Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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In a case involving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a group of petitioners, the petitioners challenged FERC's decision to allow a new auction rule to be applied retroactively. The auction in question, run by PJM Interconnection LLC, determines the selling price for electricity. The petitioners argued that the retroactive application of the new rule violated the filed rate doctrine, which prohibits retroactive rates.The court agreed with the petitioners, granting their petitions and vacating the orders in question. The court found that the new rule was retroactive because it changed the legal consequence of a past action, specifically the calculation and posting of the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement. The LDA Reliability Requirement is a parameter used in the auction to determine the amount of electricity that must be produced to meet peak demand.The court noted that while the new rule allowed PJM to adjust the LDA Reliability Requirement downward to account for certain resources' lack of participation in the auction, the original tariff did not provide for this adjustment. Therefore, the new rule altered the legal consequence of the past action of calculating and posting the LDA Reliability Requirement.The court concluded that the retroactive application of the new rule violated the filed rate doctrine, and therefore FERC's approval of the rule was not in accordance with the law. The court emphasized that the doctrine's goal of predictability is of utmost importance and that FERC and the courts must respect the doctrine to ensure stability in the markets. As a result, only the portion of FERC's orders that allowed the new rule to be applied to the specific 2024/25 capacity auction was vacated. View "PJM Power Providers Group v. FERC" on Justia Law

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In the case at hand, the defendant, Christopher Condron, was convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States by obtaining payment for false claims. He had been involved in submitting applications to the United States Department of the Treasury for grant money in connection with supposed renewable energy projects. The applications were submitted on behalf of four different companies, which were created under the name of his then-girlfriend, Jessica Metivier.Condron appealed his conviction on three main grounds: 1) He argued that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction on all counts. 2) He claimed that the government's argument and evidence at trial constructively amended, or at least prejudicially varied from, one of the wire fraud counts. 3) He contended that the district court abused its discretion when it limited his cross-examination of a key government witness.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected all three arguments and affirmed Condron's conviction. It found that there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction, that the government did not constructively amend or prejudicially vary from the indictment, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting Condron's cross-examination of a key government witness. View "US v. Condron" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the ownership of mineral royalty interests in land in McKenzie County, North Dakota. The plaintiff, Petro-Hunt, L.L.C., operates several oil and gas wells on pooled spacing units, which include land owned by the defendant, Greggory Tank. Tank argued that Petro-Hunt had wrongly distributed less than the full well revenues due to him and other defendants based on five assignments executed in 1937.The Supreme Court of North Dakota upheld the district court's decision, concluding that the court correctly determined that the five 1937 assignments burdened Tank’s southwest quarter mineral interest in the subject property. The court further concluded that Tank was not entitled to an accounting under N.D.C.C. § 38-08-09.4(3) and failed to establish that Petro-Hunt was a fiduciary. The court also concluded that Tank did not provide any basis for holding a fiduciary duty exists under the facts and circumstances of this case.The court rejected Tank's argument that he has a statutory right to an accounting under N.D.C.C. § 38-08-08(1) and N.D.C.C. § 38-08-09.4(3), stating that these provisions do not apply to this case. The court further noted that Tank did not demonstrate the Industrial Commission unitized his interests under sections 38-08-09.1 through 38-08-09.16. Therefore, N.D.C.C. § 38-08-09.4(3) and its accounting requirements for a unitized area do not apply in this case.The court's decision affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Petro-Hunt v. Tank" on Justia Law

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In this case, a group of energy providers and their trade associations challenged orders by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which permitted a new auction rule to be applied retroactively to a pending auction. The auction was run by PJM Interconnection L.L.C., an entity that administers capacity auctions to ensure a reliable electric supply at competitive prices. PJM had applied the new rule to determine the auction results, but the petitioners argued that FERC's orders violated the filed rate doctrine, which forbids retroactive rates.The Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the petitioners. It found that the new auction rule, which allowed for an adjustment to the Locational Deliverability Area (LDA) Reliability Requirement (a key parameter in the auction process) after it had been calculated and posted, was retroactive. This was because it altered the legal consequence attached to a past action, in violation of the filed rate doctrine. The court ruled that FERC's orders were arbitrary and capricious and not in accordance with the law, and therefore vacated the portion of FERC's orders that allowed PJM to apply the new rule to the 2024/25 capacity auction. View "PJM Power Providers Group v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law

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The case involved David Papenhausen, who sustained an injury when his foot fell through a hole concealed by a layer of ice and snow on an oil well site operated by ConocoPhillips Company and Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Company LP. Papenhausen sued the companies under North Dakota law, alleging negligence and premises liability due to the existence of an unreasonably dangerous hole concealed by ice and snow due to the defendants' negligent maintenance of the well site.The Supreme Court of North Dakota answered two certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota concerning the state's natural accumulation rule, which generally precludes liability for injuries caused by natural accumulations of snow and ice. The questions asked whether the rule applies to an oil well site in a rural area and if it still applies if it conceals a condition substantially more dangerous than one typically associated with ice and snow.The court answered the first question in the affirmative, ruling that the natural accumulation rule does apply to a rural oil well site. The court reasoned that it is unreasonable to expect property owners to continually monitor and clear snow or ice from remote areas. For the second question, the court answered in the negative, stating that the concealment of a dangerous condition by snow or ice is outside the scope of the natural accumulation rule. The court held that when snow or ice conceals a separate danger, the question of the owner's duty is considered differently - focusing on the obviousness of that danger and whether the owner knew or should have known about it. View "Papenhausen v. ConocoPhillips Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of 214 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against Devon Energy Production Company, L.P. in a Texas state court, alleging that Devon had underpaid them over $100 million in oil-and-gas royalties. Devon, a citizen of Oklahoma, removed the case to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). The plaintiffs sought to have the case remanded to the state court based on CAFA’s “local controversy” exception. The district court agreed and ordered the case to be remanded.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's interpretation of the statute. The appellate court found that not all plaintiffs had incurred their "principal injuries" (financial harm from Devon's alleged underpayment of royalties) in Texas, as required under the "local controversy" exception of CAFA.Accordingly, the appellate court vacated the district court's judgment remanding the case to state court and directed that the case be reinstated on the district court's docket. This ruling signifies that the case will proceed in federal court, not state court. The court's ruling also clarified an important aspect of the CAFA's "local controversy" exception, specifically that all plaintiffs must have incurred their "principal injuries" in the state where the action was originally filed for the exception to apply. View "Cheapside Minerals v. Devon Energy" on Justia Law

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The case involves the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) and TRC Operating Company, an oil operator. CalGEM, tasked with overseeing the state's drilling operations, enacted new regulations requiring oil operators to cease operations when a "surface expression" exists, or when there is reason to believe a specific operation is causing a surface expression. The operations must remain dormant until CalGEM authorizes their resumption in writing.TRC, having been issued a regulatory notice to cease operations, complied but never received authorization to resume. TRC sought an administrative appeal, which went unheard. Consequently, TRC sought judicial review, arguing that the regulations were invalid and CalGEM's actions were arbitrary and capricious.The trial court agreed with TRC, ruling the regulations were invalid, and granted declaratory relief. CalGEM appealed, arguing the regulations were valid and did not abuse its discretion in issuing the notice to TRC. The court concluded that the regulations were valid as they were consistent with the overall statutory scheme and were supported by substantial evidence. The court vacated the trial court's writ, and remanded the matter to the trial court to consider in the first instance whether CalGEM's actions in this case were arbitrary or capricious. View "TRC Operating Co. v. Shabazian" on Justia Law

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In the case of Maryann Jones v. Solgen Construction, LLC and GoodLeap, LLC, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court's decision not to compel arbitration. The case concerned a business relationship involving the installation of home solar panels. The appellants, Solgen Construction and GoodLeap, had appealed the trial court's denial of their separate motions to compel arbitration, arguing that the court had erred in several ways, including by concluding that no valid agreement to arbitrate existed.Jones, the respondent, had filed a lawsuit alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligence, and violations of various consumer protection laws. She contended that she had been misled into believing she was signing up for a free government program to lower her energy costs, not entering into a 25-year loan agreement for solar panels. The appellants argued that Jones had signed contracts containing arbitration clauses, but the court found that the appellants had failed to meet their burden of demonstrating the existence of a valid arbitration agreement. The court also held that the contract was unenforceable due to being unconscionable.The appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision, rejecting the appellants' arguments that an evidentiary hearing should have been held and that the court had erred in its interpretation of the evidence and the law. It found that the trial court had not abused its discretion and that its finding that the appellants failed to meet their burden of proof was not erroneous as a matter of law. View "Jones v. Solgen Construction" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to remand two lawsuits back to Maryland state court. The lawsuits were brought by the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County against more than 20 energy companies, including BP P.L.C. The local governments accused the companies of misrepresenting and concealing information about the environmental impact of their fossil fuel products in violation of Maryland's Consumer Protection Act and various state tort laws. The companies tried to remove the cases to federal court, arguing that because they had acted under federal authority in their operations, the court had federal question jurisdiction. However, the appeals court found that the company's activities related to fossil fuel production were not relevant to the claims brought by the local governments, which were based on alleged concealment or misrepresentation of information about fossil fuel products. The court also rejected the companies' argument that the First Amendment question related to their right to free speech provided a basis for federal jurisdiction, as this question was a defense rather than a necessary element of the plaintiffs' state-law claims. View "Anne Arundel County v. BP P.L.C." on Justia Law

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The case involves Toolpushers Supply Co., a Wyoming-based company with a retail location in Mississippi that sells supplies and items used in the oil-and-gas industry. In 2016, the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) audited Toolpushers’ sales and concluded that the company owed an additional $124,728 based on the failure to remit sales tax on certain sales. Toolpushers considered these sales wholesale and thus tax-exempt, but the MDOR determined they were not qualified as wholesale. Toolpushers appealed to the MDOR’s Board of Review, which affirmed the decision. The company then appealed to the Mississippi Board of Tax Appeals, which also affirmed. Toolpushers continued to appeal to the Hinds County Chancery Court, First Judicial District, and both Toolpushers and the MDOR sought summary judgment. The chancellor denied Toolpushers’ motion and granted the MDOR’s. Toolpushers then appealed to the Supreme Court of Mississippi.The Supreme Court of Mississippi stated that the chancery court correctly applied the de novo standard of review. The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the chancery court, which in turn affirmed the MDOR’s decision. The Supreme Court agreed with the chancery court that Toolpushers could not establish its claim that the sales were wholesale. The court emphasized that the amended Mississippi Code Section 27-77-7(5) made it clear that the chancery court should give no deference to the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals, the Board of Review, or the Department of Revenue when trying the case de novo and conducting a full evidentiary judicial hearing on all factual and legal issues raised by the taxpayer. The court declared that the Court of Appeals' decision to discuss and apply caselaw addressing the pre-2015 version of Section 27-65-77, seemingly giving deference to the MDOR’s tax decision, was an error but was not reversible. View "Toolpushers Supply Co. v. Mississippi Department of Revenue" on Justia Law