Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries
Boulder County Commissioners v. Suncor Energy
The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether federal court was the proper forum for a suit filed in Colorado state court by local governmental entities for the global warming-related damage allegedly caused by oil and gas companies in Colorado. Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil advanced seven bases for federal subject matter jurisdiction in removing the action to federal court, each of which the district court rejected in its remand order. Suncor Energy and ExxonMobil appealed, reiterating six of those bases for federal jurisdiction. After review, the Tenth Circuit held that 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) limited its appellate jurisdiction to just one of them: federal officer removal under 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(1). And because the Court concluded ExxonMobil failed to establish grounds for federal officer removal, the Court affirmed the district court’s order on that basis and dismissed the remainder of this appeal. View "Boulder County Commissioners v. Suncor Energy" on Justia Law
Digital Drilling Data Systems, LLC v. Petrolink Services, Inc.
Digidrill filed suit against its competitor, Petrolink, alleging that Petrolink hacked into its software at various oil drilling sites in order to "scrape" valuable drilling data in real time. The district court granted Petrolink's motion for summary judgment on Digidrill's copyright claims. Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim proceeded to trial, where a jury returned a verdict in Digidrill's favor. In regard to the copyright infringement claim, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that Digidrill likely waived its "qualitative importance" argument but, even if not, the argument fails on the merits because no reasonable jury could find substantial similarity based on the qualitative importance of the copied schema to DataLogger as a whole. The court also affirmed the district court's judgment as to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act claims, holding that the USB dongle and Interface Process did not effectively control access to the protected database schema. The court also held that Digidrill's unjust enrichment claim is not preempted by the Copyright Act because the claim incorporates an element beyond mere unauthorized copying. The court held that the available Texas authorities do not foreclose the possibility that a litigant may show the taking of an undue advantage without showing the violation of a law or legal duty. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of Petrolink's judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether Digidrill adduced sufficient evidence of the benefit Petrolink obtained from Digidrill. Finally, the court held that the district court failed to treat Petrolink as the prevailing party under the relevant statutes and failed to apply the correct legal standard. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's denial of Petrolink's motion for fees and remanded. View "Digital Drilling Data Systems, LLC v. Petrolink Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Allegheny Defense Project v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The DC Circuit denied the Commission's and Intervenor's motions to dismiss the petitions filed after thirty days of Commission inaction. The court explained that, before a party aggrieved by an order of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can obtain judicial review, that party must file an application for rehearing with the Commission. Congress directed that, if the Commission fails to act on that rehearing application within thirty days, the application may be deemed denied, allowing the aggrieved party to proceed to federal court. The court held that under the plain statutory language and context of the Natural Gas Act, such tolling orders are not the kind of action on a rehearing application that can fend off a deemed denial and the opportunity for judicial review. In this case, because the Commission's Tolling Order could not prevent the Homeowners and Environmental Associations from seeking judicial review, the initial petitions for review that they filed challenging the Certificate Order in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128 are properly before this court for review, and the motions to dismiss those petitions for lack of jurisdiction are denied. The court held that the Homeowners' and Environmental Associations' challenge to the Certificate Order falls short because the Commission did not rely on precedent agreements alone to find that the pipeline would be a matter of public convenience and necessity. Therefore, the court denied all four petitions for review, as well as the Commission's and Transco's motions to dismiss the petitions for review in Nos. 17-1098 and 17-1128. View "Allegheny Defense Project v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" on Justia Law
Nat’l Parks Conservation Assn., et al. v. ND Dept. of Env. Quality, et al.
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
Dale Exploration, et al. v. Hiepler, et al.
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
National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. v. Schueckler
The Court of Appeals held that the certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to National Fuel Gas Supply for its proposed construction of a ninety-nine-mile natural gas pipeline satisfied Eminent Domain Procedure Law (EDPL) 206(A) so as to entitle National Fuel to exercise eminent domain over the land in dispute without undertaking additional review of the pipeline's public benefit. National Fuel commenced this EDPL vesting proceeding seeking to acquire, by eminent domain, temporary construction easements and a fifty-foot-wide permanent easement over property owned by Landowners to facilitate construction of the pipeline. Supreme Court granted the EDPL petition, concluding that National Fuel made a prima facie showing of entitlement to the easements based on the FERC certification. The Appellate Division reversed, reasoning that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's intervening denial of National Fuel's application for a water quality certification meant that National Fuel no longer held a qualifying federal certificate for purposes of the EDPL 206(A) exemption. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because the FERC-issued certificate of public convenience and necessity did not condition National Fuel's eminent domain power on receipt of a water qualify certification, the federal certificate remained valid at all relevant times. View "National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. v. Schueckler" on Justia Law
Northeast Natural Energy LLC v. Pachira Energy LLC
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court granting a preliminary injunction, holding that the court did not err when it found Plaintiff had a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its claims and was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of action by the court. Pachira Energy LLC entered into an agreement with Northeast Natural Energy LLC establishing the Blacksville Area of Mutual Interest (Blacksville AMI) and setting forth guidelines for exploiting oil and gas leases and other mineral interests. Pachira later filed a complaint against Northeast Natural Energy LLC alleging that Northeast was breaching various agreements and was abusing its power to benefit itself, to the detriment of Pachira. Among other requests for relief, Pachira sought a permanent injunction stop Northeast's use of a jointly-owned water system within the Blacksville AMI to support Northeast's drilling operations outside the Blacksville AMI and to sell water to third parties outside the Blacksville AMI. The circuit court granted Pachira's motion for a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that it was fair for the circuit court to preserve the status quo until the parties' resolve the merits of their dispute and that there was no error in the preliminary injunction order. View "Northeast Natural Energy LLC v. Pachira Energy LLC" on Justia Law
United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association
Atlantic sought to construct a 604-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina, crossing 16 miles of land within the George Washington National Forest. Atlantic secured a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service, obtaining a right-of-way for a 0.1-mile segment of pipe 600 feet below a portion of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which also crosses the National Forest. The Fourth Circuit vacated the permit. The Supreme Court reversed. The Department of the Interior’s assignment of responsibility for the Appalachian Trail to the National Park Service did not transform the Trail land into land within the National Park System that is not eligible for a pipeline lease. The Forest Service had the authority to issue the special use permit. Under 16 U.S.C. 521, the Forest Service has jurisdiction over the National Forest. The National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 244(a), applies to the Appalachian Trail; the Secretary of the Interior has delegated to the National Park System the authority to enter into “rights-of-way” agreements for the Trail. The Leasing Act enables any “appropriate agency head” to grant “[r]ights-of-way through any Federal lands . . . for pipeline purposes,” 30 U.S.C. 185(a), except lands in the National Park System. The National Park System is administered by the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, 54 U.S.C. 100501. The Forest Service “right-of-way” agreements with the National Park Service for the Appalachian Trail did not convert National Forest “Federal lands” under the Leasing Act into “lands” within the “National Park System.” A right-of-way grant only nonpossessory rights of use. Although the federal government owns all lands involved, a right-of-way between two agencies grants only an easement, not jurisdiction over the land itself. View "United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association" on Justia Law
U.S. Exploration, LLC v. Griffin Producing Co.
In a dispute over ownership of certain oil and gas leases and royalty interests the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting partial summary judgment for Plaintiff and concluded that an unrecorded assignment of leasehold interests to Defendant did not defeat a subsequent modification and surrender of those same interests to Plaintiff, holding that the circuit court did not err. Specifically, the circuit court concluded that an unrecorded assignment of leasehold interests to Defendant U.S. Exploration, LLC did not defeat a subsequent modification and surrender of those same interests to Plaintiff Griffin Producing Company. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that the assignment and surrender from Magnum Oil Corporation to Griffin Producing Company “were valid documents that transferred title in the subject overriding royalty interests and surrendered the subject leasehold estates as of the time of their recording.” View "U.S. Exploration, LLC v. Griffin Producing Co." on Justia Law
Town of Weymouth v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
The First Circuit vacated an air permit granted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a proposed natural gas compression station set to be built in Weymouth, Massachusetts as part of Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC's Atlantic Bridge Project, holding that the DEP did not follow its own established procedures for assessing whether an electric motor was the Best Available Control Technology (BACT). The Atlantic Bridge Project is a natural gas pipeline connecting the Northeastern United States and Canada. The DEP approved Algonquin's non-major comprehensive plan application for the station and granted the station's air permit, certifying its compliance with the Massachusetts Clean Air Act (CAA), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, 142A-142F. Petitioners, nearby municipalities and two citizen-petition groups, argued that DEP violated the CAA and related laws and regulations. The First Circuit (1) vacated the air permit and remanded to DEP for it to conduct further proceedings, holding that the DEP's final decision excluding an electric motor was arbitrary and capricious; and (2) resolved the remaining issues in favor of DEP. View "Town of Weymouth v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection" on Justia Law