Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas 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

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Plaintiff David Speed filed a petition asserting a putative class action against defendant JMA Energy Company, LLC. He alleged that JMA had willfully violated an Oklahoma statute that required payment of interest on delayed payment of revenue from oil and gas production. He further asserted that JMA fraudulently concealed from mineral-interest owners that it owed interest due under the statute, intending to pay only those who requested interest. JMA removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, asserting that the district court had jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA - 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)). After conducting jurisdictional discovery, Speed filed an amended motion to remand the case to state court. The district court granted this motion, relying on an exception to CAFA that permitted a district court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over a class action meeting certain citizenship prerequisites “in the interests of justice and looking at the totality of the circumstances,” based on its consideration of six enumerated factors. On appeal JMA challenged the district court’s remand order. Because the district court properly considered the statutory factors and did not abuse its discretion by remanding to state court, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Speed v. JMA Energy Company" on Justia Law

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In an amendment to the Clean Air Act (CAA), Congress directed the EPA to operate a Renewable Fuel Standards Program (the RFS Program) to increase oil refineries’ use of renewable fuels. But for small refineries that would suffer a “disproportionate economic hardship” in complying with the RFS Program, the statute required the EPA to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Petitioner Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company owned and operated two refineries in Wyoming: one in Sinclair, and another in Casper. Both fell within the RFS Program’s definition of “small refinery” and were exempt from the RFS requirements until 2011. Those exemptions were extended until 2013 after the Department of Energy found Sinclair’s Wyoming refineries to be among the 13 of 59 small refineries that would continue to face “disproportionate economic hardship” if required to comply with the RFS Program. Sinclair then petitioned the EPA to extend their small-refinery exemptions. The EPA denied Sinclair’s petitions in two separate decisions, finding that both refineries appeared to be profitable enough to pay the cost of the RFS Program. Sinclair filed a timely petition for review with the Tenth Circuit court, which concluded the EPA exceeded its statutory authority under the CAA in interpreting the hardship exemption to require a threat to a refinery’s survival as an ongoing operation. Because the Court found the EPA exceeded its statutory authority, it vacated the EPA’s decisions and remanded to the EPA for further proceedings. View "Sinclair Wyoming Refining v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Consolidation Coal Company appealed after the Department of Labor (“DOL”) awarded survivor’s benefits to Judy Noyes under the Black Lung Benefits Act (“BLBA”). The administrative law judge (“ALJ”) determined that Mrs. Noyes was entitled to a statutory presumption that the death of her husband, James Noyes, resulted from his exposure to coal dust in underground coal mines. The ALJ further concluded that Consolidation failed to rebut that presumption by showing either that Mr. Noyes did not suffer from pneumoconiosis or that pneumoconiosis did not cause his death. Consolidation argued on appeal the ALJ erred in retroactively applying the rebuttal standard from DOL’s revised regulations to Mrs. Noyes’ claim for benefits, and that the ALJ’s determination that Consolidation failed to meet its burden of rebuttal was not supported by substantial evidence. After review, the Tenth Circuit held the ALJ permissibly applied the rebuttal standard from the revised regulations to Mrs. Noyes’ claim, and that standard could further be applied retrospectively to claims, like Mrs. Noyes’, that were filed prior to the effective date of the revised regulations. However, the Court agreed with Consolidation that the ALJ incorrectly stated the revised rebuttal standard in analyzing Mrs. Noyes’ claim. View "Consolidation Coal Company v. OWCP" on Justia Law

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The Department of the Interior (“DOI”) adopted an administrative appeal requirement for agency actions under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (“SMCRA”). Following an initial decision by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), DOI regulations required an adversely affected party to concurrently file an appeal and a petition for stay pending appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (“IBLA”) to exhaust administrative remedies. However, an ALJ decision is not always rendered inoperative pending appeal: the IBLA retains discretion to grant or deny the stay. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether the IBLA’s denial of a stay rendered an ALJ’s decision final for purposes of judicial review, notwithstanding a pending IBLA appeal. The Tenth Circuit found that intra-agency review “is a prerequisite to judicial review only when expressly required by statute or when an agency rule requires appeal before review and the administrative action is made inoperative pending that review.” Because the ALJ’s decision in this case was not rendered inoperative pending appeal to the IBLA, it was final agency action. View "Farrell-Cooper Mining v. DOI" on Justia Law

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Under the federal environmental laws, the owner of property contaminated with hazardous substances or a person who arranges for the disposal of hazardous substances may be strictly liable for subsequent clean-up costs. The United States owned national forest lands in New Mexico that were mined over several generations by Chevron Mining Inc. The question presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the United States is a “potentially responsible party” (PRP) for the environmental contamination located on that land. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the United States is an “owner,” and, therefore, a PRP, because it was strictly liable for its equitable portion of the costs necessary to remediate the contamination arising from mining activity on federal land. The Court also concluded the United States cannot be held liable as an “arranger” of hazardous substance disposal because it did not own or possess the substances in question. The Court reversed the district court in part and affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings to determine the United States’ equitable share, if any, of the clean-up costs. View "Chevron Mining v. United States" on Justia Law

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Northern Natural Gas Company initiated proceedings against a number of parties to condemn certain rights relating to the storage of natural gas in and under more than 9,000 acres of land in southeast Kansas, known as the Cunningham Storage Field. Northern Natural Gas brought this action under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717 et seq. A three-person commission was appointed to determine the appropriate condemnation award, and the district court adopted the commission’s findings and recommendations in full. Both sides appealed, asserting various arguments in support of their positions that the award either over- or under-compensated the Landowners and Producers. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: the condemnation award should not have included either (1) the value of storage gas in and under the Cunningham Field on the date of taking, or (2) the lost value of producing such gas after the date of certification, because certification extinguished any property interests the Landowners and Producers may have held in the gas before that date. But the Court agreed with the award’s inclusion of value for Extension Area tracts based on their potential use for gas storage and buffer rights, the commission’s valuation for the eight Extension Area wells, and the district court’s denial of attorneys’ fees. View "Northern Natural Gas v. Approximately 9117 Acres" on Justia Law

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After settlement of a class action for royalties from gas wells, the federal district court for the Western District of Oklahoma awarded attorney fees to class counsel and an incentive award to the lead plaintiff to be paid out of the common fund shared by class members. The court rejected claims by two objectors, and they appealed. Finding the district court failed to compute attorney fees under the lodestar method, as required by Oklahoma law in this diversity case, and the incentive award was unsupported by the record, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded. View "Chieftain Royalty v. Enervest Energy" on Justia Law