Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order and judgment upholding the Water Board's determination that Barclay was jointly and severally responsible with real party in interest Shell Oil for the cleanup and abatement of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds and other contaminants (the petroleum residue or waste) at the former Shell tank farm in Carson, California. The court rejected Barclay's claims that the Water Board failed to hold the type of hearing required by the Administrative Procedure Act and its Administrative Bill of Rights; the payments Shell made to the Water Board constituted a conflict of interest tainting the proceedings and the RCAO; Barclay's actions are protected by the safe harbor of Water Code section 13304, subdivision (j); Barclay did not cause or permit a discharge of waste because its actions were not performed with the required knowledge of the hazards created; and the trial court erred in refusing to admit and consider additional evidence proffered by Barclay. View "Barclay Hollander Corp. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on whether a solar energy project proposed by a local agency, the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (District), was exempt from, or whether the District must comply with, the zoning ordinances of the city in which the project is to be developed, the City of Hesperia (City). The District adopted a resolution that its proposed solar energy project was both (1) absolutely exempt from the City's zoning ordinances under Government Code section 53091(e) and (2) qualifiedly exempt under section 53096(a), following the requisite determination that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project. The City successfully challenged the resolution in the underlying superior court proceedings, where the court issued a judgment in favor of the City and a related writ of mandate directing that the District and its board comply with the City's zoning ordinance prior to implementing the project. The Court of Appeal affirmed: because the District's proposed project included the transmission of electrical energy, the exemption contained in section 53091(e) did not apply to the project; and because the administrative record did not contain substantial evidence to support the District's board's finding that there was no feasible alternative to the proposed location of the project, the District prejudicially abused its discretion in determining that the exemption contained in section 53096(a) applied to the project. View "City of Hesperia v. Lake Arrowead Comm. Serv. Dist." on Justia Law

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The Center for Biological Diversity appealed the denial of its petition for a writ of mandate challenging an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (Department) pursuant to a law known as Senate Bill No. 4. (Stats. 2013, ch. 313, sec. 2, enacting Sen. Bill No. 4; hereafter, Senate Bill No. 4.) Senate Bill No. 4 added sections 3150 through 3161 to the Public Resources Code to address the need for additional information about the environmental effects of well stimulation treatments such as hydraulic fracturing and acid well stimulation. As relevant here, Senate Bill No. 4 required the Department to prepare an EIR “pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ([Public Resources Code] Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) [CEQA]), to provide the public with detailed information regarding any potential environmental impacts of well stimulation in the state.” The Department prepared and certified an EIR. The Center filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the EIR under CEQA and Senate Bill No. 4. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the Center’s cause of action for violations of CEQA, and subsequently denied the petition for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in the denial of mandamus relief and affirmed. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. CA Dept. of Conservation" on Justia Law

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The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam (referred to as the Oroville Facilities Project, Project, Settlement Agreement or "SA"). The plaintiffs brought this action in the superior court to stay the license procedure on the premise the environmental effects of relicensing the dam concern the operation of the dam and that jurisdiction to review the matter lies in the state courts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. They claimed that a CEQA document offered to support the DWR’s application to FERC failed to consider the impact of climate change on the operation of the dam for all the purposes served by the dam. The superior court dismissed the complaint on the ground that predicting the impact of climate change is speculative. The plaintiffs appealed. A federal license is required by the Federal Power Act for the construction and operation of a hydroelectric dam. The license is issued by FERC. With one relevant exception, the FPA occupies the field of licensing a hydroelectric dam and bars review in the state courts of matters subject to review by FERC. Plaintiffs did not seek federal review as required by 18 C.F.R part 4.34(i)(6)(vii)(2003). The Court of Appeal concluded it lacked jurisdiction to hear this case. It returned the case to the trial court with an order to dismiss. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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This case arose from competing claims to a portion of the Yuba Goldfields, a 10,000-acre valley on both sides of the Yuba River near Marysville. At issue was whether an arbitration award resolving a dispute between plaintiff Cal Sierra Development, Inc. (Cal Sierra), and Western Aggregates, Inc., served as res judicata to bar Cal Sierra’s lawsuit against Western Aggregates’ licensee George Reed, Inc., and the licensee’s parent Basic Resources, Inc. The Court of Appeal concluded yes. View "Cal Sierra Development v. George Reed, Inc." on Justia Law

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Substantively, in three somewhat interconnected claims, Joe and Yvette Hardesty (collectively, Hardesty) attacked State Mining and Geology Board (Board) findings, contending the trial court misunderstood the legal force of his 19th century federal mining patents. He asserted he had a vested right to surface mine after the passage of SMARA without the need to prove he was surface mining on SMARA’s operative date of January 1, 1976. He argued the Board and trial court misapplied the law of nonconforming uses in finding Hardesty had no vested right, and separately misapplied the law in finding that his predecessors abandoned any right to mine. These contentions turned on legal disputes about the SMARA grandfather clause and the force of federal mining patents. Procedurally, Hardesty alleged the Board’s findings did not “bridge the gap” between the raw evidence and the administrative findings. Hardesty also challenged the fairness of the administrative process itself, alleging that purported ex parte communications by the Board’s executive director, Stephen Testa, tainted the proceedings. The Court of Appeal reviewed the facts, and found they undermined Hardesty’s claims: the fact that mines were worked on the property years ago does not necessarily mean any surface or other mining existed when SMARA took effect, such that any right to surface mine was grandfathered. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusions that, on this record, neither of these procedural claims proved persuasive. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment denying the mandamus petition. View "Hardesty v. State Mining & Geology Board" on Justia Law

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The trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of a gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. This appeal arose out of a condemnation action in which Fred Southam and Southam & Son (collectively, Southam) sought to introduce evidence of the value of their land for an underground natural gas storage project based on reservoir volume. The trial court’s in limine ruling excluded Southam’s valuation approach based on evidence all independently operated gas storage projects in California compensate landowners based on surface acres contributed to the project. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court properly considered evidence showing the development of an independently operated gas storage market that relied exclusively on surface acres as the valuation metric. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding a volume-based valuation approach based on Southam’s failure to present any evidence this vaulation approach had ever been used in the market for natural gas storage leases. Southam did not establish his entitlement to cross examine an expert before that expert may give a declaration in support of a pretrial motion. The remainder of Southam’s arguments were deemed forfeited for failure to develop the argument, to cite any legal authority, or to provide any citation to the appellate record. View "Central Valley Gas Storage v. Southam" on Justia Law