Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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Dennis Woolman, former president of The Clemens Coal Company, challenged a district court’s determination that Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company didn’t breach a duty to him by failing to procure for Clemens Coal an insurance policy with a black-lung disease endorsement. Clemens Coal operated a surface coal mine until it filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Woolman served as Clemens Coal’s last president before it went bankrupt. Federal law required Clemens Coal to maintain worker’s compensation insurance with a special endorsement covering miners’ black-lung disease benefits. Woolman didn’t personally procure insurance for Clemens Coal but instead delegated that responsibility to an outside consultant. The policy the consultant ultimately purchased for the company did not contain a black-lung-claim endorsement, and it expressly excluded coverage for federal occupational disease claims, such as those arising under the Black Lung Benefits Act (the Act). In 2012, a former Clemens Coal employee, Clayton Spencer, filed a claim with the United States Department of Labor (DOL) against Clemens Coal for benefits under the Act. After some investigation, the DOL advised Woolman that Clemens Coal was uninsured for black-lung-benefits claims as of July 25, 1997 (the last date of Spencer’s employment) and that, without such coverage, Woolman, as Clemens Coal’s president, could be held personally liable. Woolman promptly tendered the claim to Liberty Mutual for a legal defense. Liberty Mutual responded with a reservation-of-rights letter, stating that it hadn’t yet determined coverage for Spencer’s claim but that it would provide a defense during its investigation. Then in a follow-up letter, Liberty Mutual clarified that it would defend Clemens Coal as a company (not Woolman personally) and advised Woolman to retain his own counsel. Liberty Mutual eventually concluded that the insurance policy didn’t cover the black-lung claim, and sued Clemens Coal and Woolman for a declaration to that effect. In his suit, Woolman also challenged the district court’s rejection of his argument that Liberty Mutual should have been estopped from denying black-lung-disease coverage, insisting that he relied on Liberty Mutual to provide such coverage. Having considered the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court didn’t err in declining Woolman’s extraordinary request to expand the coverages in the Liberty Mutual policy. “Liberty Mutual never represented it would procure the coverage that Woolman now seeks, and the policy itself clearly excludes such coverage. No other compelling consideration justifies rewriting the agreement— twenty years later—to Woolman’s liking.” View "Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance v. Woolman" on Justia Law

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Enable Intrastate Transmission, LLC owned and operated a natural gas pipeline that crossed Indian allotted land in Anadarko, Oklahoma. A twenty-year easement for the pipeline expired in 2000. Enable failed to renew the easement but also failed to remove the pipeline. In response, roughly three-dozen individual Native American Allottees who held equitable title in the allotted land filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment to the Allottees, ruling on the basis of stipulated facts that Enable was liable for trespass. The court then enjoined the trespass, ordering Enable to remove the pipeline. Enable appealed both rulings; the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court determined the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Allottees but erred in issuing the permanent injunction. A federal district court’s decision to permanently enjoin a continuing trespass on allotted land should take into account: (1) whether an injunction is necessary to prevent “irreparable harm;” (2) whether “the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the injunction may cause” to the enjoined party; and (3) whether the injunction would “adversely affect the public interest.” The Tenth Circuit concluded that by ordering Enable to remove the pipeline on the basis of liability alone, the district court legally erred and thus abused its discretion. The district court incorporated a simplified injunction rule from Oklahoma law when it should have adhered to basic tenants of federal equity jurisprudence. This matter was remanded for the district court "for a full weighing of the equities." View "Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant DTC Energy Group, Inc., sued two of its former employees, Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban, as well as one of its industry competitors, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally. DTC moved for a preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC clients, but that DTC could not show the ongoing solicitation violated Hirschfeld’s employment agreement. After review, the Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying DTC's motion for a preliminary injunction, and affirmed. View "DTC Energy Group v. Hirschfeld" on Justia Law

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The issue raised on appeal in this matter centered on a trespass claim by Plaintiffs-Appellants Marvin and Mildred Bay that Defendants-Appellees Anadarko E&P Onshore LLC and Anadarko Land Corp. (together, “Anadarko”), that through a lessee, exceeded the scope of an easement by using excessive surface land to drill for oil and gas. The district court had diversity jurisdiction over the case and entered final judgment against the Bays pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The Tenth Circuit was presented with an issue of whether a deed reserving mineral rights in land (and the specific right to use the surface as “convenient or necessary” to access the minerals) requires applying a different test than the one prescribed in Gerrity Oil & Gas Corp. v. Magness, 946 P.2d 913 (Colo. 1997), to evaluate whether the mineral owner’s use of land constitutes a trespass. The Court concluded it did not, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bay v. Anadarko E&P Onshore" on Justia Law

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Husky Ventures, Inc. (“Husky”) sued B55 Investments Ltd. (“B55”) and its president, Christopher McArthur, for breach of contract and tortious interference under Oklahoma law. In response, B55 filed counterclaims against Husky. A jury reached a verdict in Husky’s favor, awarding $4 million in compensatory damages against both B55 and McArthur and $2 million in punitive damages against just McArthur; the jury also rejected the counterclaims. In further proceedings, the district court entered a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment in Husky’s favor. After the court entered final judgment, B55 and McArthur appealed, and moved for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) or, in the alternative, to certify a question of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The court denied the motion in all respects. On appeal, B55 and McArthur contended the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial and again moved to certify a question of state law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In addition, they appealed the permanent injunction and declaratory judgment and argue that the district court erred in refusing to grant leave to amend the counterclaims. The Tenth Circuit dismissed B55 and McArthur’s claims relating to the motion for a new trial for lack of appellate jurisdiction and denied their motion to certify the state law question as moot. The Court otherwise affirmed the district court’s judgment on the remaining issues. View "Husky Ventures v. B55 Investments" on Justia Law

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Merrill Chance, a landowner in Osage County, Oklahoma, sued the government to void a lease and various permits that allow Great Southwestern Exploration, Inc. (GSE) to drill for oil and gas beneath his property. He also sought damages from GSE for trespassing on his property. The district court ruled that under 28 U.S.C. 2401(a), Chance’s claims against the government were untimely. Thus, the district court concluded it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear Chance’s claims and dismissed them. It also dismissed Chance’s claims against GSE. While the Tenth Circuit agreed Chance’s claims against the government were untimely, it heeded a warning by the Supreme Court to beware of “profligate use of the term ‘jurisdiction.’” In light of this, the Tenth Circuit found the district court wrongly concluded it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over Chance’s claims against the government; the claims should have been dismissed for failing to state a claim. The Court affirmed the district court’s judgment declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Chance’s claims against GSE. View "Chance v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Canyon Fuel Company operated the Sufco Mine, a coal mine located in Sevier County, Utah. Under federal law, the mine had to have two escapeways in the event of an emergency: a primary and an alternate. An inspector for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) cited Canyon Fuel for a violation of this mine safety requirement. Canyon Fuel unsuccessfully contested the citation before the federal agency and appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the Secretary of Labor’s interpretation of the regulation as requiring consideration of both above- and below-ground factors, but vacated the citation because it was not supported by substantial evidence. View "Canyon Fuel Company v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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Samantha Hall was diagnosed with leukemia; she attributed the disease to a ConocoPhillips refinery’s emissions of a chemical known as benzene. Hall lived near ConocoPhillips’s refinery in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Roughly two decades later, she developed a form of leukemia known as “Acute Myeloid Leukemia with Inversion 16.” Liability turned largely on whether benzene emissions had caused Hall’s leukemia. On the issue of causation, the district court excluded testimony from two of Hall’s experts and granted summary judgment to ConocoPhillips. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed because: (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert testimony; and (2) expert testimony was necessary to create a genuine issue of material fact on causation because of the length of time between the exposure to benzene and the onset of Hall’s disease. View "Hall v. Conoco" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Spring Creek Exploration & Production Company, LLC and Gold Coast Energy, LLC appealed four separate district court orders dismissing contract and tort claims against Defendants Hess Bakken Investments II, LLC and Statoil Oil & Gas, LP. Around January 2009, Statoil entered into two agreements with a Hess affiliate. One of those agreements, the “Rough Rider Agreement,” prohibited Hess for one year from acquiring any oil or gas interests in the Rough Rider Prospect (land in North Dakota’s McKenzie and Williams Counties) in exchange for Hess’s affiliate receiving certain proprietary information from Statoil. In October 2009, still within the one-year non-compete period, Hess entered into a series of agreements (collectively, the “Tomahawk Agreement”) with Spring Creek, Gold Coast, and non-party Coachman Energy relating to the Tomahawk Prospect, a collection of land lying entirely within the much larger Rough Rider Prospect. As one part of the Agreement, Spring Creek and Gold Coast sold all of their oil and gas leasehold interests in the Tomahawk Prospect to Hess in exchange for an overriding royalty interest (“ORRI”) in the hydrocarbons produced under the terms of the leases (the “First Assignment”). Hess’s plan for these leases was to drill enough exploratory wells to prove their value and then sell them to larger operators. In another part of the Tomahawk Agreement, Spring Creek, Gold Coast and Hess executed an “Area of Mutual Interest Agreement” ("AMI"). In 2010, Statoil alleged Hess breached the Rough Rider Agreement by acquiring leases in the Rough Rider Prospect during the non-compete period. That led to a settlement agreement in which Hess sold most of its Tomahawk Prospect leases to Statoil at a discount. Hess further agreed that any leases it acquired in the Tomahawk Prospect in the next three months would be offered to Statoil at cost. In connection with Statoil’s due diligence in executing the settlement agreement, Hess disclosed to Statoil the terms of the AMI Agreement. Neither Spring Creek nor Gold Coast was privy to the Hess-Statoil negotiations. After the agreement was finalized, Statoil publicly announced that it had acquired about 10,000 net acres in the Rough Rider Prospect. The underlying litigation was filed in 2013, when Spring Creek brought suit against Hess and Statoil in Colorado state court. After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit determined summary judgment in favor of Hess and Statoil was proper, and affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Spring Creek Exploration v. Hess Bakken Investment" on Justia Law

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This case involved an implied covenant to market gas. Energen owned and operated oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Its wells were subject to leases and other agreements (many of which were quite old) requiring it to pay a monthly royalty or overriding royalty on production to the Anderson Living Trust, the Pritchett Living Trust, the Neely-Robertson Revocable Family Trust (N-R Trust), and the Tatum Living Trust. Believing Energen was systematically underpaying royalties, the Trusts filed a putative class action complaint against it. The New Mexico Trusts claimed Energen was improperly deducting from their royalties their proportionate share of (1) the costs it incurs to place the gas produced from the wells in a marketable condition (postproduction costs) and (2) a privilege tax the State of New Mexico imposes on natural gas processors (the natural gas processors tax). They also alleged Energen had not timely paid royalties or interest thereon, as required by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. Both the New Mexico Trusts and the Tatum Trust further claimed Energen was wrongfully failing to pay royalty on the gas it used as fuel. The district judge dismissed the New Mexico Trusts’ marketable condition rule claim for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and entered summary judgment in favor of Energen on the remaining claims. All of the Trusts appealed those judgments. For the most part, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court. The Tenth Circuit’s analysis differed from that of the district court relating to: (1) the fuel gas claims made by the N-R Trust and Tatum Trust; and (2) the New Mexico Trusts’ claim under the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. As to the former, the N-R Trust’s overriding royalty agreement required royalty to be paid on all gas produced, including that gas used as fuel. And the Tatum Trust’s leases explicitly prohibited Energen from deducting post-production costs (Energen treats its use of the fuel gas as an in-kind postproduction cost). Moreover, the “free use” clauses and royalty provisions in the Tatum Trust’s leases limited the free use of gas to that occurring on the leased premises. Because use of the fuel gas occurred off the leased premises, Energen owed royalty on that gas. With regard to the latter, the district court was right in permitting Energen to hold funds owed to the N-R Trust in a suspense account until a title issue concerning a well was resolved in favor of that Trust. However, the district court did not address whether the N-R Trust was entitled to statutory interest on those funds. It was so entitled, yet the current record (at least in the Tenth Circuit’s analysis) did not show interest to have been paid on the funds. View "Anderson Living Trust v. Energen Resources" on Justia Law