They already are the safest way to transport energy – and getting safer
By Keith J. Coyle
In a recent op-ed published in the Post-Gazette, “Gas Pipelines Represent Prosperity” (Sept. 5 Perspectives), David Spigelmyer and James Kunz described the many benefits that Pennsylvanians could see from the expansion of natural-gas pipelines and related energy infrastructure in the commonwealth. That op-ed prompted a response from Art Wegweiser (Oct. 3), who wrote that Mr. Spigelmyer and Mr. Kunz “seem to deftly dance around the issue of safety, with only a passing reference to this vitally important aspect” of natural-gas development.
Mr. Wegweiser is right to draw attention to pipeline safety. There are thousands of miles of pipelines in Pennsylvania, and the people of the commonwealth expect these lines to operate safely. He also is right to remind the industry about the effect that significant pipeline accidents can have on people, property and the environment. These events, while extremely rare, demonstrate the importance of continuing to pursue the industry’s goal of zero incidents.
The good news, according to a 2015 report from the American Gas Foundation, “Natural Gas Pipeline Safety and Reliability: An Assessment of Progress,” is that pipelines are safe — and getting safer. As the AGF observes:
• Pipelines are the safest means of transporting energy products. Data compiled by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show that pipelines have been the cause of fewer fatalities and injuries than the trucking and rail industries over the past decade. Data compiled by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration show a significant reduction in the number of pipeline incidents involving fatalities or injuries over the past two decades. Reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office and nongovernmental entities reach similar conclusions.
• The natural-gas industry invests more than $19 billion annually in pipeline safety…
November 23, 2016
United States District Court Enjoins Enforcement of New Overtime Rule
As discussed in Babst Calland’s Employment Bulletin
on May 20, 2016, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) published a Final Rule
titled Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees
(the “Final Rule”). Among other things, the Final Rule more than doubled the salary threshold required for employees to qualify for the executive, professional, or administrative exemptions allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and contained automatic updates to the salary thresholds. The Final Rule was set to go into effect on December 1, 2016.
On November 22, 2016, however, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted an emergency injunction to enjoin the application of the Final Rule. The injunction was filed against the DOL by twenty-two states and requested that the DOL be enjoined from enforcing the Final Rule. In granting the injunction request, the district court reasoned that the DOL was without statutory authority to issue and implement the Final Rule. Accordingly, the court enjoined application of the Final Rule, on a nationwide basis
. Specifically, the court ruled that the DOL is enjoined from implementing and enforcing the Final Rule. Accordingly, until further notice, employers do not have to change overtime practices to comply with the DOL’s Final Rule.
Babst Calland’s Employment and Labor Group will continue to keep employers apprised of further developments related to this and other employment and labor topics.If you have any questions or need assistance in addressing the above-mentioned area of concern, please contact John A. McCreary, Jr. at (412) 394-6695 or firstname.lastname@example.org
, Stephen A. Antonelli at (412) 394-5668 or email@example.com
, or Christopher M. Helms at (412) 394-6477 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for PDF
November 22, 2016
PHMSA increases civil penalties and commits to providing detailed calculations in individual cases
The PIOGA Press
The following first appeared as a Pipeline Safety Alert issued by law firm Babst Calland.
On October 17, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a General Policy Statement on Civil Penalties 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 received that document only 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: (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: (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…
November 17, 2016
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia Sides with Landowners in Eminent Domain/Pipeline Decision
On November 15, 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia in Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. McCurdy (W. Va. No. 15-0919, Nov. 15, 2016), held that a private company may not enter private land for the purposes of surveying in preparation for an eminent domain action unless that company establishes that it is entitled to assert eminent domain over the private property.
Mountain Valley Pipeline retained surveyors to survey certain private property in Monroe County, West Virginia, over which it intended to build a natural gas pipeline to transport natural gas from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Mountain Valley Pipeline intended to condemn the private property pursuant to West Virginia’s eminent domain statute, which allows condemnation by a private company if the land is going to be used for a “public use,” and claimed that the surveying work was necessary to prepare for the construction of the pipeline. The McCurdys, who owned some of the property, sought an injunction to prevent the surveyors from entering their land, which the Circuit Court of Monroe County, West Virginia, granted.
Writing for the West Virginia Supreme Court, Justice Robin Davis found that an individual may not enter onto private property to survey for the purpose of eminent domain unless the condemned property was going to be put to a “public use” as defined by West Virginia law. As used in the eminent domain context, West Virginia law requires that the “public use” be “use” by residents and entities inside West Virginia’s boundaries. As Mountain Valley Pipeline had not presented any evidence indicating that any residents or entities (other than itself and associated affiliates) would benefit from the construction of the pipeline to be constructed, representatives of Mountain Valley Pipeline were not permitted to enter the McCurdys’ land for…
November 9, 2016
NLRB Reinstitutes Employer’s Obligation to Bargain Before Disciplining Employees
The Legal Intelligencer
Employers who are currently negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement should be mindful that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently reaffirmed its analysis in Alan Ritchey, 359 NLRB 396 (2012), regarding an employer’s obligation to bargain before disciplining individual employees when a union has been certified, but has not yet entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the employer.
On Aug. 26, in Total Security Management Illinois 1 & International Union Security Police Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA), 364 NLRB 106 (2016), the NLRB reiterated that an employer may not impose discretionary discipline when it is engaged in negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement with a recently certified union. Rather, the NLRB held, before imposing discipline on an employee within the bargaining unit, an employer must provide the union with notice and an opportunity to bargain unless the employee’s continued presence on the job presents a serious, imminent danger to the employer’s business or personnel. The NLRB’s ruling in Total Security essentially revived the legal principles asserted in Alan Ritchey, which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated on procedural grounds in 2014.
In Total Security, the employer, a provider of security planning and security services, discharged three of its security guards without providing their union any notice or opportunity to bargain. The union had been certified as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit that included the three discharged guards. At the time of the discharges, the employer and the union had not reached an initial collective bargaining agreement. As a result of the discharges, the employer was charged with allegedly violating Section 8(a)(5) of National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain collectively.
The NLRB administrative law judge, relying on Alan Ritchey, found the employer’s discharge of…
October 31, 2016
EPA Releases New Environmental Justice Action Agenda
On October 27, 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda (EJ 2020), which outlines the EPA’s environmental justice strategic plan for 2016 to 2020. This most recent publication builds off the EPA’s previous environmental justice strategic plan for 2010 to 2014 (EJ 2014), which developed basic guidance and tools for integrating environmental justice into EPA’s programs and policies. EJ 2020 is the agency’s latest effort to focus on environmental and public health issues confronting the country’s minority, low-income, tribal, and indigenous populations.
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.” The vision of EJ 2020 is to integrate environmental justice into the agency’s actions, cultivate partnerships to improve on-the-ground results, and create a path of achieving better environmental outcomes and reducing disparities in overburdened communities.
EJ 2020 has three primary goals. The first goal of EJ 2020 is to deepen environmental justice practices within EPA programs to improve the health and environment of overburdened communities. This will involve further integrating environmental justice into EPA’s rulemaking, permitting, compliance and enforcement, and scientific efforts. EJ 2020’s second goal is to work with partners to expand its positive impact within overburdened communities. This includes working with state and local governments, collaborating with federal agencies, deploying community-based resources, and partnering with tribes and indigenous peoples. The third goal of EJ 2020 is to demonstrate progress on significant national environmental justice challenges. EPA has identified lead disparities, drinking water, air quality, and hazardous waste sites as the four major national environmental justice challenges to be addressed by EJ 2020.
EPA intends EJ 2020 to be an action document, providing the basis…
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 21, 2016
Commonwealth Court Reiterates Standards When Interpreting Zoning Ordinances
The Legal Intelligencer
In Pennsylvania, municipal governing bodies and zoning hearing boards are entitled to considerable deference when interpreting and applying their own zoning ordinances. This deference is based largely on the premise that municipal bodies and boards charged with drafting and administering zoning ordinances possess an unparalleled knowledge of and expertise in their own ordinances, as in In re Thompson, 896 A.2d 659, 669 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2006). However, this deference is not without limit. The General Assembly and Pennsylvania courts have established the following statutory construction standards to guide municipal bodies and boards in their interpretations:
• Governing bodies and boards must construe the words and phrases of a local zoning ordinance according to rules of grammar and according to their common and approved usage, Section 1903(a) of the Statutory Construction Act, 1 Pa.C.S. Section 1903(a).
• Governing bodies and boards have an obligation to construe the words of an ordinance as broadly as possible to give the landowner the benefit of the least restrictive use, as in Albert v. Zoning Hearing Board of North Abington Township, 854 A.2d 401, 405 (Pa. 2004).
• Any doubt as to undefined words or terms in a local zoning ordinance must be resolved in favor of the landowner and the least restrictive use of the land, as in Kissell v. Ferguson Township Zoning Hearing Board, 729 A.2d 194, 197 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999).
• When attempting to define an undefined ordinance term, governing bodies and boards may look to statutes, regulation or dictionaries for assistance, as in Hartman v. Zoning Hearing Board of Cumru Township, 133 A.3d 806, 810 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016).
• A ordinance’s plain language generally provides the best indication of legislative intent and thus statutory construction begins with an examination of the text itself, as in Malt Beverages Distribution v. Liquor Control…
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.
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.
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.
October 14, 2016
PHMSA Releases Emergency Order Interim Final Rule
On October 14, the Pipeline and 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.
October 11, 2016
PADEP’s Chapter 78a Rulemaking Goes into Effect for Unconventional Operations in Pennsylvania
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
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
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
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.
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…