PADEP Launches eSubmission Public Search

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced the launch of eSubmission Public Search, an online tool that allows the public to view and download PADEP documents submitted by oil and natural gas operators. The public may now search for and view documents related to:
  •  Area of Review Summaries;
  •  Borrow Pit Registrations;
  •  Completion Reports;
  •  Due Diligence Extension Requests;
  •  Post-Drilling Restoration Reports and Extension Requests;
  •  Post-Plugging Restoration Reports and Extension Requests;
  •  Alternative Waste Management Requests;
  •  Underground Storage Tank Registrations;
  •  Well Development Impoundment Registration and Transfer Requests;
  •  Well Logs; and
  •  Well Records.
Over 1,000 operator documents are already loaded onto the website. PADEP stated in the press release announcing the website launch that “electronic oil and gas document submission is a critical step in making DEP permitting and monitoring more efficient and transparent.”
Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Now Protected as Endangered Species

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 21, 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a request by housing developers, pesticide makers, farmers, utilities, and oil and natural gas companies to delay protections for the rusty patched bumble bee. A final rule protecting the species as endangered was published on January 11, 2017, and industry associations requested additional time to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition on incidental takes of listed species. Specifically, industry groups expressed concern that incidental takes might occur through the inadvertent destruction of underground nests during construction or through the general use of herbicides or insecticides.

While protections for the rusty patched bumble bee are national in scope, the current range of the species suggests that operators in the Utica and western Marcellus – particularly in Ohio – should be particularly alert for the presence of the bee during development. USFWS has published a map with current occurrences of the species and guidance on the issuance of incidental take permits.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BNA Posts HFB Insights on Risk Management Program Changes

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 21, 2017, Bloomberg BNA published “EPA Changes to the Risk Management Program,” an HFB article discussing recent amendments to EPA’s risk management regulations. The amendments to the risk management program have the potential to affect a wide array of industries, including midstream oil and gas facilities, chemical manufacturers and wholesalers, food and beverage manufacturers, petroleum wholesalers, utilities, warehouses, and certain local government entities (such as wastewater treatment plants).

The regulations are scheduled to take effect June 19, 2017.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Another Induced Seismicity Suit Filed in OK

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 3, 2017, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in the District Court of the Pawnee Nation, alleging damages from induced seismic events, including damages resulting from a September 3, 2016 magnitude-5.8 seismic event that occurred near two wastewater disposal wells. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges absolute liability, negligence, private nuisance, and trespass causes of action and seeks compensation for physical damages to real and personal property, market value loss to real property, and punitive damages. Named defendants in the lawsuit include two wastewater disposal well operators and 25 unnamed companies that have “engaged in injection well operations in and around Pawnee.”

The Petition also discusses the U.S. Geological Survey’s recently released 2017 Induced Seismicity Forecast, which projects that Oklahoma has a greater than 10% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event in 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Early 2017 RRC Data Points to Industry Rebound

By:  Michael K. Reer  

The monthly statistics published by the Texas Railroad Commission suggest that a noticeable industry rebound began in November of 2016. In December of 2016 alone, the RRC issued nearly 300 more permits than it issued in December of 2015. Increased operator activity was also noticeable in January and February of 2017, months in which the RRC issued nearly twice the number of permits compared to the same time period in 2016.
Friday, March 17, 2017

BLM to Withdraw Hydraulic Fracturing Rule

On March 15, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, stated in a legal filing that it will withdraw its contested final rule that would have updated the Bureau’s regulations applicable to hydraulic fracturing operations on Federal and Indian Lands. The rule was published as final in the Federal Register on March 26, 2015 but enjoined by the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming preliminarily in September 2015 and finally in June 2016. Under the Obama Administration, BLM pursued an appeal of the district court injunction, which found that Congress has not delegated to BLM the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Had the rule taken effect, it would have required, among other items, that operators: submit detailed information regarding the proposed hydraulic fracturing operation, including wellbore geology information and the estimated length of fracture propagation; design and implement a casing and cementing program that meets certain best management practices and performance standards; manage recovered fluids in rigid enclosed, covered, or netted and screened aboveground storage tanks, with some exceptions; and disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to BLM and the public, with limited exceptions for trade secrets.
Thursday, March 16, 2017

U.S. Silica Holdings to Double Output

By: Michael K. Reer

On February 28, 2017, Bloomberg reported that U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. is expected to double its total supply of silica over the next 12-18 months. Silica, the price of which has increased 20% since October, is used by many operators as a proppant in hydraulic fracturing operations. Bloomberg noted that the “dramatic tightening” in the silica market – which has doubled the value of shares of the four biggest sand suppliers in the U.S. – points to a significant recovery in the oil and natural gas sector.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

President Trump to Nominate 3, Restore Quorum to FERC

By: Blake C. Billings

On March 9, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Donald J. Trump will nominate Neil Chatterjee, Kevin McIntyre, and Robert Powelson as commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The five-commissioner panel has only two sitting commissioners and has been without a quorum, and therefore unable to vote to advance or permit major interstate natural gas pipeline projects, since February 3, 2017. In addition to the three current vacancies, commissioner Colette D. Honorable’s term is set to expire in June.

Chatterjee is an energy policy advisor and liaison to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McIntyre is an energy attorney and partner in the Washington, DC, office of Jones Day, where he co-heads the firm’s energy practice group. Powelson is a commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. The nominees must be confirmed by the United States Senate prior to taking their seats at FERC—a process which could take several months.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Texas Supreme Court Finds Contamination Claims Barred By Limitations

By: Michael K. Reer

On February 24, 2017, the Supreme Court of Texas found that a plaintiff’s oil-field contamination claims are barred by the state’s four-year statute of limitations because the claims were brought more than four years after the alleged spills and releases occurred. The plaintiff in the case alleged oil-field contamination claims resulting from an operator’s production activities that occurred over a 60-year period. Once the operator sold its leasehold interest in the tract, the plaintiff hired an environmental manager to investigate whether the tract had been contaminated from development operations. The environmental manager alleged that 1.2 acres of the tract suffered contamination, and estimated that remediation would cost $6.3 million. The plaintiff sought an injunction requiring the operator to remediate the alleged contamination.

The Texas Supreme Court found that the statute of limitations began to run when the plaintiff became aware of the alleged contamination. Deposition testimony demonstrated that the plaintiff was aware of periodic spills throughout the operator’s tenure on the tract, but that none of the spills occurred within four years of the date of the lawsuit. The Court found that where the plaintiff is actually aware of the spills that allegedly result in contamination, the limitations clock begins to run immediately, and not when the scope of the contamination is investigated or understood.

The case is ExxonMobil Corp. v. Lazy R Ranch, LC, et al., No. 15-0270 (Tex. Feb. 24, 2017).
Friday, March 10, 2017

RRC to Open Comment Period on Draft Chapter 1 Amendments

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 17, 2017, the Texas Railroad Commission will open a public comment period on a proposal to simultaneously repeal and adopt several subchapters in 16 Texas Administrative Code Chapter 1. According to the RRC memorandum accompanying the rule proposal, RRC staff propose to repeal and replace Chapter 1 to reorganize and update certain rules in order to clarify current RRC practice and procedures and to reflect certain statutory changes. The changes to Chapter 1 will likely impact the procedure used in contested case proceedings in front of RRC hearing examiners.

The public comment period will be open from March 17, 2017 until May 1, 2017.
Thursday, March 09, 2017

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