Pennsylvania groups fight court ruling on waterway pollution

Nearly 100 elected officials, environmental groups and businesses have signed on to legal briefs to support the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in a state Supreme Court case that could restrict maximum fines for pollution to waterways, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The newspaper says DEP is appealing a Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania decision from January, 2017 in a suit brought by EQT Corp., a natural gas production company. The court ruled fines for spills into streams and groundwater “must be based on the duration of the initial release and not on the days pollution continues to flow through the hydrologic system or seep out of contaminated soil,” according to the Post-Gazette. For more, read the full story.

Oil & Gas Litigation, Pennsylvania

Ohio Supreme Court accepts oil and gas appeal involving implied covenants

The Ohio Supreme Court has accepted a landowner’s appeal in Alford v. Collins-McGregor Operating Co., which seeks to expand Ohio’s implied covenants for reasonable development to include deeper and unexplored formations. The case itself involves approximately 74 acres in Washington County, Ohio that were leased in 1980 and have been held by production by one conventional well. The landowner did not dispute the production from that well, but rather argued that the oil and gas company was not capable of developing any formations deeper than the Gordon Sands Formation. As a result, the landowner requested that all geologic formations below the Gordon Sands be released based on the implied covenant for reasonable development. The 4th District Court of Appeals (Washington County) rejected the landowner’s arguments. Click here for the District Court of Appeals decision.

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Lawsuit challenges oil and gas leases in Wayne National Forest

Several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in an attempt to void oil and natural gas leases and halt hydraulic fracturing operations in the Wayne National Forest, reports the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, West Virginia. The complaint was filed against the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management by the Center for Biological Diversity, Ohio Environmental Council, Heartwood and Ohio Sierra Club. The Herald-Dispatch says the plaintiffs claim the federal agencies “failed to analyze threats to public health, endangered species and the climate” before auctioning leasing rights to more than 670 acres in the Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio. For more, read the full story.

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Pennsylvania ruling may cost state $16 million in shale gas impact fees

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that public utility regulators in Pennsylvania say a recent court ruling that frees companies from paying state impact fees on shale gas wells with low production in a single month could reduce fee collections by $16 million in 2017 and even more in ensuing years. The newspaper says the state’s Public Utility Commission plans to appeal the Commonwealth Court’s decision in Snyder Brothers, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. For more, read the full story.

Oil & Gas Litigation, Pennsylvania

Federal government sues Sunoco for pipeline spill in Ohio

The federal government has filed a civil lawsuit against Sunoco Pipeline LP over a 2012 pipeline spill in Wellington, Ohio that forced the evacuation of 70 residents in the Lorain County village, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In United States of America vs. Sunoco Pipeline LP, N.D. Ohio No. 1:17-cv-00689-CAB, the complaint alleges Sunoco discovered a defect in its Fostoria-Hudson gasoline pipeline during an inspection in 2007, nearly five years before a portion of the pipeline ruptured and spilled more than 89,000 gallons of gasoline. For more, read the full story and lawsuit.

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Sixth Circuit denies rehearing en banc in False Claims Act lease dispute

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has denied a petition for rehearing en banc of its decision to affirm a district court ruling that Ohio residents failed to assert a claim under the False Claims Act (FCA) in a lawsuit challenging oil and natural gas leases entered into by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, according to Mealey’s Fracking Report. On November 21, 2016, a majority of the Sixth Circuit panel in United States ex rel. Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, 6th Cir., No. 15-4406, had affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi to dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit, stating “it was clear the relators were not the ‘model whistleblowers’ contemplated by the FCA.”

As reported in Mealey’s, the residents filed a petition for rehearing, arguing the majority opinion “fundamentally misconstrues the FCA’s scienter requirement and directly contradicts a U.S. Supreme Court decision by requiring the pleading of subjective knowledge in order to state the reckless disregard or knowledge element of an FCA claim.” The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District argued the rehearing should be denied because the Sixth Circuit panel’s decision does not conflict with any Supreme Court ruling and correctly applies the FCA’s definition of “knowing.” Upon review, the same judges who had issued the majority opinion denied rehearing en banc on the grounds that the issues raised in the petition “were fully considered upon the original submission and decision of the case.”

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Ohio federal judge: Eclipse Resources did not breach contract by declining to drill wells

A federal judge in Ohio has granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of a group of oil and natural gas companies, “concluding they had the contractual right to decline to drill or complete wells under a lease agreement with a landowner” and were not liable for breach of contract, according to Mealey’s Fracking Report. In Eclipse Resources-Ohio, LLC v. Madzia, S.D. Ohio No. 2:15-cv-00177, Eclipse sued Scott Madzia, the landowner, in January 2015, seeking declaratory relief because Madzia threatened litigation regarding Eclipse’s rights pursuant to an oil and gas lease agreement and amendment. Eclipse argued it “had a contractual right to decline to drill or complete wells” on Madzia’s land.

Madzia then moved for summary judgment, seeking injunctive relief. He maintained that Eclipse was liable for breach of contract because the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) had concluded the company had violated Ohio law by submitting a “coal affidavit” to obtain permits for wells on Madzia’s land. Mealey’s says Eclipse argued that ODNR “has not conclusively determined” that the company had violated the law by submitting the coal affidavit. U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley agreed with Eclipse, ruling in part that “ODNR had allowed the use of recycled coal affidavits on approximately seventy other occasions” and ODNR’s permitting manager had confirmed it was the department’s practice to accept resubmitted coal affidavits when Eclipse had submitted its permit application for Madzia’s wells.  On February 9, 2017, Madzia filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Federal judge approves clearing of land, trees for Rover Pipeline

The clearing of land and trees for Energy Transfer Partners’ Rover Pipeline Project, which will bisect Ohio, can begin after Judge Algenon L. Marbley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted a preliminary injunction preventing certain landowners from stopping construction crews from entering their property, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The ruling applies to 232 landowners, according to the Dispatch, but it does not give the company permission to enter the property of 21 other owners who have not been properly served with the complaint. For more, read the full story.
 

Ohio, Oil & Gas Litigation

Stone Energy emerges from bankruptcy reorganization

Louisiana-based Stone Energy, which recently sold its Appalachian Basin oil and natural gas assets to ETQ Corp. at a bankruptcy auction, reported on February 28 that it has emerged from Chapter 11 reorganization. A federal judge in Texas had earlier approved a revised, pre-packaged voluntary bankruptcy plan for the company as part of a restructured support agreement with Stone’s key noteholders, according to the Kallanish Energy news site. Stone, which had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in December 2016, said the bankruptcy plan has eliminated about $1.2 billion in debt. For more, read the full story.

National, Oil & Gas Litigation, Pennsylvania, West Virginia

Chesapeake Energy and McClendon estate reach settlement

Chesapeake Energy Corp. and the estate of the late Aubrey McClendon, the company’s co-founder and former CEO, have agreed to settle a multimillion-dollar dispute over data, stocks and the use of a corporate jet by McClendon, reports the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. The newspaper says that under terms of a settlement filed in Oklahoma County District court, Chesapeake agreed to pay $3.25 million in legal fees and dropped claims for $445 million related to data that McClendon allegedly took from the company when he was fired in April 2013. In exchange, the McClendon estate agreed to drop claims on remaining compensation from his separation from the company. McClendon died in a car crash on March 2, 2016. For more, read the full story.

National, Oil & Gas Litigation
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