen Resources Corp. and John Quinn, holding that the contested provision of the lease in this case was ambiguous.The lease at issue allowed Endeavor Energy Resources, L.P. to retain its leasehold interest in the parcel only by drilling a new well every 150 days, with the exception that Endeavor could "accumulate unused days in any 150-day term...in order to extend the next allowed 150-day term between the completion of one well and the drilling of a subsequent well." At issue on appeal was how to calculate the number of "unused days." Energen and Quinn argued that the contested provision unambiguously allowed unused days earned in any term to be carried forward only once to the next 150-day term. The trial court agreed, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the disputed provision was ambiguous. View "Endeavor Energy Resources, LP v. Energen Resources Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's decision granting summary judgment for John Chervenak, trustee of the Chervenak Family Trust, and declaring the trust the owner of the disputed mineral rights in this case, holding that the Chervenaks satisfied the notice requirements of the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act.Timothy Gerrity filed this action to quiet title and for a declaratory judgment, claiming that he was the rightful owner of severed mineral rights under the Chervenak property. At issue was whether the Chervenaks satisfied the notice requirements that the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, Ohio Rev. Code 5301.56(E)(1), imposes as prerequisites to deeming a severed mineral interest abandoned and vested in the owner of the land subject to the mineral interest. The lower courts rendered judgment for Chervenak. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) application of the Dormant Mineral Act is not limited to circumstances in which every holder of a severed mineral interest has been identified; and (2) a surface owner must use reasonable diligence to identify and locate holders of a severed mineral interest, but what constitutes reasonable diligence will vary based on the facts of each case. View "Gerrity v. Chervenak" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that there is no irreconcilable conflict between the general provisions of the Ohio Marketable Title Act, Ohio Rev. Code 5301.47 et seq., as applied to severed mineral interests, and the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, Ohio Rev. Code 5301.56.Appellants claimed they were the owners of a portion of a severed royalty interest in oil and gas underlying about sixty-six acres of land in Monroe County. Appellees filed this action for a declaratory judgment that the Marketable Title Act had extinguished the severed royalty interest and had vested that previously severed interest in Appellees. Appellants argued that the Dormant Mineral Act supersedes and controls over the original Marketable Title Act due to a conflict between the two acts. The trial court declared Appellants the owners of a 1/16 royalty interest, holding that the Dormant Mineral Act irreconcilably conflicts with the general provisions of the Marketable Title Act and that the more specific Dormant Mineral Act controls. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there is no irreconcilable conflict between the two acts, and therefore, they are applied as independent, alternative statutory mechanisms that may be used to reunite severed mineral interests with the surface property subject to those interests. View "West v. Bode" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs in an action brought against Equinor and SWN, challenging the deduction of post-production costs from royalties paid to plaintiffs pursuant to an oil and gas lease between the parties. The district court held that the lease failed to properly provide for the method of calculating post-production costs.The court held, however, that the lease provisions regarding royalty payments satisfy Estate of Tawney v. Columbia Natural Resources, LLC, 633 S.E.2d 22 (W. Va. 2006), and are otherwise consistent with West Virginia law. In this case, the lease suffices under Tawney to indicate the method for calculating the amount of post-production costs to be deducted when calculating plaintiffs' royalties; that method is simply to add up all of the identified, reasonable, and actually incurred post-production costs, and deduct them from SWN and Equinor's gross proceeds; and the amount is then adjusted for plaintiffs' fractional share of the total pooled acreage and their royalty rate. Especially in light of Leggett v. EQT Production Co., 800 S.E.2d 850 (W. Va. 2017), the court concluded that West Virginia law demands nothing more. The court found it unnecessary to certify any issue of law. View "Young v. Equinor USA Onshore Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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MVP asked two Army Corps districts to verify that, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, MVP's proposed discharge of dredged and/or fill material into waters of the United States in furtherance of construction of a natural gas pipeline in those districts could be governed by the Army Corps' 2017 nationwide permit (NWP) referred to as NWP 12. The Huntington District issued a verification, determining that the Pipeline project met the criteria for operation under the NWP 12, excusing the project from the individual permitting process (the "Verification"). The Norfolk District did the same, issuing a reinstatement of its prior verification allowing MVP to use NWP 12 in that district (the "Reinstatement"). Petitioners filed petitions for agency review of the Verification and Reinstatement pursuant to the Natural Gas Act (NGA) and filed the instant motions to stay.The Fourth Circuit concluded that petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits of their petitions for review, and other equitable factors weigh in favor of granting the motions for stay. The court explained that the Verification was likely issued in contravention of applicable law because the Army Corps impermissibly incorporated into NWP 12 a modified permit condition from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP). Furthermore, because the Verification was likely issued in contravention of law, the Reinstatement (which necessarily depends on the validity of the Verification) is likely defective as well. Therefore, the court granted petitioners' motions for a stay of the Huntington District's Verification and the Norfolk District's Reinstatement until such time as the court may consider the petitions for review on their merits. However, the court concluded that petitioners are not likely to succeed on the merits of their challenges to the Army Corps' 2017 issuance of NWP 12 itself because the court likely lacks jurisdiction to entertain such challenges. View "Sierra Club v. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Revolution Resources, LLC, (Revolution), an oil and gas well operator, filed an action under the Oklahoma Surface Damages Act (SDA), to Appoint Appraisers. In February 2018, Revolution acquired and became the operator of a 30,000 acre unit that was created in 1947 pursuant to Order 20212 of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC). The unit wasknown as the West Edmond Hunton Lime Unit (WEHLU). Defendant-appellant Annecy, LLC, (Annecy) purchased the subject premises in August 2019, with the intent to build expensive luxury homes. Appellant unsuccessfully sought a temporary injunction against Appellee's operations. Appellant appealed the interlocutory order denying its motion for temporary injunction. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted an injunction pending the appeal. Appellant was required to post a bond securing the cost and attorney fees of the Appellee if the Supreme Court determined later the temporary injunction should not have been granted. The Supreme Court concluded the injunction should not have been granted: Annecy purchased its surface estate subject to the outstanding mineral estate held by Revolution. Annecy's surface estate is servient to that of Revolution's mineral estate. Annecy did not meet its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it would be irreparably harmed by Revolution's oil and gas operations. Having failed to establish one of the four factors required, i.e., irreparable harm, by clear and convincing evidence, Annecy did not meet its burden to prove all necessary factors to obtain extraordinary relief, therefore its motion for temporary injunction was correctly denied. The temporary injunction granted by the Supreme Court was dissolved, and the matter remanded for further proceedings to determine the costs and attorney fees owed the Appellee which were secured by bond. View "Revolution Resources, LLC v. Annecy, LLC" on Justia Law

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Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of Public Resources Code section 25531, which limits judicial review of decisions by the Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission on the siting of thermal power plants. Section 25531(a) provides that an Energy Commission siting decision is “subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court of California.” The plaintiffs contend this provision abridges the original jurisdiction of the superior courts and courts of appeal over mandate petitions, as conferred by California Constitution Article VI, section 10. Section 25531(b) provides that findings of fact in support of a Commission siting determination “are final,” allegedly violating the separation of powers doctrine by depriving courts of their essential power to review administrative agency findings (Cal. Const., Art. III, section 3; Art. VI, section 1).The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The Article VI grant of original jurisdiction includes the superior courts and courts of appeal and may not be circumscribed by statute, absent some other constitutional provision. Legislative amendments to section 25531 have broken the once-tight link between the regulatory authority of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Energy Commission power plant siting decisions, such that the plenary power Article XII grants the Legislature over PUC activities no longer authorizes section 25531(a). Section 25531(b) violates the judicial powers clause by preventing courts from reviewing whether substantial evidence supports the Commission’s factual findings. View "Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission" on Justia Law

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The California State Lands Commission and Aspen American Insurance Company filed suit against Plains Pipeline and its affiliate, alleging that when Plains's negligent maintenance of a pipeline resulted in disrupting the flow of oil, it also disrupted the payment of royalty income to the Commission, and caused damage to improvements on the Commission's land.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment in favor of Plains, holding that Plains is not exempt from liability for the interruption in service. The court explained that no statute grants immunity to public utilities and whether immunity applies is a question of judicial policy. In this case, Plains does not deliver essential municipal services to members of the general public and, although it is called a public utility, it is a private business, entitled to no more immunity from liability than any ordinary private business. The court also held that the complaint alleges sufficient facts to show a special relationship between the parties that allows the Commission to recover purely economic damages. As for the reverse condemnation claim raised for the first time on appeal, the court noted that the proper procedure is to make any motion to amend in the trial court in the first instance. View "State Lands Commission v. Plains Pipeline, L.P." on Justia Law