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October 24, 2016

Higher Penalties, Greater Transparency: PHMSA Increases Civil Penalties and Commits to Providing Detailed Calculations in Individual Cases

Pipeline Safety Alert On October 17, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a General Policy Statement on Civil Penalties (Policy Statement) in the Federal Register. Representing the most recent step in the evolution of PHMSA’s enforcement process, the Policy Statement is significant for several reasons. First, PHMSA is making a public commitment to release its proposed civil penalty calculation for individual enforcement cases. While standard practice for many other federal agencies, PHMSA has not historically provided the regulated community with its methodology for calculating proposed civil penalty amounts. Second, PHMSA is acknowledging the adoption of a Civil Penalty Framework as the agency’s policy for calculating proposed penalties, and will publish that Civil Penalty Framework on its website. Under PHMSA’s previous policy, operators only received that document upon request. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Policy Statement confirms that PHMSA will be assessing higher civil penalties (within the statutory maximums) in future enforcement cases, and that greater weight will be afforded to certain factors in determining penalty amounts. The Statutory Framework The pipeline safety laws require PHMSA to consider several factors in determining the amount of any civil penalty assessed for a particular violation. Three mandatory factors must be considered in all cases, i.e., (1) the nature, circumstances, and gravity of the violation, including adverse impact on the environment; (2) the degree of the violator’s culpability, any history of prior violations, and any effect on ability to continue doing business; and (3) the violator’s good faith in attempting to comply. Two other factors may be considered as a matter of discretion, i.e., (1) the economic benefit gained from the violation without any reduction because of subsequent damages, and (2) any other matters that justice requires. As recently adjusted for inflation under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015, PHMSA’s administrative civil penalties are capped at $205,638 per violation per day, not to exceed $2,056,380 million for any related series of violations. PHMSA…

October 17, 2016

The new Chapter 78a regulations have arrived

The PIOGA Press After years of rulemaking activity, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s new Chapter 78a regulations for surface activities associated with unconventional wells became effective on October 8. This article will review the status of the regulations and the next steps for implementing Chapter 78a across the Commonwealth.  Timing The Chapter 78 (conventional wells) and 78a (unconventional wells) Subchapter C rulemaking was adopted in February by the Environmental Quality Board (EQB). However, as discussed in the July issue of The PIOGA Press, the passage of Act 52 of 2016 abrogated the portion of rulemaking applicable to conventional oil and gas development. After review by the Attorney General’s Office and the Commonwealth Joint Committee on Documents, DEP withdrew all proposed amendments applicable to conventional oil and gas wells, making changes in Chapter 78 only to clarify its scope and remove all references to unconventional wells. Chapter 78a will be published in substantially the same form as approved by EQB in February and the Independent Regula – tory Review Commission in April. DEP published the final Chapter 78a rules, titled “Environmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites,” in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, October 8. The new rules became effective upon publication, with some provisions for future registration and modification of permitting facilities, such as fresh water and centralized impoundments. DEP was required to complete all the new forms and guidance referenced in Chapter 78a before publication. Training In August and September, DEP presented training webinars on topics associated with the final Chapter 78a rulemaking for operators, contractors and any other interested parties. Training topics included pipelines and horizontal directional drilling, waste management, emergency response, secondary containment, spills and releases, well permits and reporting, water management plans, area of review, erosion control, and site restoration. Audio recordings of the webinars, along with…

Old Quiet Title Making New Racket

Oil and Gas Committee Newsletter (ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources) The growth of the U.S. economy in recent decades, along with contemporaneous expansion in industrialization and energy use abroad, has caused an explosion in demand for oil and natural gas. During that same time, oil and natural gas exploration and production companies have innovated new methods and techniques for extracting natural resources that were once considered inaccessible. New geologic reserves of hydrocarbons are being discovered at a rapid pace and the ability to develop new reserves has improved dramatically. Read more.  

October 14, 2016

PHMSA Releases Emergency Order Interim Final Rule

On October 14, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published its Interim Final Rule (IFR) entitled “Pipeline Safety: Enhanced Emergency Order Procedures” in the Federal Register.  The agency had previously issued a pre-publication version of this rule on October 4.  See Babst Calland’s Pipeline Safety Alert.  PHMSA will use these new regulations to implement its emergency order authority conferred by Congress in the “Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016” (PIPES Act).  PHMSA may issue an emergency order to address an unsafe condition or practice, or a combination of unsafe conditions or practices that pose an imminent hazard to public health and safety or the environment.   The IFR contains administrative procedures that PHMSA must follow in determining if an imminent hazard exists, the factors that must be considered before PHMSA issues an emergency order, and the content of those orders, including a description of the persons subject to the restrictions, prohibitions, or safety measures and the standards and procedures for obtaining relief. The IFR also creates a process for administrative review of an emergency order that is largely patterned on the statutory text in 49 U.S.C. § 60117(o), including the referenced procedural rules for HazMat emergency orders in 49 C.F.R. § 109.19.

PHMSA may use this authority starting today, October 14.  Interested parties may file comments on this final rule until December 13, 2016.

October 13, 2016

State Courts Are Clarifying Legal Authority of Local Governments to Regulate Oil and Gas Activities

The Foster Report As opponents of oil and gas development increasingly look for ways to exert local control, key state court rulings over the last few years have attempted to clarify, in so-called preemptive challenge cases, what the role of local governments actually is in regard to regulating oil and natural gas activities, explained panelists at the recent Shale Insight Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Driven by citizen pressure or their own volition, local governments throughout the Appalachian Basin in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are increasingly attempting to limit or ban unconventional shale development through the adoption of ordinances or referenda. The question in West Virginia and Ohio appears to be a bit clearer, due to court rulings confirming that local governments do not have the authority to regulate oil and gas activities. However, in Pennsylvania, a state that may one day be the nation’s largest producer of gas, the legal authority remains murky, said conference presenter Krista-Ann Staley, an attorney at Babst Calland. Staley told the Foster Report October 5, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling on September 28 cases, allow local governments limited powers to regulate oil and gas development in MPC (i.e., zoning, subdivision and land development) and floodplain ordinances. The local ordinances still cannot supersede state regulation of oil and gas development. West Virginia. Two…

October 11, 2016

PADEP’s Chapter 78a Rulemaking Goes into Effect for Unconventional Operations in Pennsylvania

Administrative Watch

On Saturday October 8, 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s new Chapter 78a regulations associated with unconventional wells went into effect when they were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. For unconventional well operators, there are substantial changes from prior law affecting operations over the entire life of the well, from permitting to site construction, waste handling, impoundments, pipelines, site restoration and spill remediation.

Critical New Provisions in Chapter 78a One major revision to the rules arises in sections 78a.15(f) and (g), which set out the pre-application requirements for a well permit at a location that “may impact a public resource.” This provision requires operators who propose to drill a well in such locations to notify the public resource agency, which now by definition includes schools, municipalities, and owners of playgrounds or water supplies, and provide additional information to DEP. The regulation applies if the limit of disturbance of the well site is located in any of eight specified areas, including “in a location that will impact other critical communities” and “within 200 feet of . . . a playground.” The public resource agency must be notified at least 30 days prior to the submission of the well permit application to DEP to allow the agency to provide written comments to DEP and the applicant. The applicant may provide a response to the comments. DEP will then consider various factors, including the comments submitted by both the public resource agency and the applicant, before setting conditions for the well permit based on impacts to public resources. Pipeline operators are for the first time within the scope of oil and gas regulations promulgated under Act 13. Under section 78a.68a, pipeline operators conducting horizontal directional drilling (HDD) beneath a body of water or a watercourse are subject to notification requirements. The rule requires such…

PHMSA Releases a Final Rule Expanding the Required Use of Excess Flow Valves

Pipeline Safety Alert On October 7, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) released a pre-publication version of its Final Rule entitled “Expanding the Use of Excess Flow Valves in Gas Distribution Systems to Applications Other Than Single-Family Residences” (EFV Final Rule).  In response to statutory changes and a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation, PHMSA is expanding the existing requirement that operators install an excess flow valve (EFV) on certain natural gas distribution pipelines to additional types of new or replaced service lines.  The agency is also requiring curb valves or other manual shut-off valves on new or replaced service lines with meter capacities above 1,000 standard cubic feet per hour (SCFH) and requiring operators to notify customers of their right to request the installation of an EFV on certain types of service lines.  The EFV Final Rule will become effective six months after the date of publication in the Federal Register, which is expected within 7—10 days. An EFV is a safety device installed inside a distribution service line between the main and the meter which can reduce the risk of an incident in the event of damage to the line by shutting off excessive gas flows.  Since 2010, PHMSA has required operators to install EFVs on new or replaced gas service lines servicing single-family residences (SFRs) unless the service line meets certain exceptions. EFVs must now be installed on the following service lines: 
  • Branched service lines to a SFR installed concurrently with the primary SFR service line (a single EFV may be installed to protect both lines);
  • Branched service lines to a SFR installed off a previously installed SFR service line that does not contain an EFV;
  • Multi-family installations, including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and other small multifamily buildings (e.g., apartments, condominiums) with known customer loads at time of service installation,…

October 4, 2016

Robinson Township Revisited: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Addresses Remaining Challenges to Act 13

Administrative Watch The Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared the last remaining challenged sections of Act 13 of 2012 to be invalid in an opinion issued September 28, 2016 in the Robinson Township v. Commonwealth line of cases (“Robinson IV”). The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that the portions of Act 13 giving the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) and the Commonwealth Court jurisdiction to (1) review local zoning ordinances, (2) withhold impact fee payments and (3) award attorneys’ fees against municipalities were not “severable” from the sections of Act 13 imposing statewide zoning standards for oil and natural gas development previously invalidated by the Supreme Court in December 2013 (“Robinson II”). Regarding Chapter 32 of Act 13, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that Act 13’s provisions for the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing additives in a medical context and notice of spills to public drinking water suppliers but not to owners of private wells were unconstitutional “special laws.” Finally, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and held that the grant of eminent domain powers to companies for gas storage purposes violated the constitutional prohibitions against takings in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. With respect to the plurality opinion in Robinson II, the PUC asked the Court to disavow its analysis of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, commonly known as the Environmental Rights Amendment (“ERA”), as not precedential and “out of step” with the wisdom of prior existing law. Because the question had not been preserved, the Court declined to consider it. In its discussion of the questions presented by the PUC appeal, the Supreme Court also addressed the viability of Section 3215, which has been the subject of both controversy and litigation with the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”). Among other things, Section 3215(e) granted the Environmental Quality Board the authority to develop regulations for DEP to condition…

PHMSA Releases Emergency Order Interim Final Rule

Pipeline Safety Alert On October 4, the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a pre-publication Interim Final Rule (IFR) implementing the new emergency order authority that PHMSA received in the PIPES Act of 2016.  The IFR will become effective on the date of its publication in the Federal Register, which is expected within days.  PHMSA has provided a 60-day public comment period. Federal agencies may issue IFRs without providing prior notice and comment under the good cause exception in the Administrative Procedure Act. The courts have emphasized that the good cause exception is to be narrowly construed, and that the existence of a statutory deadline does not, in and of itself, constitute good cause unless a delay would threaten real harm.  PHMSA’s justification for issuing the IFR is that the PIPES Act contains a 60-day deadline for establishing temporary emergency order regulations, making compliance with the notice and comment requirements in the APA impracticable and not in the public interest. As required by the PIPES Act, the IFR contains administrative procedures that PHMSA must follow in determining if an imminent hazard exists, the factors that must be considered by PHMSA before issuing an emergency order, and the content of those orders, including a description of the persons subject to the restrictions, prohibitions, or safety measures and the standards and procedures for obtaining relief. The IFR also creates a process for administrative review of an emergency order that is largely patterned on the statutory text in 49 U.S.C. § 60117(o), including the referenced procedural rules for HazMat emergency orders in 49 C.F.R. § 109.19. The process allows for the filing of a petition for review seeking a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), or an informal hearing before the Associate Administrator. In either scenario, the…

September 16, 2016

Ohio Supreme Court Decides Cases Interpreting the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act

Administrative Watch On September 15, 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court issued three opinions and dispensed with 10 other related cases regarding the interpretation of the application of the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (O.R.C. § 5301.56) (ODMA). The issues surrounding the ODMA resulted in all-or-nothing litigation regarding ownership of dormant mineral interests between surface owners and mineral owners, and oil and gas lessees claiming through both sides. The Ohio Supreme Court determined that the 1989 version of the ODMA (1989 Act) was not self-executing in that title to abandoned mineral interests did not vest in surface owners automatically by operation of law, but that surface owners claiming that mineral interests were abandoned were required to seek a judicial determination as to abandonment by filing a quiet title action. Therefore, any surface owner claiming title to abandoned minerals under the 1989 Act was required to obtain a court order confirming that the interests were abandoned and vested in the surface owner under the law. The Court also determined that the 2006 version of the ODMA (2006 Act) displaced the 1989 Act, and that any surface owner claiming title to abandoned minerals after the enactment of the 2006 Act must follow the notice and recording procedures set forth in the 2006 Act. Finally, the Court held that the payment of delay rentals under an oil and gas lease are insufficient savings events under the ODMA. The lead case of Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., Slip Opinion No, 2016-Ohio-5796, was an appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, which certified two questions to the Supreme Court: (1) whether the 2006 Act or the 1989 Act applies to claims asserted after 2006 alleging that oil and gas rights vested in the surface owner, and (2) whether the payment of delay rentals under an oil and gas lease constitutes a “title transaction” and therefore a “savings event” under the…

September 12, 2016

FAA Issues Performance-Based Standards for Applicants Seeking a Waiver of the Small Unmanned Aircraft Rules

Pipeline Safety Alert The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued its Performance-Based Standards highlighting information that an applicant must include in order to seek a waiver of Part 107, the rules that apply to the operation of a small unmanned aircraft system (small UAS or drones). (See previous Babst Calland pipeline safety alerts for more information on the Small UAS Final Rule and the waiver process.) Applicants may seek a waiver from many of the Part 107 regulations. However, the line-of-sight restriction (14 C.F.R. § 107.31) is of particular interest to the energy industry who may want to use a small UAS to conduct inspections of linear infrastructure. Applicants seeking a waiver of the line-of-sight requirement must demonstrate the method or means by which it will be able to: • continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of the small UAS to ensure the aircraft remains in the area of intended operation; • avoid other aircraft, people on the ground, and ground-based structures and obstacles at all times; • increase the visibility of the small UAS in order to be seen at a distance of three statute miles unless a system is in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft; • be alerted of any malfunction affecting the operation of the small UAS; and • ensure that all persons participating in the operation have relevant knowledge of all aspects of operating a small UAS that is not within the visual line of sight of the remote pilot. Since the effective date of the small UAS Final Rule, the FAA has granted 76 waivers of various sections of Part 107. The majority of these applications sought a waiver of the daytime operation limitation but at least two waivers were focused on line of sight. The FAA granted an application from a railroad company allowing a waiver of the line-of- sight requirements as long as the company does…

September 6, 2016

How many employees are on your field location (for purposes of the FLSA)?

The PIOGA Press By now you have probably heard that on December 1 the salary threshold required for employees to qualify for the executive, professional or administrative exemptions allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will double. While certainly significant, this recent update to the overtime regulations was not unexpected, as the salary threshold has not been increased since 2004. This change is of course not the only recent wage and hour development of which oil and gas employers must be aware. In addition to the fact that Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor (DOL) has been specifically targeting the oil and gas industry since 2012, there are other, far less distinct trends that have been taking shape over the past year. The DOL and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have announced new rules and cases that could increase employee headcounts and expand the concept of joint employment. In short, for purposes of the FLSA, some oil and gas employers may actually have more employees than their payrolls indicate. Determining whether independent contractors are actually employees In response to the trend of increasing employee misclassification investigations and private wage and hour lawsuits, last summer the DOL issued a 15-page interpretative memorandum with an aim to provide “additional guidance” for determining who is an employee and who is an independent contractor under the FLSA. Although classification as an independent contractor can be advantageous (or even preferable) for workers and businesses alike, improperly classified workers do not receive certain workplace protections such as the minimum wage, overtime compensation, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Improper classification also frequently results in lower tax revenues for the government and an unfair advantage against those employers that do properly classify their workers. The FLSA broadly defines the word “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.” According…

August 31, 2016

FAA Releases Application and Instructions for Small Drone Waivers

Pipeline Safety Alert On August 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the form and instructions on how to apply for a waiver from certain requirements included in the “Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems” Final Rule.  This final rule went into effect on August 29, 2016, and permits the use, with certain limitations, of small unmanned aircraft systems (small drones) for non-hobby and non-recreational purposes. See Babst Calland’s previous Pipeline Safety Alert on small drones for more information.  This new waiver process will be of interest to the energy industry. The FAA will allow operators of small drones to apply for a waiver from the following requirements:
  • Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft (§ 107.25)
  • Daylight operation (§ 107.29)
  • Visual line of sight aircraft operation (§ 107.31)
  • Visual observer (§ 107.33)
  • Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (§ 107.35)
  • Yielding the right of way (§ 107.37(a))
  • Operation over people (§ 107.39)
  • Operation in certain airspace (§ 107.41)
  • Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft (§ 107.51)
The FAA will not consider waivers for the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.  An applicant must describe the risks of the waivered operation and identify appropriate risk-mitigation strategies to ensure that the proposed operation can be safely conducted. The ability to seek a waiver is particularly important to the energy industry which may choose to use small drones for inspections of infrastructure. For example, a waiver of the line-of-sight requirements may make the use of small drones for pipeline right-of-way patrols more practical. The FAA is encouraging applicants to submit waiver requests at least 90 days prior to the desired commencement of the drone operation.  The agency hopes to respond to each waiver request within 90 days but notes it could take longer depending on the complexity of the application or if…

August 29, 2016

Nonconforming Use Certificates Cannot Extinguish a Nonconforming Use

The Legal Intelligencer On July 14, the Commonwealth Court rendered a decision in Hunterstown Ruritan Club v. Straban Township Zoning Hearing Board, 2016 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 327 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016), confirming that a property owner’s failure to register a nonconforming use with a municipality and obtain a nonconforming use certificate is not fatal to the continuance of the use. The law in Pennsylvania regulating legal, nonconforming uses is well settled. A nonconforming use is a use that predates a prohibitory zoning regulation; it constitutes a vested, constitutional property right that may be continued unless the use is a nuisance, abandoned, or extinguished by eminent domain, as in Hafner v. Zoning Hearing Board of Allen Township, 974 A.2d 1204, 1210 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2009). For example, an existing legal auto body shop does not have to move upon the adoption of a zoning ordinance that prohibits the shop in its present location. Rather, the shop can continue to operate as a nonconforming use. The burden of proving the existence of a nonconforming use falls upon the property owner. In order to establish a nonconforming use, a property owner must present objective evidence that the subject property was devoted to such use at the time the prohibitory zoning regulation was enacted, as in Appeal of Lester M. Prange, 647 A.2d 279, 281 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1994). Finally, property owners with a legal, nonconforming use have a constitutionally protected right to expand the use, notwithstanding its status as nonconforming, as in Lench v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of the City of Pittsburgh, 852 A.2d 442, 444 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005). This right of natural expansion is not, however, unlimited. Pennsylvania courts have consistently concluded that while a property owner may increase the intensity of a nonconforming use (e.g., an increase in the number of…

August 23, 2016

How Many Employees Do You Have (for Purposes of the FLSA)?

PA Law Weekly Earlier this summer, our firm reminded you about major changes that take effect on Dec. 1, 2016, when the salary threshold required for employees to qualify for the executive, professional, or administrative exemptions allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is doubled. While certainly significant, the updated overtime regulations were not unexpected as the salary threshold has not been increased since 2004. This sweeping change is not however, the only recent wage-and-hour development of which employers must be aware. There are other, far less distinct trends that have been taking shape over the past year. The Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have announced new rules and cases that could increase employers’ head counts and expand the concept of joint employment. In short, for purposes of the FLSA, some employers may actually have more employees than their payrolls indicate. INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS In response to the trend of increasing employee misclassification investigations and private wage-and-hour lawsuits, last summer the DOL issued a 15-page interpretative memorandum with an aim to provide “additional guidance” for determining who is an employee and who is an independent contractor under the FLSA. Although classification as an independent contractor can be advantageous (or even preferable) for workers and businesses alike, improperly classified workers do not receive certain workplace protections such as the minimum wage, overtime compensation, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation. Improper classification also frequently results in lower tax revenues for the government and an unfair advantage against those employers that do properly classify their workers. The FLSA broadly defines the word “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work.” According to the U.S Supreme Court in United States v. Rosenwasser, 323 U.S. 360 (1945), and as acknowledged in the DOL’s interpretive memorandum, the “suffer or permit” standard is the broadest definition that has ever been included in any one act, and it was designed to ensure as broad a scope of statutory coverage as possible. The economic realities test determines whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor. It involves a balancing of several factors including: whether the potential joint employer controls the supposed independent contractor and the employment conditions;…

August 17, 2016

EPA bans unconventional wastewater discharges to POTWs

The PIOGA Press On June 28, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the rule “Effluent Limitation Guidelines and Standards for the Oil and Gas Extraction Point Source Category” in the Federal Register. The final rulemaking, which takes effect August 29, prohibits the discharge of unconventional wastewater pollutants from production, field exploration, drilling, well completion or well treatment to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). The rule amends the effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) found in 40 CFR Part 435, which set the effluent limitations and guidelines for oil and gas extraction under the Clean Water Act. Subchapter C of Part 435, which applies to onshore production of oil and gas, already prohibits the discharge of wastewater pollutants into navigable waters from any source associated with production, field exploration, drilling, well completion or well treatment. The final rulemaking extends the Subchapter C prohibition to include the indirect discharge of unconventional wastewater pollutants through POTWs. EPA defines unconventional wastewater pollutants, in part, to include drilling muds, drill cuttings, produced sand and produced water. EPA defines “unconventional oil and gas” as “crude oil and natural gas produced by a well drilled into a shale and/or tight formation (including, but not limited to, shale gas, oil, tight gas, and tight oil).” In the accompanying “Technical Development Document for the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Oil and Gas Extraction Point Source Category,” EPA notes that its final definition of unconventional oil and gas is “generally consistent with those in other readily available sources,” including the Pennsylvania Code. EPA states in the preamble that the final rule is not projected to affect current industry practice or to result in incremental compliance costs because “the data reviewed by EPA show that the extraction industry is not currently managing wastewaters by sending them to POTWs.” Nonetheless,…

August 15, 2016

No Legal Windfall Yet From Rising Pa. Natural Gas Production

The Legal Intelligencer While Pennsylvania’s natural gas production is on the rise, energy lawyers in the state said that will not have an immediate impact on their practices. But, they said, the numbers forecast a bright future for multidisciplinary energy practices in Pennsylvania, as well as the overall state economy. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection published its annual Oil and Gas Report earlier this month, which said Pennsylvania’s natural gas production rate increased to a record high, despite a nationwide downturn in oil and gas drilling activities. “It reaffirms the idea that we have a stable and productive amount of natural gas,” said Joseph Reinhart, co-chair of Babst Calland’s energy and natural resources practice group. “That means good things for the economy including the lawyers.” Lawyers said the production statistics will draw industry to Pennsylvania. But the positive consequences, particularly in the legal industry, may not be immediate, as infrastructure remains lacking and the industry overall is still experiencing a downturn. “It’s going to take a few years for things to play out,” northeast Pennsylvania energy lawyer Stephen Saunders said. When it does, “people that are really committed to keeping up to the developments in the industry, they’re going to have work to do.” According to the DEP report, more than 4.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was produced in Pennsylvania last year, up from about 4.1 trillion in 2014 despite a reduction in the number of natural gas wells being drilled. Last week, acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale natural gas wells are the most productive in the United States, according to a report in the Observer-Reporter, a southwestern Pennsylvania newspaper. Reinhart noted that the annual report is not even up to date, since it is based on 2015 numbers. He said production rates have likely increased, and operators are indicating…

August 4, 2016

The Fair Labor Standards Act in the 21st Century: Mitigating the Risks of Wage and Hour Litigation

Webinar and Presentation With an exponential increase in wage and hour class action lawsuits, prosecutions of federal and state minimum wage and overtime law violations, as well as Department of Labor (DOL) audits and investigations, employers need to stay informed about these developments. Babst Calland employment and labor attorneys outline some of the wage and hour litigation trends, provide practical guidance on the red flag issues that can lead to litigation, and provide practical tips on proactive ways to mitigate legal risk and exposure. To view the presentation slides, click here. If you would like to speak with a Babst Calland attorney regarding these matters or arrange for a presentation, please contact John A. McCreary, Jr., Mychal S. Schultz, or Stephen A. Antonelli of the Employment & Labor Practice Group.

July 19, 2016

Governor Wolf signs Act 52 of 2016, erasing Chapter 78 revisions

The PIOGA Press On June 23, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 52 of 2016, the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Act, formally Senate Bill 279. Act 52 abrogates the Environmental Quality Board’s (EQB) revisions to the Chapter 78 regulations concerning conventional oil and natural gas wells and creates the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council. In February, the EQB approved the Chapter 78 (conventional wells) and Chapter 78a (unconventional wells) Subchapter C revisions by a vote of 15-4. The Chapter 78 revisions would have altered or created new obligations for permit applications and renewals, water supply replacement, predrilling surveys and reviews, erosion and sediment control, emergency response plans, wastewater management, disposal of drill cuttings, site restorations, spills and releases, and production reporting. The revisions also included 31 different requirements for electronic applications, notifications and submittals. Act 52 applies only to the conventional regulations. The Chapter 78a unconventional regulations are currently undergoing review at the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and are expected to be published in late summer. In addition to abrogating the pending revisions to Chapter 78, Act 52 specifies that any future rulemaking concerning conventional wells must be undertaken separately and independently of unconventional wells and other subjects. Future rulemakings concerning conventional wells must include a regulatory analysis form submitted to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) that is restricted to the subject of conventional wells. Act 52 addresses the primary criticism of PIOGA and other trade associations and the Department of Environmental Protection’s Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC) regarding EQB’s Chapter 78 revisions. Specifically, Act 126 of 2014 required EQB to promulgate proposed regulations relating to conventional wells separately from proposed regulations relating to unconventional wells, which should have removed pending revisions applicable to conventional operations proposed in 2013. Any regulatory revisions for conventional operations following Act 126 were required…

July 15, 2016

Congress and the FAA Ease the Way for Use of Drones by the Energy Industry

Pipeline Safety Alert The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued regulations permitting the use, with certain limitations, of small unmanned aircraft systems (small drones) for non-hobby and non-recreational purposes. On July 13, 2016, Congress passed several provisions specific to drone use by the energy industry as part of the reauthorization bill for the FAA. FAA Reauthorization On July 13, 2016, Congress passed the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (the Bill)”. The Bill, which authorizes a short-term extension of the funding for the FAA, includes several provisions covering the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (i.e., drones). Of particular interest to the energy industry, Congress– • Amends section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. This particular statute previously defined “small unmanned aircraft” as weighing less than 55 pounds. The Bill amends this definition to clarify that the 55-pound limit “includ everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft. ” • Requires the Secretary of Transportation to establish a process within 180 days to allow applicants to petition the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of an unmanned aircraft “in close proximity to a fixed site facility.” A “fixed site facility” includes energy production, transmission, and distribution facilities and equipment, oil refineries, and chemical facilities. • Requires the FAA to allow a person to apply to operate an unmanned aircraft system during the day or at night beyond the visual line of sight of the individual operating the aircraft as long as the operator is conducting the unmanned aircraft operation to ensure compliance with (1) federal or state regulatory requirements including surveys associated with permit applications for new pipelines; (2) the pipeline safety regulations (49 C.F.R. Parts 192 and 195); or (3) the requirement of any federal, state, or local regulatory body or industry standard related to…

July 6, 2016

New OSHA Injury Reporting Rule Will Preclude Automatic Post-Incident Drug Screens

Employment Bulletin Many employers have implemented policies mandating employees involved in an accident at the workplace to undergo drug and alcohol screening. Effective August 10, 2016 such blanket, automatic policies will likely run afoul of the injury reporting requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act). On May 12, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its Final Rule amending employers’ obligations to report and record injuries, and clarifying its interpretation of the injury reporting requirements of the Act. 29 CFR §1904.35(b)(1)(i) requires the employer to establish a “reasonable procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses ….” OSHA “clarified” this requirement by adding the following: “A procedure is not reasonable if it would deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness …” In the comments accompanying the Final Rule, OSHA noted that many commenters to the proposed rule complained that employer policies requiring automatic post-injury drug and alcohol testing were a form of adverse action that discouraged reporting. The comments state that: Although drug testing of employees may be a reasonable workplace policy in some situations, it is often perceived as an invasion of privacy, so if an injury or illness is very unlikely to have been caused by employee drug use, or if the method of drug testing does not identify impairment but only use at some time in the recent past, requiring the employee to be drug tested may inappropriately deter reporting. OSHA concluded that “the evidence in the rulemaking record shows that blanket post-injury drug testing policies deter proper reporting.” OSHA did not ban all post-incident reporting, but the comments set forth the agency’s view that it should be severely limited: his final rule does not ban drug testing of employees. However, the final rule does prohibit employers from using drug testing (or the threat of drug testing) as a form of adverse action against employees who report injuries or illnesses….

June 29, 2016

Final Rule Alters Salary Threshold for Overtime Pay

The Legal Intelligencer The Rolling Stones said it best: “Time is on my side, yes it is.” This has never been more accurate after the publication of the much-anticipated final rule updating overtime regulations, as an estimated 4.2 million workers who were previously exempt from receiving overtime pay may be eligible for overtime starting Dec. 1, 2016. On May 18, President Obama and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez announced the publication of the Department of Labor’s Final Rule titled “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees.” The final rule updated overtime regulations, including an update on the salary and compensation levels needed for employees to be considered exempt, (29 CFR Part 541). The Fair Labor Standards Act Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), an employee is entitled to overtime of one and one-half times the employee’s regular rate of pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek. However, certain executive, administrative, and professional employees are exempt from this rule. These employees are commonly referred to as “exempt employees.” To be considered exempt, three tests must be met: The employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed (salary basis test); the amount of salary paid must meet a minimum specified amount (salary level test); and the employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative or professional duties as defined by the regulations (duties test). Combination of ‘Long’ and ‘Short’ Duties Test Prior to 2004, the regulations implemented both a “long” and “short” duties test. The long test paired a lower salary requirement with a more stringent duties test—meaning that to qualify a worker could perform no more than 20 percent of their time on nonexecutive, administrative,…

What Constitutes a Zoning Map Change for Notice Requirements

The Legal Intelligencer On March 2, the Commonwealth Court rendered a decision in Embreeville Redevelopment v. Board. of Supervisors of West Bradford Township, 134 A.3d 1122 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016), which clarified when a zoning ordinance amendment, although solely textual on its face, constitutes a zoning map change and triggers the additional notice requirements under Section 609(b) of the Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. Section 10609(b). The Municipalities Planning Code, 53 P.S. Section 10101 et seq., (MPC), which establishes the framework for zoning and land use regulation in Pennsylvania, sets forth the detailed procedure a municipality must follow when adopting or amending a zoning ordinance. In pertinent part, a municipality intending to amend its zoning ordinance, regardless of whether the proposed amendment is a text amendment or a zoning map change, must: transmit a copy of the proposed amendment to the county planning agency (if one has been created) for review and comment; transmit a copy of the proposed amendment to the municipality’s planning commission for review and comment (if the planning commission did not prepare the amendment); hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment; and publish notice of the public hearing on the proposed amendment twice, in two successive weeks, in a newspaper of general circulation in the municipality no more than 30 and no less than seven days before the public hearing, (see MPC Sections 304(a)(3) and 609; 53 P.S. Sections 304(a)(3) and 609). In addition to the foregoing requirements, if a proposed amendment involves a zoning map change, Section 609(b) of the MPC requires that a municipality also conspicuously post notice of the public hearing on the properties affected by the proposed map change; and mail notice of the public hearing to the owners of property affected by the proposed map change. The MPC…

June 23, 2016

EPA Issues Technical Guidance For Assessing Environmental Justice In Regulatory Analysis

Administrative Watch The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA’s”) latest publication demonstrates that issues relating to environmental justice will have a significant impact on regulatory actions in the near future and will be an important topic during the public comment period for proposed rules. On June 7, 2016, EPA issued the publication Technical Guidance for Assessing Environmental Justice in Regulatory Analysis (“Guidance”), which recommends technical approaches that EPA analysts can use to incorporate environmental justice concerns during the rulemaking process. EPA defines “environmental justice” as “the fair and meaningful treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” When evaluating proposed regulatory actions, EPA recommends analysts conduct an initial screening of environmental justice concerns to determine the appropriate level of analysis through the rulemaking process. Specific consideration should be given to “proximity of sources to low-income populations, minority populations, and/or indigenous peoples, unique exposure pathways, and a history of environmental justice concerns associated with the pollutant being regulated.” With respect to evaluating the environmental justice issues in Human Health Risk Assessments that are conducted to support a regulatory action, EPA’s new Guidance provides factors to consider when designing various assessments during the planning, scoping, and problem formulation portions of the rulemaking process. These assessments stress the importance of considering disproportionate impacts on certain population groups or demographics due to a potential for increased vulnerability and susceptibility to environmental stressors. This Guidance complements EPA’s existing Environmental Justice Action Development Process Guide and is a significant component of “EJ 2020,” which is a broader strategy to advance and address issues of environmental justice by the year 2020. EPA is currently seeking comments until July 7, 2016 on its draft EJ 2020 Action Agenda, which proposes integrating environmental justice concerns to all EPA actions, including the rulemaking considerations found in the Guidance, as well as permitting and enforcement actions. Babst Calland attorneys…

Babst Calland Regulatory Update for Drillers & Midstreamers

Marcellus Drilling News The legal beagles of top energy law firm Babst Calland recently released their sixth annual energy industry report called, “The 2016 Babst Calland Report – An Unprecedented Time for the Oil & Gas Industry: Price Down, Supply Up, Reform Ahead; Legal and Regulatory Perspective for Producers and Midstream Operators.” This annual review of energy and natural resources development activity acknowledges the continuing evolution of this industry in the face of economic, regulatory, legal and local government challenges. In an MDN exclusive, we have the first six pages of the 68-page report (see below), along with details on how you can request a full copy. Worth the read!… Read more.