Brennan Weintraub - Research Assistant
Jackie Schweichler - Education Programs Coordinator
The following information is an update of recent local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to shale gas.
Interstate Commissions: Pennsylvania State Senators Intervene in Hydraulic Fracturing Moratorium Case
On September 17, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granted a motion from three Pennsylvania state senators to intervene in the ongoing case against the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (DRBC) moratorium against hydraulic fracturing (Wayne Land and Mineral Group LLC v. Delaware River Basin Commission, No. 13:16-cv-00897-RDM). The case was brought by Wayne Land and Mineral Group, LLC (Wayne), seeking a declaratory judgment that DRBC does not have the authority to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing activities within the Basin. In 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that the term “projects,” which the DRBC is given jurisdiction over, is unambiguous and includes the practice of hydraulic fracturing. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed, and in July 2018, the court vacated the dismissal and remanded the case. The senators now seek to support Wayne in its ongoing challenge, claiming that DRBC has overstepped its authority in issuing the moratorium.
Crude Oil by Rail: Department of Transportation Rescinds Crude Oil Rail Requirements
On September 24, 2018, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, an agency within the Department of Transportation, announced that it would be removing certain federal requirements for the transportation of crude oil by rail. Specifically, the agency will no longer require that trains transporting crude oil be equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. The agency has determined that the costs associated with this technology do not provide economically justifiable benefits.
Methane Emissions: Oil and Gas Companies Commit to Significant Methane Reductions
On September 24, 2018, the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative announced that its participating companies will reduce methane emissions from their oil and gas operations by 2025. The Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGC) is an organization of oil and gas companies that are voluntarily working to develop policy and strategies to lower methane emissions for upstream and downstream operations. OGC set a target of a one-fifth reduction in overall emissions and an ultimate goal of a one-third reduction. OGC includes several major companies in the industry, including Chevron, BP, Petrobras, and Exxon Mobil.
Pipelines: State Department Releases Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Keystone XL Alternative Route
On September 24, 2018, the U.S. Department of State (Department) announced the availability of public review and comment for the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Mainline Alternative Route. The Keystone XL pipeline, operated by TransCanada, is designed to deliver oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska. In November 2017, the Nebraska Public Service Commission denied TransCanada’s application for the preferred pipeline route but approved the Mainline Alternative route. On August 15, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered the State Department to analyze the potential environmental impacts of the Mainline Alternative Route (MAR). In the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Department analyzed the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts related to the MAR. According to the draft EIS, potential impacts from the MAR “are not likely to be significant.” Public comments on the draft EIS will be accepted until October 9, 2018.
Federal Lands: Federal Judge Reinstates Leasing Rules in Sage Grouse Areas
On September 21, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho issued an opinion granting a preliminary injunction that requires the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reinstate rules intended to protect the greater sage grouse (Western Watersheds Project et al v. Zinke et al, No. 1:2018cv00187). BLM had changed the rules in January to shorten the time in which formal protests against oil and gas leases in sage grouse areas could be filed. BLM also made the public comment period for such leases optional. The injunction only applies to federally-recognized greater sage grouse habitat management areas. According to the court, the injunction will allow more opportunity for public involvement and comment which will remedy any potential harm that could be caused by the rule change.
Methane Migration: University of Texas Study Finds No Link Between Hydraulic Fracturing and Methane in Groundwater
On September 24, 2018, researchers from the University of Texas announced the completion of a study on methane present in groundwater. The study, published in Water Resources Research, examined the chemical composition of methane from shallow groundwater wells located above the Barnett Shale. The wells with higher methane levels, the study concluded, had been contaminated by methane migrating up from deeper rock formations, not from nearby hydraulic fracturing activities. Additionally, the study looked at several hundred other water wells in the area and found little or no methane contamination (Monitoring Stray Natural Gas in Ground water with Dissolved Nitrogen. An Example from Parker County, Texas).
From the National Oil & Gas Law Experts:
Charles Sartain, Landmen, Ohio Has a Surprise for You, Gray Reed (October 1, 2018)
John McFarland, News from the Railroad Commission, Oil and Gas Lawyer Blog (October 1, 2018)
HB 2154: first consideration (September 25, 2018) act relating to conventional wells & the development of oil, gas, and coal
SR 214: reported as committed (September 25, 2018) a resolution urging PA natural gas producers to export natural gas to Europe
SR 104 (laid on the table): resolution urging the Governor to end the moratorium on new nonsurface disturbance natural gas drilling leases in state forest land (September 25, 2018)
Public Hearing: regarding application from Penneco to authorize oil and gas waste disposal in Allegheny County (October 1, 2018)
(September 28, 2018) First round of grants announced for Driving PA Forward initiative. Funding will be used to improve air quality through six transportation projects.
Follow us on Twitter at PSU Ag & Shale Law (@AgShaleLaw) to receive ShaleLaw HotLinks:
"Hackers Eye US Oil, Gas Infrastructure" - Hart Energy
"Researchers: 'No Link' between Fracking And Methane in North Texas Groundwater" - Houston Public Media
"Demand for fracking sand hits record levels" - Shale Gas Reporter
"OPEC: U.S. Shale Will Peak in Mid-2025" - Oil and Gas 360
"Don’t frack so close to me: Colorado voters will weigh in on drilling distances from homes and schools" - The Conversation
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This week we published one new Shale Law in the Spotlight article: Shale Law in the Spotlight – Overview of Recent Amendments to the EPA Methane Emissions Rule
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