Monday, April 24, 2017

Shale Law Weekly Review - April 24, 2017

Written by Jacqueline Schweichler - Education Programs Coordinator

The following information is an update of recent local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to shale gas.

Public Utility Commission Announces Intent to Appeal Stripper Well / Impact Fee Court Ruling
On April 11, 2017, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Chairman Gladys Brown wrote to Governor Tom Wolf announcing an intent to appeal a decision by the Commonwealth Court regarding the interpretation of low producing wells (so called “stripper wells”) that are subject to impact fee payments. (Snyder Brothers, Inc. v. Pa. Public Utility Commission, No. 1043 C.D. 2015). The court held that the language in Act 13 defined stripper wells as those that produced less than 90,000 cf of gas in at least one month, rather than less than 90,000 cf of gas in every month. Brown stated that this decision by the court “has significantly jeopardized the current and future fees generated by Act 13.  According to Brown the impact fee collection will be affected by $16 million or 10 percent of Pennsylvania's total annual impact fee.

New Dimock Township Lawsuit Filed Against Cabot Oil
On April 13, 2017, a resident of Dimock Township filed suit against Cabot Oil & Cas Corp., Gassearch Drilling Services Corp., and Williams Field Services Co. alleging that his water was contaminated as a result of natural gas exploration and production in the area (Kemble v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corp, et al.). The resident, Raymond Kemble, alleges that soon after the defendants began drilling, the water from his well became discolored and had sediment build up. The complaint seeks $75,000 plus costs, as compensation for the loss of “use and quiet enjoyment of his property” as well as punitive damages.

EPA Issues Stay of Oil and Gas Emissions Rule for Reconsideration
On April 19, 2017, a press release by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their intent to reconsider the Oil and Gas New Source Performance Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Source Rule. The purpose of the rule was to amend source performance and establish new greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds standards for oil and natural gas operations. The EPA will issue a 90 day stay on the June 3rd compliance date originally set for the rule. The EPA is reconsidering the rule after receiving petitions for review from the Texas Oil and Gas Association, GPA Midstream Association, and other oil and gas companies. According to the letter sent from the EPA to the petitioners, the issues raised met the requirements for reconsideration of the rule.

IECA Argues Against U.S. LNG Exports
On April 13, 2017, Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA) sent a letter to United States Department of Energy Secretary detailing concerns over liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. The IECA argued that “U.S. natural gas policy should focus on how to use natural gas to “maximize” job growth.” In addition, the IECA states that exports of LNG “represent a serious threat to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and jobs long-term.”

Pennsylvania Lawsuits Proceed Against Townships that Prohibit Injection Wells
On April 13, 2017, Citizens Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment (CACHE) and the Crystal Spring Ecosystem filed a motion to intervene in a Pennsylvania court case between Seneca Resources and Highland Township in Elk County, according to a press release issued by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) (Seneca Resources v. Highland Township).  The case involves Highland Township’s municipal ordinance that prohibits wastewater injection wells. Seneca Township filed suit against the township in 2015 arguing that the ordinance was invalid. Similarly, this year the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection filed suit against Highland Township and Grant Township in Indiana County after approving permits for a new injection well in each township. Both townships have ordinances prohibiting injection wells, which ordinances conflict with the DEP permits. According to StateImpact, the townships have agreed to temporarily halt enforcement of portions of the charters while the cases proceed.
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