Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment holding that FERC's action against financial trading entities and an individual trader was timely-filed within the five-year statute of limitations on civil penalty actions under 28 U.S.C. 2462. The court held that FERC did not have a complete and present cause of action to file suit in federal district court until 60 days elapsed after it had issued the penalty assessment order and appellants refused to pay the assessed penalty. Therefore, FERC's claim had not accrued until then and this action was timely filed. View "Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Powhatan Energy Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners challenged the Board's award of a permit for construction of a compressor station on behalf of ACP in the historic community of Union Hill. The compression station is one of three stations planned to support the transmission of natural gas through ACP's 600-mile pipeline. The Fourth Circuit held that the Board erred in failing to consider electric turbines as zero-emission alternatives to gas-fired turbines in the compressor station. The court also held that the Board erred in failing to assess the compressor station's potential for disproportionate health impacts on the predominantly African-American community of Union Hill, and in failing to independently evaluate the suitability of that site. Accordingly, the court vacated the permit and remanded for the Board to make findings with regard to conflicting evidence in the record, the particular studies it relied on, and the corresponding local character and degree of injury from particulate matter and toxic substances threatened by construction and operation of the compressor station. View "Friends of Buckingham v. State Air Pollution Control Board" on Justia Law

by
In an action arising from a condemnation proceeding, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment to MVP based on its right to condemn certain temporary and permanent easements on the properties of several landowners, including WPPLP. In this case, MVP was authorized by FERC to exercise its rights of eminent domain to construct a natural gas pipeline. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of MVP's motion for a preliminary injunction allowing MVP immediate access to the easements described in MVP's complaint. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence regarding potential damage to WPPLP and WPPLLC's coal as a result of the pipeline; the district court did not err by declining to join WPPLLC as an indispensable party; there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to MVP's claim to invoke eminent domain powers; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the Winter factors favored a grant of a preliminary injunction to MVP. View "Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. Western Pocahontas Properties" on Justia Law

by
The parties dispute whether the obligation to "spud" three wells on a tract of land in West Virginia was an obligation only to begin drilling or to complete the wells to the point of mineral production. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that the Purchase Sale Agreement executed between the parties contained no requirement that the spudded wells be completed to production. The court also affirmed the district court's conclusion that Pine Resources failed to prove that it sustained any damages. View "Equinor USA Onshore Properties, Inc. v. Pine Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

by
South Carolina filed suit to enjoin the United States and others from terminating the construction of a mixed-oxide fuel nuclear processing facility located in the state. The Fourth Circuit held that South Carolina failed to establish standing to pursue its claims and therefore vacated the preliminary injunction imposed by the district court. In this case, South Carolina's alleged injury -- becoming the permanent repository of weapons-grade plutonium -- was too speculative to give rise to a sufficient concrete injury in fact. The court also held that South Carolina's claims failed on ripeness grounds where numerous contingent future events must occur before South Carolina becomes the permanent repository of the nuclear material. View "South Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The district court awarded summary judgment to the state and entered an injunction that required DOE to remove not less than one metric ton of defense plutonium from the State within two years. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court properly enforced the statutory responsibilities imposed on the DOE by Congress and that it also appropriately crafted and entered the injunction. The court rejected the DOE's contention that the principles governing mandamus proceedings, as well as fundamental principles of injunctive relief, control the award of an injunction under the Administrative Procedure Act. The court held that the district court, in carefully crafting the injunction, gave full consideration to the positions of the parties and the record. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion or improperly burdened the DOE by imposing 50 U.S.C. 2566(c)'s two-year removal time frame. View "South Carolina v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Sierra Club filed suit against Dominion under the citizen-suit provision of the Clean Water Act, alleging that Dominion was violating 33 U.S.C. 1311(a), which prohibits the unauthorized "discharge of any pollutant" into navigable waters. The Fourth Circuit held that the landfill and settling ponds on the Chesapeake site of a coal-fired power plant did not constitute "point sources" as that term was defined in the Clean Water Act, and thus reversed the district court's ruling that Dominion was liable under section 1311(a). The court held, however, that Dominion's discharge permit did not regulate the groundwater contamination at issue and affirmed as to those claims. View "Sierra Club v. Virginia Electric & Power Co." on Justia Law

by
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' action against Mountain Valley Pipeline, FERC, and the Acting Chairman of FERC, challenging the constitutionality of various provisions of the Natural Gas Act. The court held that it need not reach the merits of the challenges because the claims must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court explained that, under the two-step analysis in Bennett v. SEC, 844 F.3d 174 (4th Cir. 2016), Congress intended to divest district courts of jurisdiction to hear the claims pursued by plaintiffs and instead intended those claims to be brought under the statutory review scheme established by the Natural Gas Act. View "Berkley v. Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Virginia Uranium filed suit seeking a declaration that the ban on mining the Coles Hill uranium deposit was preempted by federal law and an injunction compelling the Commonwealth to grant uranium mining permits. The district court granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss. On appeal, Virginia Uranium maintains that the Atomic Energy Act preempts Virginia's ban on uranium mining. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that Virginia's ban on conventional uranium mining is not preempted. The court explained that, because conventional uranium mining outside of federal lands is beyond the regulatory ambit of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it is not an "activity" under section 2021(k) of the Act. The court rejected Virginia Uranium's contention that uranium-ore milling and tailings storage are activities under section 2021(k) of the Act, and concluded that the Commonwealth’s mining ban does not purport to regulate an activity within the Act's reach. Finally, the court concluded that the district court properly dismissed the case where Congress's purposes and objectives in passing the Act are not materially affected by the Commonwealth's ban on conventional uranium mining. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Virginia Uranium v. Warren" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed this diversity action alleging that he owned fractional working interests in four Ritchie County mining partnerships, which owned six oil and gas wells, and demanding an accounting of the four partnerships. Defendant counterclaimed for the cumulative operating expenses attributable to Plaintiff’s asserted working interests in the partnerships. The district court awarded summary judgment to Defendant, concluding that Plaintiff’s assertion of interests in the four mining partnerships failed because he could not produce a writing that evidenced his co-ownership of the subject leases or wells in conformance with the Statute of Frauds. The Supreme Court of West Virginia accepted the Fourth Circuit’s certified question of law and answered (1) if a person contends he owns an interest in a common-law mining partnership, the Statute of Frauds requires the person to prove he is a partner of the mining partnership through a written conveyance; and (2) if the partnership is a general partnership and the partnership owns oil and gas leases, the Statute of Frauds does not require a person to produce a written instrument to prove he is a partner in the general partnership. Having adopted the West Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion answering the Court’s certified question of law, the Fourth Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded. View "Valentine v. Sugar Rock, Inc." on Justia Law