On June 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF) v. Commonwealth, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 1393 (Pa. June 20), in connection with the so-called Environmental Rights Amendment or ERA (Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution). Suffice it to say, the opinion has reopened the debate as to the meaning of the ERA, and more importantly, how the ERA is implemented as a practical and legal matter. In brief, the court ruled that amendments to the state’s fiscal code (which sought to address budgetary shortfalls by redirecting money from a fund containing rents and royalties from oil and gas leases on commonwealth land to the general fund) violated the ERA. While the facts before the court were narrowly drawn, the court used the opportunity to revisit the decades old “test” applied in evaluating ERA claims, an issue it first addressed in its 2013 plurality opinion in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901 (Pa. 2013). It abruptly rejected the well-established Payne v. Kassab test and roughly 45 years of ERA-related case law, thereby placing the ERA, and industry, back into legal limbo. Despite some legal uncertainty, this opinion should not be interpreted as a major stumbling block to key energy and infrastructure projects.
Consistent with a line of recent Commonwealth Court decisions, the Commonwealth Court once again held that a township did not violate the Pennsylvania Constitution by passing an ordinance that allowed oil and gas development in various zoning districts, including residential-agricultural (R-A) districts. In Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et al. v. Middlesex Township Zoning Hearing Board, 2017 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 415 (Pa. Cmwlth. June 7, 2017), the Court upheld an ordinance and the zoning hearing board’s approval of an oil and gas permit in an R-A district over the objections of numerous entities, including the Clean Air Council (“CAC”) and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (“Riverkeepers”), who claimed that the township and/or board actions violated several provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Continue reading “Robinson Rejected: Zoning Ordinance Permitting Oil and Gas Development in Residential-Agricultural Districts Is Constitutional”
Elizabeth E. Klingensmith, Jeremy A. Mercer, and Amy L. Barrette
The Texas Supreme Court annunciated two critical points in Lightning Oil Co. v. Anadarko E&P Onshore: (1) unauthorized interference may be a trespass only when it impacts the mineral lessee’s ability to exercise its rights to explore, obtain, produce, and possess the leased minerals; and (2) the trespass injury must outweigh the interests of the industry as a whole and society in maximizing oil and gas. Continue reading “Drill on Through to the Other Side: No Trespass When Drilling Through Mineral Estate with Surface Use Agreement”
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in NL Industries, Inc. v. State of New Jersey will frustrate the equitable allocation of cleanup costs at sites involving pre-1977 discharges where the State would otherwise qualify as a responsible party. Such a result would be particularly severe considering the high cleanup price tag for many sites predating 1977. Any party involved in or contemplating such a contribution action against the State should be mindful of this decision when determining how best to proceed. This should include determining whether a federal forum and contribution claims under the NJ Spill Act’s federal counterpart, CERCLA, might achieve a better result. Continue reading “Stretching Sovereign Immunity: The New Jersey High Court Immunizes the State from New Jersey Spill Act Liable for Pre- 1977 Discharges”
Michael L. Krancer and Michael Joseph Montalbano
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court stayed, at least for now, implementation of portions of the new Chapter 78a oil and gas regulations that it considered rogue. These new rules are the poster child for “train-wreck” regulation—they come with the trifecta of horribles: (1) a huge price tag; (2) little or no environmental benefit; and (3) at a time when prices for Pennsylvania producers are low. This is good news for the competitiveness of Pennsylvania as a leader in responsible energy production. Businesses in the oil and gas industry, royalty owners, and companies in the supply chain should keep a close eye out as this case progresses, as they will be significantly impacted depending on future developments in this case. Continue reading “Court Rebuffs Dep’s New Chapter 78A Oil and Gas Regulations”