Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

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Peabody Twentymile Mining, LLC (“Peabody Twentymile”) operates the Foidel Creek Mine, a large underground coal mine in Colorado. The mine uses over one thousand ventilation stoppings to separate the fresh intake air from the air flowing out of the mine that has been circulated through areas where extraction is occurring. In 2014, an inspector for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) issued a citation to Peabody Twentymile for a violation of the federal law requiring permanent ventilation stoppings to be “constructed in a traditionally accepted method and of materials that have been demonstrated to perform adequately.” MSHA alleged Peabody Twentymile was using polyurethane spray foam to seal the perimeter of a permanent concrete block ventilation stopping. Peabody Twentymile unsuccessfully contested the citation and civil penalty before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The ALJ relied on the preamble to the ventilation stopping regulation, which listed six “traditionally accepted construction methods,” to determine that Peabody Twentymile’s method of constructing concrete block stoppings was not “traditionally accepted” and was subject to a $162 fine. Peabody Twentymile then petitioned the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (the “Commission”) for review, and the Commission issued an evenly split decision, causing the ALJ’s decision to stand. Peabody Twentymile thereafter petitioned the Tenth Circuit for review of the ALJ’s decision. The Tenth Circuit concluded Peabody Twentymile’s construction method was “traditionally accepted” by MSHA under the unambiguous meaning of that phrase, it reversed the ALJ’s decision and vacated the citation. View "Peabody Twentymile Mining v. Secretary of Labor" 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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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of OGT in an action brought by the oil field construction company to quiet a pipeline title based on defendant's ineligibility to claim a lien under North Dakota Century Code 35-24-04. The court agreed with the district court that defendant was an employee, rather than an independent contractor, and that section 35-24-04 does not confer lien rights upon employees. In this case, the factors that indicated that defendant was an employee include, among other things, that defendant earned a weekly salary that OGT paid him regardless of the number of hours, amount of work, or number of projects he completed; defendant completed a W-4 to indicate his tax withholdings; OGT withheld and paid employment taxes on defendant's wages and reported his income to him and the IRS on a Form W-2; OGT offered defendant regular employment benefits; and he worked full-time for OGT and no one else. View "Oil & Gas Transfer LLC v. Karr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Plaintiffs' motion for class certification in this action alleging that Defendant, which leased with Plaintiffs to drill and sell hydrocarbons from the leased property, improperly suspended royalty payments, holding that the requirements of numerosity and superiority were met. The complaint alleged that the royalty payments were suspended in an effort by Defendant to recoup improper deductions. Plaintiffs moved for class certification, which the trial court granted. Defendant appealed, arguing that Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the numerosity and superiority requirements. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the numerosity and superiority requirements were satisfied in this case. View "Stephens Production Co. v. Mainer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court set aside orders from the Public Service Commission in two related cases, holding that the Commission did not have the authority to impose "interim" rates as an element of the energy balancing account procedures described in Utah Code 54-7-13.5. The Commission issued an order eliminating an "energy balancing account" (EBA) rate processes to PacifiCorp, an electric power provider, and later issued an order adopting the recommendation of the Division of Public Utilities that interim rates be reinstated in the EBA mechanism. After PacifiCorp submitted its 2018 EBA filing that proposed to recover EBA costs in the amount of $28 million on an interim basis the Commission issued an order imposing interim rates. Certain consumer groups challenged the Commission's interim rate orders. The Supreme Court set aside the orders, holding that the interim rates were imposed without a requirement that PacifiCorp prove by substantial evidence that the costs incorporated in the rates were prudently incurred or just and reasonable, which violates the controlling standard set forth in section 54-7-13.5(2)(e)(ii). View "Utah Office of Consumer Services v. Public Service Commission of Utah" on Justia Law

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WestRock’s Virginia paper mill was fueled by steam from boilers that burned various fuels, including fossil fuels. In 2013, WestRock placed into service a cogeneration facility that burns open-loop biomass, material not originally intended for use as fuel. Steam from a new biomass-fired boiler and an old paper mill boiler are comingled and fed into a steam turbine generator. Electricity is generated after WestRock diverts some steam to the paper mill for use in the industrial paper process. In 2013, WestRock submitted an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Section 1603 application seeking a grant; it claimed that its qualifying property cost $286,191,571 and requested $85,857,471. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory determined that WestRock used only 49.1 percent of the steam energy to produce electricity and that fossil fuel still comprised about 0.22 percent of its boiler fuel. The Department of Treasury reduced the cost basis by 51.2 percent and awarded WestRock $38,881,758—30 percent of the cost of what Treasury deemed qualifying property. The Claims Court affirmed, finding that Section 1603 provides for reimbursement of only costs associated with electricity production at WestRock’s facility. The court afforded deference to nonbinding Treasury guidance, which provides for allocation of the cost basis between qualifying and non-qualifying activities. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 1603 provides for a grant in the amount of 30 percent of the basis or cost of any qualified property that is used as an integral part of a facility that uses open-loop biomass to produce electricity. View "WestRock Virginia Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In this case arising from an offer to purchase an assignment of a farmout that fell through the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Plaintiff could not prevail on its breach of contract claim or fraud claim as a matter of law, holding that, as a matter of law, both claims failed. The trial court granted judgment in favor of Plaintiff on its claims. The court of appeals reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's breach of contract claim failed as a matter of law because the contract's consent-to-assignment provision unambiguously gave Defendant an unqualified right to refuse to consent, and (2) Plaintiff's fraud claim failed as a matter of law because Plaintiff could not justifiably rely on an oral promise to do something that was addressed in the written contract. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant could not have breached the contract as a matter of law because the plain language of the contract unambiguously entitled Defendant to withhold its consent to a proposed assignment; and (2) where the written terms of the contract controlled Plaintiff could not justifiably rely on an oral statement. View "Barrow-Shaver Resources Co. v. Carrizo Oil & Gas, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the circuit court striking two insurance conditions from a conditional use permit (CUP) Dane County issued to Enbridge Energy Company as unenforceable under 2015 Wisconsin Act 55, holding that because Enbridge carried the requisite insurance, Act 55 rendered Dane County's extra insurance conditions unenforceable. The two conditions at issue required Enbridge to procure additional insurance prior to Enbridge expanding its pipeline pump station. Dane County approved the CUP with these insurance conditions. Thereafter, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Act 55, which prohibits counties from requiring an interstate pipeline operator to obtain additional insurance when the pipeline operating company carries comprehensive general liability insurance with coverage for "sudden and accidental" pollution liability. Dane County issued the CUP with the invalid insurance conditions. The circuit court struck the two conditions from the CUP as unenforceable under Act 55. The court of appeals reversed on the ground that Enbridge failed to show it carried the requisite coverage triggering the statutory prohibition barring the County from imposing additional insurance procurement requirements. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Enbridge carried the requisite insurance, and therefore, Dane County's extra insurance conditions were unenforceable. View "Enbridge Energy Co. v. Dane County" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute over a Business Economic Loss claim stemming from the Deepwater Horizon Class Action Settlement Agreement. In Policy 495, the Claims Administrator established different methods for correcting unmatched financial statements. The first method created an Annual Variable Margin Methodology (AVMM), and the second method created Industry-Specific Methodologies (ISMs) for claimants working in construction, agriculture, education, and professional services. The Fifth Circuit upheld the AVMM but rejected the ISMs in In re Deepwater Horizon (Policy 495 Decision), 858 F.3d 298, 304 (5th Cir. 2017). The court held that the AVMM appropriately required the Claims Administrator to ensure that costs were registered in the same month as corresponding revenue, regardless of when those costs were incurred. However, the ISMs went too far by requiring smoothing profits in addition to matching revenues and expenses. Therefore, the court held that all claimants must be subject to the AVMM. On remand, the district court issued orders to implement the court's decision. However, the court held that the district court's orders were inconsistent with the court's mandate in the Policy 495 Decision. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lake Eugenie Land & Development, Inc. v. BP Exploration, Inc." 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