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Environmental Blog

  • 26
  • November
  • 2018

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Round Three: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Agrees to Review Briggs in Deciding Whether the Rule of Capture Defeats a Claim of Trespass for Drainage Arising from Hydraulic Fracturing

On November 20, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review the April 2018 intermediate appellate court decision, Adam Briggs et al. v. Southwestern Energy Production Company, which held that the “rule of capture” did not bar a claim for trespass when an operator’s hydraulic fracturing activity resulted in the drainage of gas from an adjoining tract that was not a part of the operator’s lease.

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  • 24
  • August
  • 2018

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Fifth Circuit Opinion Confirms Federal Courts Closed for Cleanup Claims Against the State of Texas; State Courts Still an Option?

In a recent opinion, United States Oil Recovery Site Potentially Responsible Parties Group (“USOR Site PRP Group”) v. Railroad Commission of Texas, No. 17-20361, 2018 WL 3649653, (5th Cir. Aug. 1, 2018) the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit confirmed that sovereign immunity bars claims in federal court by private parties against states and state agencies under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (“CERCLA” or “Superfund”), 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq.

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Collision Course: Colorado Initiative #108 Seeks to Blunt Private Property Owners’ Damages Occasioned by State and Local Government Through Initiative #97

A petition for ballot Initiative #108 was submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State in advance of the August 6, 2018 deadline for proposals to be considered for inclusion on Colorado’s general election ballot on November 6, 2018. Touted as a “property rights” measure, Initiative #108 proposes to amend the Colorado Constitution in order to provide an equal playing field for private property owners seeking just compensation when state or local government takes action diminishing the “fair market value” of their properties.

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Colorado Initiative #97: The Petition Beats the Deadline but is it Enough?

The Office of the Colorado Secretary of State confirmed on Monday, August 6, 2018 that a petition for ballot Initiative #97 was turned in by the deadline period and will be considered for inclusion on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot. As we previously reported, Initiative #97 seeks to establish a 2,500-foot buffer zone that is free of new oil and gas development around defined “occupied structures” and “vulnerable areas” in the state.

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Is the Third Time the Charm? - Initiative #97 Seeks a Five-Fold Increase in Setback Distances Between Homes and New Oil and Gas Development in Colorado

Following on the heels of failed attempts in 2014 and 2016, proponents of greater restrictions against new oil and gas exploration and production activities in Colorado are once again seeking to increase the regulatory setback distance between homes and new oil and gas development in the state. Currently, proponents of a ballot initiative – Initiative #97 – are working to obtain enough signatures to place the proposal on the Colorado ballot in November 2018.

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  • 21
  • June
  • 2018

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Environmental Appeals Board Weighs Challenge to Power Plant’s PSD Permit for EPA’s Dismissal of Battery Storage as BACT for Peak Demand Periods

On May 29, 2018, nongovernmental organizations (“NGOs”), including the Sierra Club, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Environmental Appeals Board, challenging the federal Clean Air Act Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit issued by EPA Region 9 for the Palmdale Energy Project in California.

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Briggs Remains the Law in Pennsylvania, as a State Appellate Court Refuses to Reconsider Case Allowing a Claim of Trespass for Drainage Arising from Hydraulic Fracturing

On June 12, 2018, a Pennsylvania appeals court refused a petitioner’s request for an en banc rehearing on a case decided by a three-judge panel in April 2018, holding that the rule of capture did not bar a claim for trespass under circumstances where an operator’s hydraulic fracturing activity resulted in the drainage of gas from an adjoining tract that was not a part of the operator’s lease.

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  • 14
  • June
  • 2018

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EPA Memorandum Expands Headquarters Role in Enforcement Referrals to DOJ

Earlier in the year we posted blogs discussing policy changes at EPA and DOJ that signaled changes in federal enforcement and a rethinking of the use of third-party payments. EPA has since announced another enforcement-related procedure that could signal a major change in the way EPA conducts enforcement. In March of this year the EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Susan Bodine issued Interim Procedures for Providing Early Notice of Civil Judicial Referrals (U.S. EPA, March 23, 2018). Under these interim procedures, the EPA regional case teams are to brief the Regional Administrator on cases to be referred to DOJ, and to copy the Assistant Administrator with these briefing materials. If requested by the Assistant Administrator, the regions are directed to send the referral to the EPA Assistant Administrator prior to sending the referral to DOJ.

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Will Trespass Claims for Hydraulic Fracturing Remain Triumphant Over the Rule of Capture in Pennsylvania? An Oil and Gas Operator Seeks Reconsideration in Briggs

In oil and gas law, it is well-settled that the “rule of capture” holds that there is no liability for a mineral rights owner’s drainage of oil and gas from another person’s land so long as the oil and gas is produced from a well bottomed on the mineral owner’s property and all relevant statutes and regulations have been observed. The rule shields exploration and production operators from liability for a trespass when they extract oil and gas below ground from another person’s land, unlike the case where a prospector extracts hard minerals such as coal or precious metals such as gold or silver. The application of the rule of capture to extraction of oil and gas and not to hard or precious minerals is due in large measure to the “fugitive and wandering” nature of oil and gas.

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  • 17
  • April
  • 2018

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Federal Offshore Regulatory Agencies Announce Increased Civil Monetary Penalties for 2018

Like death and taxes, the specter of civil penalties remains ever-present. In the federal offshore energy regulatory environment, monetary penalties have increased once again in 2018. Spurred on by increases in the Consumer Price Index, each of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”), and the U.S. Coast Guard (“Coast Guard”), have adjusted their civil penalty amount during 2018 to account for inflation. Consequently, offshore facility lessees or permittees or vessel operators incurring violations in 2018 after the effective date that such monetary penalty increases became effective will be subject to the bolstered penalty amounts.

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  • 20
  • March
  • 2018

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New EPA, DOJ Policies Alter Enforcement Landscape

New enforcement polices announced by the EPA and the DOJ presage possible changes in the way environmental enforcement will be conducted at the federal level. Consistent with the overall themes of the Trump administration of cooperative federalism and a focus on compliance, new EPA policies state that the agency will defer to the states as the primary enforcing entities, and will encourage the use of more informal enforcement approaches to bring about compliance. In addition to these EPA-specific polices, the DOJ announced a policy limiting the use of agency guidance in affirmative civil enforcement cases. The new DOJ policy, while not limited to environmental cases, is expected to be especially relevant to enforcement in the environment and natural resources area.

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  • 13
  • March
  • 2018

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Consent Decree Dispute Highlights Changes in SEP, Mitigation Projects Due to New DOJ Settlement Policy

Controversy surrounding a Clean Air Act consent decree has served to highlight changes in environmental enforcement brought about by a June 5, 2017 memorandum from the United States Attorney General announcing a general prohibition on settlement payment to third parties. Memorandum for All Component Heads and United States Attorneys, Prohibition on Settlement Payments to Third Parties, (Office of the Attorney General, June 5, 2017) (“June 5 Memorandum”). Attorneys in the environmental community immediately recognized that this prohibition would have implications for environmental settlements that included Supplemental Environmental Projects (“SEPs”) (projects undertaken in settlements by defendants, that are not required for compliance, that result in a reduction in penalties, see Issuance of the 2015 Update to the 1998 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Supplemental Environmental Projects Policy (U.S. EPA March 10, 2015) (“SEP Policy”), as well as mitigation projects (projects undertaken by defendants as part of the overall injunctive relief to mitigate alleged harms due to past violations and which do not generally result in a penalty reduction), see Securing Mitigation as Injunctive Relief in Certain Civil Enforcement Settlements (2nd edition) (U.S. EPA Nov. 14, 2012) (“Mitigation Policy”). After the Attorney General Policy was announced, the Environmental and Natural Resources Division (“ENRD”) of the Department of Justice issued guidance on the application of the June 5 Memorandum to cases handled by ENRD. Settlement Payments to Third Parties in ENRD Cases, (Office of the Acting Assistant Attorney General, ENRD, January 9, 2018) (“ENRD Policy”). This policy sets forth a limited exception to third-party payments when the payments directly remedy harm to the environment.

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  • 06
  • March
  • 2018

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Corporate Officer Individual Liability for Environmental Violations Upheld by the Texas Supreme Court

The Texas Supreme Court recently reinstated an assessment of civil penalties against a corporate official for violations of the Texas Water Code. In State of Texas v. Morello, No. 16-0457 (February 23, 2018), the Court overturned the decision by the Austin Court of Appeals, which had held that a corporate official could not be personally liable for environmental violations unless the individual had engaged in “tortious” or “fraudulent” acts. The Supreme Court, in looking at the plain meaning of the Water Code, held that “under an environmental regulation applicable to a ‘person,’ an individual cannot use the corporate form as a shield when he or she has personally participated in conduct that violates the statute.” Slip op. at 12 (emphasis added).

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  • 03
  • August
  • 2017

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TCEQ Developing New Temperature Screening Procedures for Wastewater Discharge Permitting

Last Thursday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) convened a stakeholder meeting to discuss how it plans to ensure compliance with the temperature criteria in the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards through the wastewater discharge permitting process. The updated “implementation procedures” shared by TCEQ at the meeting, when finalized, could result in TCEQ adding permit conditions to existing wastewater discharge permits.

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  • 31
  • July
  • 2017

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Public Comment Opens on WOTUS Rulemaking

On July 27, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers jointly proposed to rescind the “waters of the United States” definition in the Code of Federal Regulations and to apply the definition in place both before to the 2015 rulemaking adding the definition and after the Sixth Circuit’s late 2015 stay of the rule. This rulemaking is drawing substantial interest because the definition outlines much of these agencies’ jurisdiction. Public comments are due on August 28, 2017.

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