Monday, April 3, 2017

Shale Law Weekly Review - April 3, 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.

PA DEP Approves Injection Wells in Elk and Indiana Counties
On March 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approved two new underground wastewater injection wells. The wells will be operated by Seneca Resources Corp. in Elk County and by Pennsylvania General Energy Company in Indiana County. The permit approvals included conditions to “ensure early detection if even minor seismic events occur.” Some of the conditions include the installation of a seismometer, data verification and reporting, and the submission of a seismic event contingency plan. On the same day, DEP filed suit against Highland Township (Elk County) and Grant Township (Indiana County) to overturn their local injection well bans, according to State Impact.

Commonwealth Court Rules in Favor of Snyder Brothers
On March 29, 2017, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Snyder Brothers Inc. (SBI) did not violate Act 13 and will not be required to pay penalties for improperly listed stripper wells (Snyder Bros. v. Pa. Puc, No. 1043 C.C. 2015). The case was initiated when the Public Utility Commission alleged SBI owed approximately $500,000 in impact fees for their natural gas wells. SBI argued that their wells met the definition of a stripper wells due to their low production levels, and thus, were not subject to the impact fee. The court agreed and held that the wells were stripper wells.  Therefore, SBI did not need to pay the impact fee.

Federal Court Sets Aside Jury Verdict Against Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. in Dimock Litigation
On March 31, 2017, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania vacated a landmark $4.24 million jury verdict that had been awarded to landowners in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who allegedly suffered from water contamination as a result of nearby shale development.  (Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Civil No. 3:09-cv-2284).  The jury verdict had been issued against Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation (Cabot) on March 10, 2016.  The court failed to grant Cabot’s request for a judgment in its favor, but did order that a new trial be scheduled because of evidentiary problems with testimony presented by the plaintiffs at trial.

White House Releases New Executive Order on Energy
On March 28, 2017, the White House released the Presidential Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.  The executive order requires each agency to develop and submit an energy plan an energy plan according to the guidelines in the order. In addition, the order rescinds several prior executive orders and reports including the orders Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change and Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment. The executive order also demands a review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan” as well as a review of the rule “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources.”

Maryland Senate Approves Hydraulic Fracturing Ban
On March 27, 2017, the Maryland Senate passed a new bill that will ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. House Bill 1325 is entitled Oil and Natural Gas - Hydraulic Fracturing - Prohibition and its purpose is to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing in the exploration or production of oil or natural gas. The bill, which previously advanced through the House of Representatives, was passed in the Senate with a vote of 36 to 10. According to the Washington Post, the governor is expected to sign it.

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