Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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National Parks Conservation Association (“NPCA”) appealed a judgment affirming a final permit decision by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, formerly the Department of Health Environmental Health Section, to issue Meridian Energy Group, Inc. an air quality permit to construct a refinery. In October 2016, Meridian submitted its initial application and supporting documentation to the Department for a permit to construct the Davis Refinery, as required under North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the federal Clean Air Act. The Department received over 10,000 comments, with most of the substantive comments coming from NPCA, the National Park Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency. NPCA filed comments with the Department supported by its two experts’ opinions, asserting that Meridian’s oil refinery would be a “major source,” rather than a “minor source,” of air pollution and that the permit does not contain “practically enforceable” emissions limits under the federal Clean Air Act and North Dakota’s air pollution control rules implementing the Clean Air Act. After considering public comments and Meridian’s responses, the Department’s Air Quality Division recommended to the State Health Officer that the Department issue a final permit because the Davis Refinery’s emissions are expected to comply with the applicable North Dakota air pollution control rules. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Department did not act arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably in issuing the permit. View "Nat'l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al." on Justia Law

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Mark Hiepler, as the trustee of the Orville G. Hiepler and Florence L. Hiepler Family Trust (“Trust”), appealed a judgment ordering him to transfer certain Trust property to Bill Seerup, and appealed an order denying his motion to dismiss. In April 2007, Orville and Florence Hiepler deeded 150 net mineral acres in Williams County to Seerup in exchange for $15,609. The mineral deed did not refer to the Trust or Orville and Florence Hiepler’s role as co-trustees. When the deed was executed, Orville individually owned only 7.3636 mineral acres. The remaining 142.6 mineral acres were owned by the Trust. Nine days after receiving the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler, Seerup conveyed 135 mineral acres to Hurley Oil Properties, Inc. In 2014, Dale Exploration, LLC, filed suit to quiet title to the 150 net mineral acres conveyed in the mineral deed from Orville and Florence Hiepler to Seerup. Seerup and Hurley Oil also brought a claim for breach of contract against Orville and Florence Hiepler, individually and as co-trustees, requesting specific performance or, alternatively, money damages if specific performance was not ordered. In 2017, the district court dismissed Dale Exploration’s claims on summary judgment, finding there was no evidence that Dale Exploration had an interest in the property. A bench trial was held on the remaining issues. The court found the Hieplers own the mineral interests in fee simple as trustees, not as individuals. The court also found the Hieplers breached the mineral deed to Seerup and the proper remedy was damages, not specific performance. The court awarded damages in the amount of $20,147.96. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed that judgment and remanded for further proceedings on whether money damages were adequate in light of specific performance. Orville died after the Supreme Court's judgment and mandate were issued. Orville and Mark responded to a proposed order drafted by Seerup and Hurley Oil, arguing the pleasings did not adequately assert specific performance. Specific performance of the mineral deed was ultimately granted. Mark Hiepler argues the district court erred in ordering him to convey the property to Seerup because the court did not have jurisdiction to enter a judgment against the Trust, the claims abated upon Orville Hiepler’s death, and he could not be substituted as a party for Orville Hiepler. Finding no error in the district court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al." on Justia Law

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Thomas Lockhart appealed an order finding him in contempt, imposing a sanction requiring the forfeiture of $300,000 to Douglas Arnold and Thomas Arnold, and divesting him of any management rights in Trident Resources, LLC. In 2013, Lockhart and the Arnolds entered into business capturing and compressing natural gas. The parties formed Trident Resources, with Lockhart owning a 70% interest and each of the Arnolds owning a 15% interest. Trident Resources owned two well processing units (WPUs), each purchased for $300,000. In 2015, the Arnolds initiated this action seeking reformation of the Trident Resources’ member control and operating agreement to clarify the parties’ respective ownership interests. Following a bench trial, the court ordered the entry of a judgment confirming Lockhart’s ownership of a 70% interest and each of the Arnold’s 15% ownership interest in Trident Resources. Before the entry of the judgment, Lockhart informed the Arnolds he had received an offer from Black Butte Resources to purchase one of the WPUs for $300,000. The Arnolds consented to the sale, provided the proceeds were deposited into their attorney’s trust account. When it appeared Lockhart had failed to deposit the funds into the trust account, the Arnolds filed a motion seeking to discover the location of the WPU and the sale proceeds. Before the hearing on the Arnolds’ motion, Lockhart deposited $100,000 into the account. The trial court ordered Lockhart to provide information regarding the WPU sold and the date the remaining $200,000 would be deposited. Lockhart eventually deposited $200,000 into the trust account and filed an affidavit stating Black Butte had purchased the WPU and the WPU had been transferred to Black Butte. Subsequent to Lockhart filing his affidavit, the Arnolds learned the WPU had not been sold to Black Butte for $300,000, but had instead been sold to another party for $500,000. The Arnolds filed a motion requesting the court to find Lockhart in contempt and for the imposition of appropriate sanctions. At the hearing on the motion, Lockhart conceded his affidavit was false and stipulated to the entry of a finding of contempt. On appeal, Lockhart argued the district court’s order improperly imposed a punitive sanction for his contempt. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the circumstances necessary for the imposition of a punitive sanction were not present prior to the imposition of the sanction in this case. The Court was left with an insufficient record to review the appropriateness of the imposition of a remedial sanction in the amount ordered by the trial court. reverse and remand this case to the district court for further findings in support of the sanction imposed for Lockhart’s contempt. The trial court judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further findings. View "Arnold, et al. v. Trident Resources, et al." on Justia Law

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North Star Water, LLC, provided water to oil drilling companies. In September 2014, North Star hired Northwest Grading, Inc., to construct an underground water pipeline from the Missouri River to North Star’s various pumping stations. Northwest Grading sent regular invoices to North Star during the course of construction. In August 2015, Northwest Grading informed North Star it owed a balance of $91,072.99. Northwest Grading notified North Star it would repossess the pipeline if it were not paid immediately. Northwest Grading did not receive payment. Employees of Northwest Grading made the pipeline inoperable by closing valves and filling the valve boxes with dirt and concrete. As a result, North Star was temporarily unable to sell water to at least one of its customers. Northwest Grading sued North Star for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and foreclosure of a construction lien. North Star counterclaimed for fictitious billing, trespass, and damage to property through unlawful repossession. The district court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order for judgment in October 2018. The court found a business relationship existed between Northwest Grading and North Star, but not based on a written contract. The court concluded Northwest Grading was not authorized to repossess the pipeline by pouring concrete in the valve boxes, and its doing so was a breach of the peace. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err as to either party’s damages and did not abuse its discretion by denying Northwest Grading’s motion to strike testimony. The Court modified the judgment to correct the calculation of interest, and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Northwest Grading, Inc. v. North Star Water, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Cheryl Reese appealed an amended judgment entered after the district court granted summary judgment deciding ownership of certain mineral interests and the right to receive the mineral royalties and bonus payments. In 2005, Dennis Reese and Tia Reese-Young, who both owned an interest in the minerals at the time, entered into an oil and gas lease for the property. After several conveyances, Dennis and Cheryl Reese owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as joint tenants, and Reese-Young owned a 12.5% interest in the minerals as a tenant in common with Dennis and Cheryl. In July 2008, Dennis and Cheryl conveyed their 12.5% interest to Reese-Young by quit claim deed and reserved a life estate interest in the minerals. Dennis died in September 2008. In 2017, Cheryl sued Tia Reese-Young to quiet title and for declaratory judgment determining that Cheryl was the sole remaining life tenant in the property and that she was entitled to all of the proceeds to be derived from the minerals during her lifetime. Reese-Young argued the deed creating the life estate in Cheryl Reese did not explicitly reserve to Cheryl Reese an interest in the royalties, the deed was unambiguous, there were no disputed issues of material fact, and Tia Reese-Young is entitled to all of the income derived from the oil and gas production as a matter of law. Cheryl argued the unambiguous language of the deed established she reserved a life estate in the minerals and she was entitled to receive the royalty payments under the open mines doctrine because an oil and gas lease had been executed and oil and gas were being produced before the life estate was created. When the district court ruled in favor of Reese-Young, Cheryl appealed. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded as a matter of law, Cheryl was entitled to the proceeds from the oil and gas production, including the royalties and bonus payments, and she was not required to hold the proceeds in trust for Reese-Young. Judgment was reversed. View "Reese v. Reese-Young" 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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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

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In 2011, Plaintiffs Rhonda Pennington, Steven Nelson, Donald Nelson, and Charlene Bjornson executed oil and gas leases for property in McKenzie County, North Dakota. Each lease term was three years with a lessee option to extend for an additional year. The leases were assigned to Continental Resources in September 2014, and it exercised an extension option. The leases included a provision that the leases would not terminate if drilling operations were delayed by an inability to obtain permits. In May 2012, Continental applied for a drilling permit on a 2,560-acre spacing unit that included the lands covered by the leases. The 2,560 acres included lands inhabited by the Dakota Skipper butterfly, which was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Continental could not begin drilling operations until receiving federal approval. In August 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion relating to the impact of Continental’s proposed drilling on the Dakota Skipper. On October 1, 2015, Continental proposed measures to minimize the impact of its operations on the Dakota Skipper. On October 21, 2015, Continental recorded an affidavit of regulation and delay, stating it had not yet obtained federal regulatory approval to drill, and the primary term of the leases was extended under the “regulation and delay” paragraph of the leases. The following day, Continental applied to terminate the 2,560-acre spacing unit and create a 1,920-acre spacing unit to remove the Dakota Skipper habitat. In November 2015, the Industrial Commission approved the 1,920-acre spacing unit. In January 2016, the commission pooled all of the oil and gas interests in the 1,920-acre spacing unit for the development and operation of the spacing unit. Following the January 2016 order, Continental began drilling operations. In August 2017, the Plaintiffs sued Continental, alleging the leases expired on October 25, 2015, and Continental’s delay in obtaining regulatory approval to drill did not extend the leases. Plaintiffs appealed a district court ruling the “regulation and delay” provision in their oil and gas leases with Continental Resources extended the term of the leases. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court concluded the delay in obtaining drilling permits for the 2,560-acre spacing unit was beyond Continental’s control and was not because of Continental’s fault or negligence. However, the court did not address whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith in pursuing a permit to drill the 2,560-acre spacing unit for more than three years. Viewing the evidence and inferences to be drawn from the evidence in a light favorable to the Plaintiffs, a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Continental acted diligently and in good faith. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings on that issue. View "Pennington, et al. v. Continental Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands (“the State”) appealed a district court’s interpretation of royalty provisions of natural gas leases with Newfield Exploration Company, Newfield Production Company, and Newfield RMI LLC (“Newfield”). The State argued the district court’s interpretation of the leases improperly allowed the reduction of the royalty payments to account for expenses incurred to make the natural gas marketable. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the gross proceeds from which the royalty payments under the leases were calculated could not be reduced by an amount that either directly or indirectly accounted for post-production costs incurred to make the gas marketable. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law

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Steve Forster, Daniel Krebs, and Debra Krebs (collectively “Forster/Krebs”) appealed summary judgment that dismissed their claims against B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court correctly construed the language in the parties’ lease agreement, as a whole, to operated as a waiver of claims against each other for damages to the leased building and the contents therein. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the provision in the parties’ lease waiving any claims against the other for any loss or damage to the leased premises or property therein was unenforceable to the extent it exempted B&B Hot Oil from responsibility for a willful or negligent violation of law. The Court thus affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "James Vault & Precast Co., et al. v. B&B Hot Oil Service, Inc., et al." on Justia Law