Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries
Tres C, LLC v. Raker Resources
Plaintiff-respondent Tres C, LLC was an Oklahoma limited liability company whose members were Viola "Tincy" Cowan, her son David Cowan, her daughter Karlea Cowan Ewald, her grandson Scot Meier, and her granddaughter Marsha Bukowski. Tres C was a successor-in-interest to certain mineral interests a the 320-acre lot in Blaine County, Oklahoma, that were formerly owned by the parents of Tincy's late husband, George and Coral Cowan. In February 1955, George and Carol Cowan executed an oil and gas lease in favor of J.J. Wright (hereinafter "the Lessee") concerning those mineral interests. Under its habendum clause, the Cowan Lease would remain valid for a primary term lasting 10 years and then--so long as a producing well was drilled--for a secondary term lasting "as long thereafter as oil, gas, casinghead gas, casinghead gasoline, or any of the products covered by this lease is or can be produced." Defendants-petitioners were the Lessee's current successors-in-interest under the Cowan Lease. This appeal concerned the trial court's judgment that granted Plaintiff's petition to cancel defendant's oil and gas lease and to quiet title in its favor so that a third party could exercise the option of executing a new lease. The Court of Civil Appeals conditionally affirmed the trial court's judgment, but remanded the matter with instructions to address the noncontractual defense of obstructions, set forth in Jones v. Moore, 338 P.2d 872. The Oklahoma Supreme Court granted certiorari to address whether the trial court erred in applying a rule of law that analyzed only a 3-month window of time for assessing whether a dip in the existing well's production was a cessation of production in paying quantities such that defendants' lease expired by its own terms. On de novo review, the Court found the trial court did err insofar as it relied upon the lease's cessation-of-production clause to define the time period for assessing profitability. The Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, reversed the trial court's judgment, quieted title in favor of Defendants, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Tres C, LLC v. Raker Resources" on Justia Law
Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al.
In 2018, Mwande Serge Kpiele-Poda ("Employee") was injured at a wellsite while repairing a conveyor that activated and crushed his legs. While Employee's Workers' Compensation claim was still pending, he filed a petition asserting negligence and products liability against his employers, two wellsite operators, and the manufacturers and distributors of the conveyor. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. was named in the body of the petition but omitted from the caption. After the statute of limitations period expired, Employee amended his petition to add Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as a defendant in the petition's caption. A second amended petition added other parties. Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. moved to dismiss arguing the claim was time-barred because the amended petition did not relate back to the first petition. Employee's employers also moved to dismiss arguing the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act and Oklahoma precedent precluded employees from simultaneously maintaining an action before the Workers' Compensation Commission and in the district court. The district court granted each dismissal motion and certified each order as appealable. The Oklahoma Supreme Court retained and consolidated Employee's separate appeals, holding: (1) the district court erred when it dismissed Employee's action against Ovintiv Mid-Continent, Inc. as time-barred; and (2) the district court properly dismissed Employee's intentional tort action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Kpiele-Poda v. Patterson-UTI Energy, et al." on Justia Law
Solar Energy Industries Association v. FERC
The Edison Electric Institute and NorthWestern Corporation, d/b/a NorthWestern Energy (collectively, “Utilities”) petition for review of an order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission”) in which the Commission granted Broadview Solar’s application to become a qualifying facility under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (“PURPA”). The Solar Energy Industries Association (“SEIA”) petitions for review of the Commission’s denial of its motion to intervene in the adjudication of Broadview’s application. The DC Circuit concluded that the Commission’s interpretation of the statute is entitled to deference and that the Commission did not act arbitrarily or capriciously and accordingly denied the Utilities’ petitions. The court explained that the Utilities challenge the Commission’s decision to look at Broadview’s instantaneous net power output and not its power output over time. The statute measures “power production capacity” in “megawatts.” But power production over time is measured in “megawatt-hours.” Rather than being arbitrary and capricious, the Commission’s focus on instantaneous power production adhered to the statutory language. Further, the court dismissed SEIA’s petitions because it lacks Article III standing. The court explained that SEIA’s failure to timely intervene is the result of its own mistaken judgment. The effect of that mistake—SEIA’s inability to participate in the Commission’s proceedings—does not give rise to an Article III injury. View "Solar Energy Industries Association v. FERC" on Justia Law
So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C.
These original proceedings involve efforts by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or the Commission) to discover whether the political activities of Southern California Gas Company (SCG) are funded by SCG’s shareholders, which is permissible, or ratepayers, which is not. The Commission propounded several discovery requests (called “Data Requests”) on SCG, and when SCG failed fully to comply, moved to compel further responses that ultimately resulted in an order to comply or face substantial penalties. SCG seeks a writ of mandate directing the Commission to rescind its order on the ground that the discovery requests infringe on SCG’s First Amendment rights. The Second Appellate District granted the petition and held that SCG has shown that disclosure of the requested information will impact its First Amendment rights, and the Commission failed to show that its interest in determining whether SCG’s political efforts are impermissibly funded outweighs that impact. The court reasoned that because SCG demonstrated that a threat to its constitutional rights exists, the burden shifted to the Commission to demonstrate that the data requests serve and are narrowly tailored to a compelling governmental interest. However, the PAO’s discovery inquiries into all sources of funding for SCG’s lobbying activities go beyond ratepayer expenditures. Insofar as the requests seek information about shareholder expenditures, they exceed the PAO’s mandate to obtain the lowest possible costs for ratepayers and its authority to compel disclosure of information necessary for that task. The requests, therefore, are not carefully tailored to avoid unnecessary interference with SCG’s protected activities. View "So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C." on Justia Law
Foresight Coal Sales, LLC. v. Chandler
The Kentucky Public Service Commission's “fuel adjustment” regulation allows utilities to adjust the rates they charge customers to account for fluctuating fuel costs. Unreasonable charges are disallowed. The Commission considers the price the utility paid for raw materials, like coal. Kentucky utilities are encouraged to buy cheaper coal. Kentucky coal producers, however, pay a severance tax. Compared to states with no severance tax, Kentucky coal is expensive. The Kentucky House of Representatives encouraged the Commission to consider all costs, including fossil fuel-related economic impacts within Kentucky, when analyzing coal purchases under the regulation. The Commission issued a new regulation under which it would artificially discount a utility’s fuel costs by the amount of the severance tax paid to any jurisdiction.Foresight, an Illinois coal producer, challenged the regulation under the Commerce Clause. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. While an appeal was pending, the Commission rescinded the regulation. A subsequent statute required the Commission to evaluate the reasonableness of fuel costs based on the cost of the fuel less any severance tax imposed by any jurisdiction. Foresight sued; the district court again denied the preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit remanded. Foresight is likely to be able to show that the law discriminates against interstate commerce. The Commission proffered no explanation for the statute except that it is designed to nullify the competitive disadvantages created by Kentucky’s severance tax. Illinois coal is worse off as a matter of basic economics and Supreme Court precedent; the law is purposefully discriminatory. View "Foresight Coal Sales, LLC. v. Chandler" on Justia Law
Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al.
Citizen groups challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) environmental assessments (“EAs”) and environmental assessment addendum analyzing the environmental impact of 370 applications for permits to drill (“APDs”) for oil and gas in the Mancos Shale and Gallup Sandstone formations in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. These challenges came after a separate but related case in which the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate five EAs analyzing the impacts of APDs in the area because BLM had failed to consider the cumulative environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). BLM prepared an EA Addendum to remedy the defects in those five EAs, as well as potential defects in eighty-one other EAs that also supported approvals of APDs in the area. Citizen Groups argued these eighty-one EAs and the EA Addendum violated NEPA because BLM: (1) improperly predetermined the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (2) failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals related to greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions, water resources, and air quality. BLM disagreed, contending the challenges to some of the APDs were not justiciable because the APDs had not yet been approved. The district court affirmed the agency action, determining: (1) Citizen Groups’ claims based on APD’s that had not been approved were not ripe for judicial review; (2) BLM did not unlawfully predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum; and (3) BLM took a hard look at the environmental impacts of the APD approvals. The Tenth Circuit agreed with BLM and the district court that the unapproved APDs were not ripe and accordingly, limited its review to the APDs that had been approved. Turning to Citizen Groups’ two primary arguments on the merits, the appellate court held: (1) BLM did not improperly predetermine the outcome of the EA Addendum, but, even considering that addendum; (2) BLM’s analysis was arbitrary and capricious because it failed to take a hard look at the environmental impacts from GHG emissions and hazardous air pollutant emissions. However, the Court concluded BLM’s analysis of the cumulative impacts to water resources was sufficient under NEPA. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, et al. v. Haaland, et al." on Justia Law
Crooks, et al. v. Louisiana, Dept. of Nat. Resources
This matter arose from a 2006 class action suit instituted by Steve Crooks and Era Lee Crooks (“Class Plaintiffs”) against the State through the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (“LDNR”) concerning the ownership of riverbanks in the Catahoula Basin and subsequent mineral royalty payments. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to address whether mandamus may lie to compel the State to pay a judgment rendered against it for mineral royalty payments. Finding that the payment of a judgment concerning the return of mineral royalties received by the State required legislative appropriation, an act that is discretionary in nature, the appellate court erred in issuing the writ of mandamus. View "Crooks, et al. v. Louisiana, Dept. of Nat. Resources" on Justia Law
Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC
In 2020, an accident, fire, and explosion occurred in the hydrocracker unit at a Valero Refining-Meraux, LLC refinery in Meraux, Louisiana. No significant levels of chemicals were detected as a result of the explosion. Multiple residents in the vicinity of the refinery filed suit for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff Brittany Spencer and her two minor children, Chloe LaFrance and Lanny LaFrance III, were at home sleeping when the explosion occurred. Their residence was approximately 2,000 feet from the epicenter of the explosion. Spencer and Chloe were unexpectedly awakened by a loud sound of unknown origin and a significant shockwave and vibration of unknown origin. Lanny was not awakened. The sound and/or shockwave shook Spencer’s bedroom window. Spencer went outside and observed a large flame of the fire coming from the refinery, and the sky was lit up. Almost immediately after the explosion, Spencer began to hear police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances as part of the emergency response that lasted for several hours. Spencer went back inside, and she and Chloe went back to sleep. On the morning of the explosion, Spencer and her children left their residence out of an abundance of caution and did not return until two days later. Spencer eventually returned to her normal sleep schedule, albeit with some trouble; she did not allow her children to play outside due to concerns for their safety. Thereafter, Spencer and her children began staying at their residence less and later moved away from the refinery in June 2020. Spencer, individually and on behalf of her minor children, and Lanny LaFrance, Jr. on behalf of his minor children, filed suit against Valero alleging damages for emotional distress, but did not allege physical injury, property damage, or financial loss. Valero appealed when a trial court awarded damages to plaintiffs for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Louisiana Supreme Court found no Plaintiff met their burden of proving they were entitled to such an award, and reversed the trial court. View "Spencer v. Valero Refining Meraux, LLC" on Justia Law
Timothy Brown v. Continental Resources, Inc.
Continental Resources, Inc. operates an input well on Timothy and Tracy Browns’ land in Harding County, South Dakota. The Browns sued Continental, seeking compensation for damage to the surface of their land and Continental’s use of their pore space. Continental removed the case to federal court and twice moved for partial summary judgment. The district court granted both motions, finding that Plaintiffs: (1) released Continental from liability for surface damage; and (2) could not recover damages under South Dakota law for Continental’s pore space use. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that section 45-5A-4 clearly articulates three categories of compensable harm. Plaintiffs sought damages for lost use, which is not one of the categories. They try to infuse ambiguity into the statutory scheme by pointing to Chapter 45-5A’s purpose and legislative findings sections. While these sections may help a court interpret ambiguous statutory language, the court found none in Section 45-5A-4. Accordingly, the court held that Plaintiffs have not suffered compensable harm under South Dakota law, so the district court did not err in granting summary judgment. View "Timothy Brown v. Continental Resources, Inc." on Justia Law
Ameren Illinois Company v. FERC
The petitions for review sought reversal of a refund order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) upon finding a discrepancy in petitioner Ameren Illinois’s self-reported operational costs. Instead of reporting construction-related materials and supplies costs on line 5 of page 227 of Form 1, Ameren Illinois reported these costs on line 8 with the result that it over-collected for transmission costs. The Commission found that this reporting error was contrary to Ameren Illinois’s filed rate, which, prior to June 1, 2020, did not allow it to recover costs recorded to line 5 of page 227. The DC Circuit affirmed the Order, denying review and reconsideration. The court explained that the Commission’s decision that Ameren lacked the discretion to report construction-related costs on line 8 was not unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, or otherwise contrary to law. The court reasoned that although the Commission “may not retroactively alter a filed rate to compensate for prior over- or underpayments,” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. FERC, 571 F.3d 1208, 1211 (D.C. Cir. 2009), that is not what occurred here. All the Commission has done is require Ameren Illinois to correct a reporting error that resulted in overcharging customers for expenses not allowed under Ameren Illinois’s then-registered formula rate. Its contrary arguments fail to demonstrate that the refund order was unjust or contrary to the law. View "Ameren Illinois Company v. FERC" on Justia Law