Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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The federal district court for the District of North Dakota certified five questions regarding N.D.C.C. § 38-08-08(1) and North Dakota Industrial Commission pooling orders. The litigation before the federal court involved allocation of mineral royalties in the case of overlapping oil and gas spacing units. Allen and Arlen Dominek owned oil and gas interests in Williams County, North Dakota. In 2011, the North Dakota Industrial Commission pooled the interests in Section 13 on the Dominek property with the interests in Section 24 in a 1280-acre spacing unit (the “Underlying Spacing Unit”). In 2016, the Commission pooled the interests in Sections 11, 12, 13, and 14 in a 2560-acre spacing unit (the “Overlapping Spacing Unit). The "Weisz" well terminated in the southeast corner of Section 14. The Defendants (together “Equinor”) operated the Weisz well. The Domineks sued Equinor in federal district court to recover revenue proceeds from the Weisz well. The parties agreed production from the Weisz well should have been allocated equally to the four sections comprising the Overlapping Spacing Unit. Their disagreement was whether the 25% attributable to Section 13 should have been shared with the interest owners in Section 24 given those sections were pooled in the Underlying Spacing Unit. In response to the motions, the federal district court certified five questions to the North Dakota Court. Responding "no" to the first: whether language from N.D.C.C. § 38-08-08(1) required production from Section 13 to be allocated to Section 24, the Supreme Court declined to answer the remaining questions because it found they were based on an assumption that the Commission had jurisdiction to direct how production was allocated among mineral interest owners. "Questions concerning correlative rights and the Commission’s jurisdiction entail factual considerations. ... An undeveloped record exposes this Court 'to the danger of improvidently deciding issues and of not sufficiently contemplating ramifications of the opinion.'” View "Dominek, et al. v. Equinor Energy, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) ordering Equitrans, LC, a natural gas interstate pipeline company, to permit Hope Gas to connect a natural gas field tap on property owned by Ronald and Ashton Hall to Equitrans' "gathering line," holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction in this matter.Seeking to divest itself of its gathering facilities Equitrans applied to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) to abandon and sell its gathering facilities. FERC approved the application. When Equitrans denied Hope Gas's request to reestablish a service connection to the Halls' residence the Halls filed their complaint with the PSC. The PSC found that it had jurisdiction over the gathering facilities. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PSC properly exercised jurisdiction over the gathering facility at issue. View "Equitrans, L.P. v. Public Service Comm'n of W. Va." on Justia Law

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In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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Ohio Nuclear-Free Network (Ohio Nuclear) and Beyond Nuclear petitioned for review of a decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, Commission), issuing an amended materials license to American Centrifuge Operating, LLC (American Centrifuge). The amended license authorizes American Centrifuge to produce high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) at a facility near Piketon, Ohio pursuant to a demonstration program with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Petitioners contended that the NRC issued the amended license without first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which they assert was required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).   The DC Circuit dismissed their petition. The court concluded that because Petitioners failed to properly intervene in the manner required by 42 U.S.C. Section 2339 and the NRC’s AEA regulations, they were not parties to the licensing amendment proceeding they asked the DC Circuit to review. Accordingly, under the Hobbs Act, 28 U.S.C. Section 2344, the court dismissed their petition for review for lack of jurisdiction View "Ohio Nuclear-Free Network v. NRC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the Energy Facilities Siting Board approving a project change petition filed by NSTAR Electric Company, doing business as Eversource Energy, that would move the boundaries of an electric substation 190 feet from the location that had previously been approved, holding that the Board did not err in approving the project change.Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the Board did not err in determining that GreenRoots, Inc. did not satisfy the applicable legal standard for the reopening of a completed adjudicatory proceeding; (2) the Board complied with the statutory and regulatory requirements regarding public participation and environmental justice; and (3) the Board's conclusion that Eversource reasonably addressed risks from future sea level rise under the circumstances was supported by substantial evidence. View "GreenRoots, Inc. v. Energy Facilities Siting Bd." on Justia Law

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The issue this appeal presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on the denial of tax benefits relating to petitioner Preston Olsen's purchase of solar lenses. The benefits were only available if the taxpayer had a profit motive for the purchases. Olsen bought the lenses in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, through a program created by Neldon Johnson. Under the program, Johnson would use the lenses in a new system to generate electricity by heating a liquid to generate steam and drive a turbine. Johnson never finished the system; he had completed the lenses on only one tower and hadn’t decided whether those lenses would heat water, oil, or molten salt. Johnson funded the program through investors like Olsen who bought lenses from Johnson’s companies and leased the lenses to another of Johnson’s companies. Once the system began producing revenue, Johnson's company would pay Olsen’s company $150 per lens per year. But the system never generated any revenue. From 2009 to 2014, Olsen annually claimed depreciation deductions and solar energy credits on the lenses. These claims allowed the Olsens to pay little or no federal income taxes. "So the Olsens came out ahead even though they had never obtained any money from the leases." The tax court disallowed the benefits in part because it found Petitioner lacked a profit motive. Finding no reversible error in the tax court's decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Olsen, et al. v. CIR" on Justia Law

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In 2018, John Webb Pace, Jeannette Pace, and John Gregory Pace (the Paces) filed a complaint against Tiger Production Company, LLC, CCore Energy Management Company, LLC, Robert Marsh Nippes, and Harry Walters (collectively, “Tiger Production”). Each defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Paces’ claims for failure to exhaust their administrative remedies before the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board (MSOGB). After hearing oral arguments, the circuit court denied the motions to dismiss, determining that all of the Paces’ claims were based in common law and could not be remedied by the MSOGB. Tiger Production timely sought interlocutory appeal, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. After review, the Supreme Court found the circuit court was correct. The Court therefore affirmed the circuit court’s judgment and remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Tiger Production Company, LLC, et al. v. Pace" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)  brought an enforcement action against BP, alleging the company capitalized on the hurricane-induced chaos in commodities markets by devising a scheme to manipulate the market for natural gas. BP sought judicial review of FERC’s order finding that BP engaged in market manipulation and imposing a $20 million civil penalty.   The Fifth Circuit explained that because FERC predicated its penalty assessment on its erroneous position that it had jurisdiction over all (and not just some) of BP’s transactions, the court must remand for a reassessment of the penalty in the light of the court’s jurisdictional holding. Thus, the court granted in part and denied in part BP’s petition for review and remanded to the agency for reassessment of the penalty.   The court explained that it has rejected FERC’s expansive assertion that it has jurisdiction over any manipulative trade affecting the price of an NGA transaction. The court, however, reaffirmed the Commission’s authority over transactions directly involving natural gas in interstate commerce under the NGA. The court further determined that there was substantial evidence to support FERC’s finding that BP manipulated the market for natural gas. The court found that FERC’s reasoning in imposing a penalty was not arbitrary and capricious, though the court concluded that FERC’s reliance on an erroneous understanding of its own jurisdiction necessitates remand for recalculation of the penalty. Finally, the court held that neither separation of functions nor statute of limitations issues justify overturning the Commission’s order. View "BP America v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying Cascade County's request for attorney fees and costs, interest, and unjust enrichment damages, holding that the district court did not err in determining that the provisions of Mont. Code Ann. 75-11-307(2) precluded the County's request for attorney fees, costs, interests, and unjust enrichment damages.This appeal involved a long-running dispute between the County and the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board for remediation costs associated with petroleum contamination. The County held that four petroleum releases did not qualify for reimbursement from the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Fund. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed in part. In district court on remand, the County filed a motion to the Board to pay "eligible costs." The district court denied the request. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the County's claims for attorney fees, costs, interest, and unjust enrichment damages were statutorily prohibited. View "Cascade Co. v. Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Bd." on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit found the EPA’s own written decision indicated the EPA concluded that the statutory and regulatory definitions of “small refinery” did not provide specific “guidance []or limits” on how the terms “refinery” and “average aggregate daily crude oil throughput” should have been “evaluated.” Accordingly, the EPA proceeded as though it “ha[d] discretion to choose what factors and information it w[ould] consider in this evaluation.” The EPA’s decisions to deny an extension of a temporary exemption to “small refineries” from complying with the Clean Air Act’s Renewable Fuel Standard Program were reversed and remanded. "That does not mean that the EPA could not again arrive at the same conclusion. But, to do so, the EPA would need to (a) either consider and apply its own regulatory definition of “facility” to the circumstances presented here or explain why that regulatory definition is inapplicable, (b) provide clear guidance on its integration analysis, to the extent it continues to rely on that factor, and (c) omit any consideration of Suncor’s management structure or public statements unless it can demonstrate that those factors are somehow consistent with, and have a reasonable connection to, the statutory and regulatory definitions of the term “refinery.” View "Suncor Energy v. EPA" on Justia Law