FERC Issues Guidance and Regulatory Relief in Connection with Coronavirus Response

Mark R. Haskell, Brett A. Snyder, Lamiya N. Rahman, and Jane Thomas

On March 19, 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) announced several regulatory responses to the coronavirus pandemic and FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee held a press conference to discuss the agency’s initiatives. The Chairman emphasized the capabilities of the Commission and its staff to work in a timely manner throughout the pandemic response, while striving to provide necessary flexibility to regulated entities.

The Chairman named Caroline Wozniak, a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Energy Market Regulation, as the point of contact for all energy industry inquiries related to the impacts of COVID-19. Members of the regulated community may e-mail PandemicLiaison@FERC.gov with questions for Commission staff.

Chairman Chatterjee clarified that the Commission will provide regulated entities with flexibility when needed, but emphasized the Commission is fully functioning and will try not to delay decisions. Chairman Chatterjee also stated his goal is to issue certain rehearing orders involving pipeline certificate projects challenged by affected landowners within 30 days, consistent with guidance from the Chairman issued on January 31, 2020.

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FERC Reaffirms Its Final Rule on Rate Changes Relating to Federal Income Tax Rates for Natural Gas Pipelines

Mark R. Haskell, Brett A. Snyder, George D. Billinson, and Lamiya N. Rahman

The Commission’s recent order upholds the Form No. 501-G filing requirement, which was designed to determine whether pipelines are over-recovering on their cost of service in light of recent federal income tax rate and policy changes. Thus far, the Commission has initiated investigations into the rates of six pipelines pursuant to its authority under section 5 of the Natural Gas Act. These proceedings are ongoing.

On April 18, 2019, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) issued an order (“Order No. 849-A”)1 denying requests for rehearing of its final rule on federal income tax rates for jurisdictional natural gas pipelines (“Order No. 849”).2 Order No. 849 adopted procedures for determining whether pipelines may be collecting unjust and unreasonable rates in light of income tax reductions established by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and the Commission’s revised tax allowance policy following the United Airlines, Inc. v. FERC decision.3 These procedures included a requirement that certain interstate natural gas pipelines file a FERC Form No. 501-G to estimate cost of service reductions and changes in returns on equity (“ROE”) resulting from the income tax changes. Continue reading “FERC Reaffirms Its Final Rule on Rate Changes Relating to Federal Income Tax Rates for Natural Gas Pipelines”

Pennsylvania Superior Court Fractures Long-Standing Rule of Capture

Christopher A. Lewis and Stephen C. Zumbrun

Citing distinctions between hydraulic fracturing and conventional gas drilling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held on April 2, 2018, in Briggs v. Southwestern Energy Production Company[1] that the rule of capture does not preclude liability for trespass due to hydraulic fracturing, reversing a summary judgment that had been granted by the trial court in favor of Southwestern Energy Production Company. The Briggs ruling exposes operators to potential tort liability where subsurface fractures, fracturing fluid, and proppant cross boundary lines and extend into the subsurface estate of an adjoining property, resulting in the extraction of natural gas from the adjoining property. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Superior Court Fractures Long-Standing Rule of Capture”

Section 401 of the Clean Water Act: Is It Time to Update?

Margaret Anne Hill and Frederick M. Lowther

On Wednesday April 18, 2018, from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. (EDT), Blank Rome Partners Margaret Anne (“Peg”) Hill and Frederick M. Lowther will present a live webinar where they will discuss adjustments that might be made to the Clean Water Act to restore the originally-intended cooperation between state and federal authorities, and what remedies might be available in lieu of congressional action.

The federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) has been in existence since 1972. For the states that implemented EPA-sanctioned water quality standards, the CWA (specifically Section 401) gave those states the power to enforce those standards by granting or denying certifications to federally-regulated projects impacting state waters. The concept of state veto power over federally-regulated projects was known as “cooperative federalism.”

By 2005, it became clear that Section 401 rights provided a means for states to delay or frustrate projects on grounds only tangentially related to water quality. In the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (“EPACT”), Congress responded by providing for direct, expedited review of adverse state action in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Notwithstanding EPACT, several states continued to use Section 401 for purposes broader than originally intended and the direct appellate remedy proved ineffective.

Starting with Islander East in 2007, and culminating recently in Constitution Pipeline, states have effectively blocked a number of federally-approved interstate pipeline projects. The impact of these decisions suggests that it is time to revisit the “cooperative federalism” concept.

For more information about this event or to register, please click here.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments

Jeremy A. Mercer

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently expanded the definition of “Commonwealth” in the Pennsylvania Constitution to include local governments but without any reasoned support. See Pa. Envtl. Def. Found. v. Commw., 161 A.3d 911, 931 n.23 (Pa. 2017) (“PEDF”). In a footnote, which arguably is dicta, the Supreme Court said that the trustee referenced in the “Natural Resources and the Public Estate” provision of Pennsylvania’s Constitution (Article I, Section 27) includes local governments despite the Constitution’s express selection of the “Commonwealth” as the trustee. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Improperly Expands the Definition of “Commonwealth” in Article I Section 27 of the Constitution to Include Local Governments”

It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Yes, a federal court made the determination in 2014 and 2015 that hydraulic fracturing associated with unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania is not an abnormally dangerous activity that is subject to strict liability. See Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 38 F. Supp. 3d 518 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (Report & Recommendation issued in January; adopted in April); see also Kamuck v. Shell Energy Holdings GP, LLC, Civil No. 4:11-CV-1425, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37538 (M.D. Pa. March 25, 2015) (concluding hydraulic fracturing is not abnormally dangerous or subject to strict liability). In the Ely decision, the court undertook an extensive review of the factual record developed after years of discovery and concluded that there simply was no support for a view that hydraulic fracturing was an abnormally dangerous activity. Now, a Pennsylvania appellate court has reached the same conclusion—twice. Continue reading “It’s Catching On—Hydraulic Fracturing Is Not an Abnormally Dangerous Activity in Pennsylvania”

Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought

Jeremy A. Mercer, Amy L. Barrette, and Elizabeth E. Klingensmith

Under Pennsylvania law, a defined primary term of an oil and gas lease may actually be longer than that stated term of year. In a September 12, 2017, unreported decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court remanded a case to the trial court for consideration of whether a “limitation of forfeiture” provision, which required notice and opportunity to cure, extended the primary term by the length of the cure period. See L.D. Oil & Gas Enters., Inc. v. Loop, No. 1883 WDA 2016, 2017 WL 4001655 (Pa. Super. Ct. Sep. 12, 2017). In overturning the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings to the lessor, the Superior Court returned the case to allow the trial court to take parol evidence of the impact of the “limitation of forfeiture” provision on the length of the primary term. Continue reading “Not So Fast—Your Oil and Gas Lease Primary Term May Be Longer Than You Thought”