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Showing 37 posts in Oil and Gas.

Western District of Pennsylvania Magistrate Judge Susan P. Baxter reiterated in an opinion issued last Friday that certain municipal laws prohibiting natural gas drilling are preempted by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act. Seneca Res. Corp. v. Highland Twp. et al., No. 16-cv-289 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2017) (“Seneca III”).  The decision is the result of a complex procedural and political history in the township, and it reinforced an earlier settlement and consent decree between the same parties.  In its opinion, the federal court’s decision provided guidance regarding the interplay among federal, state, and local authority over energy development in Pennsylvania. Read More »

Is a leaking pipeline indicative of an operator’s failed attempt to consider all relevant risk factors when the pipeline has had leaks in the past? In the context of pipeline integrity management regulations, the Court of Appeals of the Fifth Circuit said no.  On August 14, 2017, the Court vacated, in part, a final order issued by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) to ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (“ExxonMobil”), which found that ExxonMobil failed to properly consider the susceptibility of certain portions of its Pegasus Pipeline to seam failure and assessed a civil penalty of $2.6 million.  The opinion in ExxonMobil Pipeline Company v. United States DOT determined that, despite an oil leak from its Pegasus Pipeline, ExxonMobil was not in violation of PHMSA regulations requiring it to consider all risk factors that reflected the risk conditions on a certain pipeline segment because ExxonMobil “carefully [underwent] an informed decision-making process in good faith, reasonably taking into account all relevant risk factors in reaching a decision” that the pipeline was not at risk of seam failure.  2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 15144 (Aug. 14, 2017). Read More »

On June 20, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a majority decision, established a binding, heightened standard of review for challenges brought under Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment. See Pa. Environmental Defense Foundation v. Commonwealth, No. 10 MAP 2015 (Pa. June 20, 2017) (PEDF).  The Court’s decision in PEDF affirmed and expanded upon the Court’s 2013 plurality decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013), which the Commonwealth Court had refused to follow. Read More »

On June 7, 2017, the Commonwealth Court upheld a zoning ordinance allowing oil and gas drilling in mixed use agricultural and residential areas of a Butler County municipality because the pre-existing zoning code had already allowed construction of what the Court found were substantially similar public utility structures. 

The issues in Delaware Riverkeeper et al. v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board v. R.E. Gas Development LLC et al., 1229 CD 2015, 1323 CD 2015, 2609 CD 2015, arose out of Middlesex Township’s Ordinance 127, enacted in 2014, which sought to add a “oil and gas well site development” use within a Residential-Agricultural (“R-AG”) District. Environmental groups, the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, appealed the Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board’s enactment of the ordinance, upheld by the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, which found in part that the added language was a permissible extension of the already existing zoning provisions. Read More »

The Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) recently stirred up some controversy. Last month, in Lancaster Against Pipelines v. DEP, EHB Docket No. 2016-075-L (May 10, 2017), the Board held that it has jurisdiction to review actions taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) involving interstate natural gas pipelines, despite a 2013 decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania that held precisely the opposite. Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district court’s ruling to decertify a class action filed by landowners for releases from Exxon’s 850-mile Pegasus Pipeline that crosses four states from Texas to Illinois.  The case, Webb, et al. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., et al., Dkt. No. 15-2879 (8th Cir., May 11, 2017), was filed by a group of landowners who claimed that Exxon materially breached the terms of their right-of-way easement agreements by allegedly failing to inspect, maintain, repair, and replace the pipeline, which was originally installed in the mid-1940s.  At various times since the 1980s, the pipeline had releases in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, which the plaintiffs claim resulted in damage to their properties.  The plaintiffs sought to rescind their right-of-way easement agreements and force Exxon to remove or replace the entire pipeline, or in the alternative, to be paid damages for breach of contract and diminution in property value.  Read More »

In the latest development in the ongoing dispute between EQT Production Company (“EQT”) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) over DEP’s calculation of continuing violations of the Clean Streams Law (“CSL”), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 301 of the CSL prohibits acts or omissions resulting in the initial active discharge or entry of industrial waste into waters of the Commonwealth, and does not authorize ongoing penalties for the continuing presence of that industrial waste in waters of the Commonwealth after its initial entry.  The Commonwealth Court’s decision in this case, EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., No. 485 M.D. 2014 (Jan. 11, 2017), comes over one year after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided EQT Production Co. v. Dept. of Envt’l Prot., 130 A.3d 752 (Pa. 2015), which we reported on, holding that EQT may be permitted to challenge DEP’s continuing-violation interpretation in the Commonwealth Court before the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board decides and imposes the ultimate penalty, given the threat of ballooning penalties under DEP’s ongoing-violation interpretation.  Read More »

In December of 2013, in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013) (“Robinson II”), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, among other things, struck down as unconstitutional provisions of the 2012 amendments to Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act, also referred to as Act 13 regarding statewide zoning laws and municipalities’ abilities to enact ordinances affecting the oil and gas industry.  On Wednesday September 28th, in Robinson's second round before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Robinson IV), the Court invalidated additional provisions of Act.

The remand of Robinson II to the Commonwealth Court required the lower court to determine whether or not certain provisions of the Act regarding the review of municipal ordinances affecting oil and gas operations were severable from the Act 13 provisions that were found unconstitutional.  The remand also required the Commonwealth Court to determine; (a) whether two other Act 13 sections, one related to the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemical trade secrets to health professionals and the other related to the scope of PADEP notification requirements after spills, violated Article III, Section 32 (no “special laws”) or Article III, Section 3 (the “single subject rule”) of the Pennsylvania Constitution; and (b) whether another Act 13 section regarding the use of eminent domain for gas storage violated the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The case before the Supreme Court was an appeal to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling on these issues. Read More »

In a decision issued today in Pa. Independent Oil & Gas Assoc. v. Commonwealth, No. 321 M.D. 2015, a seven-member panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that Section 3215(c) of Act 13, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, remains enforceable despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013).  Section 3215(c) provides that when making a determination on a proposed oil and gas well, DEP “shall consider” the impact of the proposed well on public resources, including parks, rivers, landmarks, historic sites, flora and fauna habitat, and public drinking water sources.  Read More »

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down challenges by environmental organizations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of an expansion of the Transcontinental pipeline, a 10,000-mile pipeline that extends from South Texas to New York City and is operated by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC (“Transco”).  In doing so, however, the Court held that the environmental organizations had properly invoked a provision of the federal Natural Gas Act to challenge water quality-related permits issued by the states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Thus, the decision, Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot, No. 15-2122 (3d Cir. August 8, 2016), provides that the Court of Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over challenges to permits issued to an interstate natural gas facility to certify compliance with State water quality standards promulgated under federal supervision, as well as with federally-established Clean Water Act requirements.   Read More »