Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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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

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment and held that, under the particular circumstances presented here, Ultra Resources is not subject to a separate public-law obligation to continue performance of its rejected contract, and that 11 U.S.C. 1129(a)(6) did not require the bankruptcy court to seek FERC's approval before it confirmed Ultra Resource's reorganization plan.Applying In re Mirant Corp., 378 F.3d 511 (5th Cir. 2004), the court concluded that the power of the bankruptcy court to authorize rejection of a filed-rate contract does not conflict with the authority given to FERC to regulate rates; rejection is not a collateral attack upon the contract's filed rate because that rate is given full effect when determining the breach of contract damages resulting from the rejection; and in ruling on a rejection motion, bankruptcy courts must consider whether rejection harms the public interest or disrupts the supply of energy, and must weigh those effects against the contract's burden on the bankrupt estate. Because Mirant clearly holds that rejection of a contract is not a collateral attack on the filed rate, the court concluded that FERC does not have the authority to compel continued performance and continued payment of the filed rate after a valid rejection. The court rejected any further arguments to the contrary. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Ultra Resources" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) Title III court allowing certain expenses incurred by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) under a contract entered into with LUMA Energy, LLC and LUMA Energy ServCo, LLC (collectively, LUMA) as entitled to administrative expense priority pursuant to section 503(b)(1)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code, holding that there was no error.In 2017, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB) filed for bankruptcy on behalf of PREPA. In 2020, PREPA entered into a contract with LUMA, a private consortium, to transfer the operations and management of PREPA to LUMA. At issue was whether the Title III court erred in allowing expenses incurred by PREPA under the contract as entitled to administrative expense priority. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) section 503(b)(1)(A) applies in Title III cases; (2) the Title III court did not abuse its discretion in applying the requirements of section 503(b)(1)(A); and (3) the Title III court correctly held that 48 U.S.C. 2126(e) prevents it from reviewing challenges to FOMB's certification decision. View "Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority" on Justia Law

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The United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma certified two questions of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. White Star Petroleum, LLC, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary, White Star Petroleum II, LLC were engaged in the business of exploring, acquiring, drilling, and producing oil and natural gas, either as an operator or non-operating working interest owner of various leaseholds across Oklahoma. In 2019, several of White Star's unpaid vendors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against White Star. White Star and its affiliates filed a voluntary petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. During the bankruptcy proceedings, 78 unpaid vendors filed adversary proceedings seeking adjudication of statutory lien claims under 42 O.S. 144 against White Star's interests in various wells and establishment of trust fund claims under 42 O.S. 144.2. These proceedings were stayed when White Star initiated two adversary proceedings of its own. The first sought adjudication of the priority, validity, and value of approximately 2,000 mechanic's and materialman's liens ("M&M liens") asserted by the 78 unpaid vendors over various interests held by White Star. The second sought an order of the Bankruptcy Court directing several first purchasers of oil and gas to turn over to White Star approximately 2 million dollars, which were being held in suspense after the purchasers received statutory lien notices from the M&M lien claimants. The Bankruptcy Court certified the questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to aid in the resolution of these two adversary proceedings. The federal court asked: (1) were the "trust funds" created by Title 42 O.S. 144.2 limited to obligations due non-operator joint working interest owners, or did such funds include payments due holders of mechanic's and materialmen's liens arising under and perfected by Title 42 O.S. 144?; and (2) did the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act of 2010, grant an operator and non-operator working interest owners a lien in proceeds from purchasers of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialmen's lien asserted under Title 42 O.S. 144? The Supreme Court found that answering both questions would have been dispositive of issues pending in the underlying bankruptcy proceedings and that there was then no controlling law on the subject matter of either question. The Court answered both questions in the negative: funds which must be held in trust for payment of lienable claims pursuant to 42 O.S. 144.2 were not exclusively limited to joint-interest billing payments received by operators for services rendered by the lienholders; the Oil and Gas Owners' Lien Act did not grant operators and non-operating working interest owners a lien in proceeds from the sale of oil and gas which is prior and superior to any claim of the holder of a mechanic's and materialman's lien asserted under 42 O.S. 144. View "White Star Petroleum v. MUFG Union Bank" on Justia Law

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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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Two federal district courts certified questions of law to the Alaska Supreme Court involving the state’s “mineral dump lien” statute. In 1910, the United States Congress passed Alaska’s first mineral dump lien statute, granting laborers a lien against a “dump or mass” of hard-rock minerals for their work creating the dump. The mineral dump lien statute remained substantively unchanged since, and rarely have issues involving the statute arisen. The Supreme Court accepted certified questions from both the United States District Court and the United States Bankruptcy Court regarding the scope of the mineral dump lien statute as applied to natural gas development. Cook Inlet Energy, LLC operated oil and gas wells in southcentral Alaska. In November 2014, Cook Inlet contracted with All American Oilfield, LLC to “drill, complete, engineer and/or explore three wells” on Cook Inlet’s oil and gas leaseholds. All American began work soon thereafter, including drilling rig operations, digging holes, casing, and completing the gas wells. When All American concluded its work the following summer, Cook Inlet was unable to pay. In June 2015 All American recorded liens against Cook Inlet, including a mine lien under AS 34.35.125 and a mineral dump lien under AS 34.35.140. In October, after its creditors filed an involuntary petition for relief, Cook Inlet consented to Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. In January 2016 All American filed an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court “to determine the validity and priority of its secured claims.” The bankruptcy court found that All American has a valid mine lien against the three wells. But the court denied All American’s asserted mineral dump lien against unextracted gas remaining in natural reservoirs. The court also concluded that All American’s mine lien was subordinate to Cook Inlet’s secured creditors’ prior liens, which would have consumed all of Cook Inlet’s assets and leave All American with nothing. All American appealed to the federal district court, which, in turn, certified questions regarding the Alaska mineral dump lien statute. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the statutory definition of “dump or mass” reflected that a mineral dump lien could extend only to gas extracted from its natural reservoir, that the lien may cover produced gas contained in a pipeline if certain conditions are met, and that to obtain a dump lien laborers must demonstrate that their work aided, broadly, in gas production. View "In re: Cook Inlet Energy, LLC, Gebhardt, v. Inman" on Justia Law

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After Whistler entered into a drilling contract with Nabors, Whistler entered into bankruptcy proceedings and rejected the contract. Nabors subsequently sought administrative priority in the bankruptcy proceeding for expenses incurred after the rejection of its contract, and the bankruptcy court granted the request in part and denied in part.The Fifth Circuit held that a creditor can establish that its expenses are attributable to the actions of the bankruptcy estate through evidence of either a direct request from the debtor-in-possession or other inducement via the knowing and voluntary post-petition acceptance of desired goods or services. The court clarified that when the debtor-in-possession induces availability and the bankruptcy estate derives a benefit from it, the ordinary cost of ensuring such availability qualifies as an administrative expense. The court remanded for the bankruptcy court to determine (1) whether Whistler induced Nabors to stay on the platform; (2) the length of time Nabors stayed on the platform because of Whistler's post-petition needs; and (3) the actual and necessary costs of staying on the platform during this time period. The court left it to the bankruptcy court to clarify its own findings regarding Nabors's provision of services. Finally, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of Nabors' requests for administrative priority in full. View "Nabors Offshore Corp. v. Whistler Energy II, LLC" on Justia Law

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Vendors and contractors provided materials and services in connection with an offshore mineral lease. Under the Louisiana Oil Well Lien Act, La. Rev. Stat. 9:4863(A)(1), 9:4864(A)(1), they secured liens on the lessee’s operating interest upon the commencement of labor. They timely recorded the liens. The lessee later sold “term overriding royalty interests” to OHA. In the lessee’s subsequent bankruptcy proceeding, the service providers intervened, seeking to enforce their liens on OHA’s royalty interests. The district court agreed with the bankruptcy court and dismissed their complaints, concluding that the statute that created the liens extinguished them via a safe-harbor provision. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The safe-harbor question is one of statutory interpretation: Was OHA’s purchase of the overriding royalties a purchase of “hydrocarbons that are sold or otherwise transferred in a bona fide onerous transaction by the lessee or other person who severed or owned them” at severance? The royalties were “sold,” the transaction was “bona fide,” and the seller was a “lessee.” OHA purchased more than an interest in proceeds; it purchased an interest in the to-be-produced hydrocarbons themselves. A purchase of overriding royalties is a purchase of “hydrocarbons” under the statute, so the lienholders’ failure to provide pre-purchase notice renders their liens extinguished. View "OHA Investment Corp. v. Schlumberger Technology Corp." on Justia Law

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SemGroup purchased oil from producers and resold it to downstream purchasers. It also traded financial options contracts for the right to buy or sell oil at a fixed price on a future date. At the end of the fiscal year preceding bankruptcy, SemGroup’s revenues were $13.2 billion. SemGroup’s operating companies purchased oil from thousands of wells in several states and from thousands of oil producers, including from Appellants, producers in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The producers took no actions to protect themselves in case 11 of SemGroup’s insolvency. The downstream purchasers did; in the case of default, they could set off the amount they owed SemGroup for oil by the amount SemGroup would owe them for the value of the outstanding futures trades. When SemGroup filed for bankruptcy, the downstream purchasers were paid in full while the oil producers were paid only in part. The producers argued that local laws gave them automatically perfected security interests or trust rights in the oil that ended up in the hands of the downstream purchasers. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the downstream purchasers; parties who took precautions against insolvency do not act as insurers to those who took none. View "In re: SemCrude LP" on Justia Law

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ConocoPhillips Co. and Alma Energy Corp. exchanged oil and gas interests under an exchange agreement in which each indemnified the other for any environmental claims related to the properties received. Alma later filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Thereafter, Noble Energy Inc. agreed to by the properties Alma had received from Conoco under the exchange agreement. After the bankruptcy proceeding concluded, an environmental contamination suit was filed against Conoco, and Noble refused to indemnify Conoco under the exchange agreement. Conoco filed suit against Noble alleging breach of the exchange agreement and seeking to recover the $63 million it paid to settle the suit. The trial court granted summary judgment for Noble. The court of appeals reversed and entered summary judgment for Conoco, concluding that the exchange agreement was an executory contract that was assumed by Alma and assigned to Noble in the bankruptcy proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the terms of the bankruptcy court order confirming the plan of reorganization and the agreement for sale of Alma’s assets, Noble was assigned an undisclosed contractual indemnity obligation of Alma. View "Noble Energy, Inc. v. Conocophillips Co." on Justia Law