The 2021 Babst Calland Report Highlights Legal and Regulatory Perspectives at a Transformational Time for the U.S. Energy Industry

A Recent Conversation with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin Featured in this Report

Law firm Babst Calland today published its 11th annual energy industry report: The 2021 Babst Calland Report – Legal & Regulatory Perspectives for the U.S. Energy Industry. Each of our nation’s energy sectors is impacted by local, state and federal policies, many of which are addressed in this inclusive report on legal and regulatory developments for the energy industry in the United States.

The Babst Calland Report represents the timely collective perspectives of more than 45 energy attorneys on the current state of the U.S. natural gas and oil, coal, and renewable energy sectors. For the first time, this Report is presented as an easy-to-navigate digital site featuring 12 sections, addressing the following key topics:

  • Business Outlook for the U.S. Energy Industry
  • Climate Change Initiatives from the Biden Administration
  • Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Priorities
  • Environmental Law Developments
  • Environmental Justice Issues
  • Appalachian Basin Regional Developments
  • Coal Mining Regulatory Changes
  • Expansion of the U.S. Renewable Energy Market
  • Real Estate & Land Use Developments
  • Litigation Trends
  • Changes in Employment & Labor Law
  • Emerging Technologies Affecting the Energy Industry

Joseph K. Reinhart, shareholder and co-chair of Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources Group, said, “The energy industry, once again, is at an inflection point and a moment of resiliency as it experiences a rebound in pricing and recovers from the impact of the global pandemic. Evidenced by the signing of several Executive Orders, President Biden has made climate change a focal point of U.S. energy policy. The full impact of the new administration’s “government-wide” approach to regulatory and social environmental policies will be unclear for months.

“This transformational time promises to bring significant changes for the U.S. energy industry. It is vital for any energy organization to consider the forewarnings, the risks, and the legal and regulatory implications to its business.”

Report Features Video Commentary from U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

This edition features commentary from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who spoke with Babst Calland energy clients at a special briefing on June 25, 2021. A link to the webinar recording is available in this Report.

To request a copy of The 2021 Babst Calland Report, click here.

Updates on key developments in energy and natural resources law beyond this Report are available directly by the attorneys who represent clients in a wide spectrum of industry sectors and legal practice areas.

The Babst Calland Report Highlights Legal and Regulatory Challenges for the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry

The law firm of Babst Calland published its 10th annual energy industry report: The 2020 Babst Calland Report – The U.S. Oil & Gas Industry: Federal, State, Local Challenges & Opportunities; Legal and Regulatory Perspective for Producers and Midstream Operators. 

In this Report more than 50 energy attorneys provide perspective on the current state of the U.S. natural gas and oil production industry and its growth to historic highs due to more than a decade of advances in on-shore horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing. It asserts that despite current challenges, a maturing shale industry is poised for future growth as natural gas and oil producers have driven down the costs of production. Transportation options for moving these natural resources from growing areas of production to customers continue to be built, even with new hurdles from regulators and other stakeholders.

Joseph K. Reinhart, shareholder and co-chair of Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources Group, said, “The U.S. natural gas and oil industry has experienced tremendous growth and change since we first published this Report in 2011. Fast forward to an unprecedented 2020 with a pandemic, a corresponding economic slow-down and oversupply of natural gas and crude oil. With increased public and government pressure, sustained low prices, and less-reliable financing options, resiliency will continue to be the driving force of a dynamic energy market that continues to evolve.”

Report highlights

The Babst Calland Report is an annual review of the issues and trends at the federal, state and local level in the oil and gas industry over the past year. The 102-page Report covers a range of topics from the industry’s business outlook, regulatory enforcement and rulemaking to developments in pipeline safety and litigation trends. The Firm’s collective legal experience and perspectives on these and related business developments are highlighted in this Report, including those summarized below:

  • Long-term, U.S. energy production appears poised to continue to outstrip domestic consumption due in some measure to increased consumption efficiency, along with the obvious ramifications from the natural gas revolution.
  • The regulatory environment is focused on climate change, reducing emissions, water quality developments, and enforcement. Increased volumes of written agency guidance, enforcement, and penalties continue to challenge the industry.
  • Citizens groups continue to actively challenge federal and state initiatives designed to expand natural gas and oil development, creating delays and uncertainties.
  • Land use and zoning challenges continue at the local level. Increasing industry headwinds have resulted in a slowdown of new permitting activity amid ongoing challenges and ordinance restrictions.
  • Public interest in pipeline safety has grown amid opposition and new rules from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in response to increased public and congressional pressure to initiate and finalize new or revised pipeline safety regulations. Operators seek to install new or replace existing pipelines throughout the U.S. while advocacy groups aggressively oppose many pipeline projects.
  • Title legislation and court decisions vary by state and basin. In Pennsylvania, for example, Act 85 took effect in January 2020 and defines the conditions in which oil and gas producers may drill a lateral wellbore that crosses between two or more pooled units.
  • Although 2019 saw renewed claims of adverse health effects allegedly related to oil and gas development, support for such claims continues to be limited, as now noted by numerous publications.
  • Unmanned aircraft systems take hold in the energy sector. Despite the pandemic and its impacts, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have emerged as essential tools for the energy industry for conducting complex inspection and monitoring of difficult to access infrastructure and locations.
  • From a workforce standpoint, COVID-19 conditions and other wage and hour regulations, amendments to the Family Medical Leave Act, and expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act have had an impact on companies across the country.

The natural gas and oil industry continues to expand its reach and impact on U.S. energy supply and independence. Each company has its own set of opportunities and challenges to navigate based on its financing, debt, shareholder goals, and operations and infrastructure footprint. Nonetheless, the United States’ plentiful supply of natural gas and oil is expected to continue to fuel the country’s economic future and support national security.

Request a copy of the Report

Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources attorneys support clients operating in multiple locations throughout the nation’s shale plays. To request a copy of the Report, contact info@babstcalland.com.

West Virginia Supreme Court Affirms Approach in Oil and Gas Title Memorandum Decision

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia recently issued a memorandum opinion interpreting a reservation of oil and gas “royalty.” The result of the Court’s holding is consistent with long standing West Virginia case law regarding oil and gas severances.

In Haught Family Tr. v. Williamson, No. 19-0368, 2020 W. Va. LEXIS 248 (Apr. 20, 2020), the Court interpreted a 1907 deed that reserved, “one half of all the royalty of oil (which royalty shall not be less than the usual one-eighth), and one half of the proceeds of all gas which may be produced from said tract of land…” The Court ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s decision, interpreting the 1907 deed as reserving a 1/2 non-participating royalty interest (“NPRI”). In reaching its decision, the Court stated that it relied upon Davis v. Hardman, 148 W. Va. 82 (1963) and Paxton v. Benedum-Trees Oil Co., 80 W. Va. 187 (1917) to ascertain the intent of the parties as expressed in the deed. Citing to Davis, the Court indicated that the 1907 deed’s use of the phrase “when produced” evidenced that the parties intended to limit the interest reserved to instances where oil and gas was actually produced. To construe the 1907 deed as reserving an in place interest would require regarding the words “when produced” as meaningless. The Court further implied that the deed’s use of “when produced” rendered the deed unambiguous.

The Petitioner argued that the circuit court failed to construe the deed as of the time of the deed and reservations’ creation in 1907, and contended that the Court should analyze the deed as the Supreme Court would in 1907. See Syl. Pt. 2, Oresta v. Roman Bros., Inc., 137 W. Va. 633 (1952). However, the Court emphasized that its’ role, as stated in Davis v. Hardman, is to ascertain the intent of the parties as expressed in the deed. The Court further indicated that the reservation in question was similar to the reservation interpreted in Davis, and was executed around the same time as the Davis reservation. As a result, the Court held that the deed in question reserved a 1/2 NPRI.

The reservation in Davis v. Hardman had notable distinctions from the 1907 deed, and the Davis court relied upon this distinct language in its analysis. The deed at issue in Davis reserved, “the oil and gas royalty, when produced, in and under said land, but said second party, his heirs and assigns, to have the right to lease said land for oil and gas purposes and to receive bonuses and carrying rentals,” and was interpreted as reserving an NPRI. In its analysis, the Davis court listed the distinguishing characteristics of NPRIs and in place interests in oil and gas:

(1) Such share of production is not chargeable with any of the costs of discovery and production; (2) the owner has no right to do any act or thing to discover and produce the oil and gas; (3) the owner has no right to grant leases; and (4) the owner has no right to receive bonuses or delay rentals. Conversely, the distinguishing characteristics of an interest in minerals in place are: (1) Such interest is not free of costs of discovery and production; (2) the owner has the right to do any and all acts necessary to discover and produce oil and gas; (3) the owner has the right to grant leases, and (4) the owner has the right to receive bonuses and delay rentals.

The Court indicated that the intent of the parties as expressed in the deed was clear when read in light of these characteristics. The Davis deed specifically conveyed all rights to lease and receive bonuses or “carrying” (delay) rentals. A conveyance of such rights is directly contradictory to an in place reservation. The Davis court relied heavily on these characteristics and the deed’s specific conveyance of leasing and bonus rights in its analysis. Although the Davis court observed that a reservation of oil and gas “when produced” supported an NPRI reservation, its analysis did not focus on this language as implied by the Court in Haught.

The Court in Haught Family Tr. v. Williamson issued only a memorandum opinion due to the lack of novel issues of law. Although the opinion does not identically mirror the analysis in Davis v. Hardman, it remains valid law as to this particular case. The reservation language analyzed in Haught is typical of NPRI reservation language used throughout West Virginia from the 19th century to present. The result of the Court’s holding remains in line with prior West Virginia cases, and generally follows typical interpretation practices of title examiners.

Legislative Update: House Bill No. 4615 Regarding Criminal Offense of Trespass Upon Critical Infrastructure Facility Awaiting West Virginia Governor’s Signature

A bill establishing the West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act is now awaiting Governor Jim Justice’s signature after completing legislative action. If signed by West Virginia’s Governor, the bill will be effective June 5, 2020. The bill creates a criminal offense of trespass upon property containing a critical infrastructure facility, trespass upon property containing a critical infrastructure facility with intent to damage equipment or impede the operations of the critical infrastructure facility, and for willfully causing damage to a critical infrastructure facility.

“Critical infrastructure facility” is defined to include, but is not limited to, the following facilities if completely enclosed by a fence or other physical barrier that is obviously designed to exclude intruders, or if clearly marked with a sign or signs that are posted on the property that are reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders and indicate that entry is forbidden without site authorization: (1) A natural gas compressor station; (2) A liquid natural gas terminal or storage facility; (3) A gas processing plant, including a plant used in the processing, treatment or fractionation of natural gas or natural gas liquids; (4) A natural gas distribution utility facility including, but not limited to, pipeline interconnections, a city gate or town border station, metering station, below- or above-ground pipeline or piping and truck loading or offloading facility, a natural gas storage facility, a natural gas transmission facility, or a natural gas utility distribution facility; (5) A crude oil or refined products storage and distribution facility including, but not limited to, valve sites, pipeline interconnections, pump station, metering station, below- or above-ground pipeline or piping and truck loading or offloading facility; (6) Any above-ground portion of an oil, gas, hazardous liquid or chemical pipeline, tank, or other storage facility that is enclosed by a fence, other physical barrier or is clearly marked with signs prohibiting trespassing, that are obviously designed to exclude intruders; (7) A petroleum or alumina refinery; (8) A chemical, polymer or rubber manufacturing facility; and (9) A water intake structure, water treatment facility, wastewater treatment plant or pump station.

Additionally, the bill establishes a criminal offense of conspiracy to commit trespass against a critical infrastructure. Finally, the bill establishes criminal penalties and civil liability for violations of the West Virginia Critical Infrastructure Protection Act and preserves the right to lawfully assemble and petition for redress of grievances.

Legislative Update: Senate Bill 554 Regarding Release of Oil and Gas Leases Awaiting West Virginia Governor’s Signature

The West Virginia Legislature has passed a bill requiring that a lessee deliver to the lessor, at no cost to the lessor, a properly executed and notarized release of a terminated, expired, or cancelled lease in recordable form within 60 days after the termination, expiration, or cancellation unless a different time is required by the lease. The bill is awaiting signature by West Virginia’s Governor and, if signed, will be effective May 31, 2020.

If the lessee fails to provide a timely release, the lessor may in good faith serve notice of the lessee’s failure to do so. The information that the lessor is required to include in the notice includes, but is not limited to, a statement that if the release of the lease or a written dispute of the purported termination, expiration, or cancellation of the lease is not received by the lessor from the lessee within 60 days from receipt of the notice, the lessor shall have the right to file an affidavit of termination, expiration, or cancellation of the lease. The notice must be sent to lessee, lessee’s assignee, all other lessors, and all other persons who have an interest in the leasehold estate or the oil and natural gas leased based upon the lessor’s reasonable examination of the public records. The lessor’s inability to afford notice to everyone to whom notice is to be given does not relieve a lessee of its obligation to respond to the notice. If a lessee disputes in good faith that the lease is terminated, expired, or canceled, the lessee must deliver a written dispute of the notice to the lessor detailing the good-faith basis for its disagreement not more than 60 days after receipt of the notice.

A lessor who has served a notice under this section and fails to receive a timely dispute from a lessee may record a notarized affidavit of termination, expiration, or cancellation of the lease in the office of the county clerk in the county or counties where the lands covered by the lease are situated. The county clerk of each county shall accept all such affidavits and shall enter and record them in the official records of that county and shall index each in the indices under the names, as they appear in the affidavit, of the original lessor, the original lessee, the lessor seeking the release, and the lessee identified in the affidavit. A lessor who files an affidavit must serve a copy of the affidavit upon the lessee, lessee’s assignee, all other lessors, and all other persons who have an interest in the leasehold estate or the oil and natural gas leased based upon the lessor’s reasonable examination of the public records.

The filing of an affidavit under this section does not constitute a modification of a lease and does not limit, waive, or prejudice any claim or defense of any party to the lease in law or in equity. A lessor’s decision not to use the provisions of this section is not evidence that a lease is still in effect.

Legislative Update: West Virginia Governor Signs House Bill No. 4091 into Law

On February 17, 2020, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed into law House Bill 4091, allowing for expedited oil and gas well permitting for horizontal wells. Under the bill, which amends W. Va. Code § 22-6A-7, operators may pay an additional fee to enter into an expedited permit application process for drilling certain horizontal wells.  The additional expedited permit fee is $20,000 for the initial horizontal well and $10,000 for each additional well drilled on a single well pad at the same location.  Within 45 days of the applicant’s submission of the permit application, the Secretary of Environmental Protection must issue or deny the permit. If there is no decision within 45 days, the Secretary is required to refund the applicant a pro-rated amount of the expedited application fee for each day with no decision, up to the 60th day, at which point the expedited fee would be fully refunded.

The bill also provides for an expedited permit modification process, allowing the operator to pay an expedited application fee of $5,000 for a modification to an existing permit. The Secretary must issue a decision on the modification within 20 days or refund the applicant a daily, pro-rated amount.

Half of the funds collected from the expedited applications will be used by the Department of Environmental Protection to cover the administrative costs of processing the applications. The remaining balance will be used for reclamation and plugging of orphaned oil and gas wells throughout the State.

The expedited permitting processes under the law do not apply to deep wells, so operators could only utilize these expedited processes for horizontal wells with target formations of the Marcellus Shale or shallower formations. The bill is effective ninety days from passage, on May 5, 2020.

The 2019 Babst Calland Report Highlights Federal, State and Local Challenges and Opportunities for the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry

The law firm of Babst Calland today released its annual energy industry report: The 2019 Babst Calland Report – The U.S. Oil and Gas Industry: Federal, State and Local Challenges & Opportunities; Legal and Regulatory Perspective for Producers and Midstream Operators.

In this Report, Babst Calland energy attorneys provide perspective on issues, challenges, opportunities and recent developments in the oil and gas industry that are relevant to producers and midstream operators.

According to the International Energy Agency, “the second wave of the U.S. shale revolution is coming” and the United States will account for a 70 percent increase in global oil production and a 75 percent expansion in LNG trade in the next five years. 

On a year-over-year basis, natural gas production continues to increase in each of the seven largest shale basins in the United States. Most notably, oil and natural gas production is being driven by three of the largest producing basins including Appalachia in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, and the Haynesville Basin in southwestern Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, and east Texas.

Joseph K. Reinhart, shareholder and co-chair of Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources Group, said, “Domestic shale producers and operators continue to face myriad legal and regulatory challenges by regulatory agencies, the courts, activists, and the market. This annual review is a snapshot of the issues and trends on the federal, state and local level in the oil and gas industry over the past year.”

The 92-page Babst Calland Report covers a range of topics from the industry’s business outlook, regulatory enforcement and rulemaking to developments in pipeline safety and litigation trends. A few of the Report’s highlights include:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports both oil and dry natural gas production set U.S. records this year. Oil production hit 12.4 million barrels per day in May, natural gas soared above 90 billion cubic feet per day. U.S. production of gas liquids also set records and now account for over a quarter of U.S. petroleum product output.
  • This year, the oil and gas industry received mixed messages regarding environmental matters. On the federal level, the Trump administration generally loosened regulatory and/or statutory constraints, such as narrowing the Clean Water Act definition of “Waters of the United States.” In contrast, at the state level, some agencies introduced or considered more rigorous standards, including Pennsylvania’s proposed cap-and-trade program.
  • Public interest in pipeline safety has grown significantly in recent years. Consequently, operators’ installation of new pipeline infrastructure to transport energy products from the nation’s shale plays to domestic and foreign markets has resulted in increased scrutiny.
  • In Pennsylvania, the contours of the Robinson Township II decision continue to be litigated and legislated by local governing bodies, while the Commonwealth Court provided clarity concerning a municipality’s right to determine the location of oil and gas operations. In West Virginia, the extent of a county government’s ability to investigate alleged nuisances is being considered in the state’s highest court. In Colorado, new legislation has empowered local governments to take a much more active role in regulating oil and gas development.
  • Significant title issues concerning oil and gas property rights continue to be addressed in states in shale plays throughout the country. The desire to improve efficiencies has resulted in the use of allocation wells and cross unit drilling, particularly in Texas and Oklahoma.
  • Nuisance claims, alleging that excessive noise, traffic, dust, light, air pollution and impaired water quality interfere with the use and enjoyment of private property, continue to be asserted across the shale plays.
  • An increasing number of oil and gas companies recognize the advancements in commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology and the utility and cost savings associated with using UAS to inspect and monitor assets such as pipelines and infrastructure.

After more than a decade, the shale gas industry continues to expand its reach and impact on our country’s energy supply and independence. Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources attorneys support clients operating in multiple locations throughout the nation’s shale plays. To request a copy of the Report, contact info@babstcalland.com.

Alert: Federal Court Enjoins West Virginia County from Using Zoning Laws to Interfere with Construction of Compressor Station

On August 29, 2018, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) summary judgment and permanently enjoining the County Commission of Fayette County, West Virginia, from using a zoning ordinance to bar construction of the Stallworth Compressor Station (CSS).  The CSS is a vital part of the 303.5-mile long, 42-inch diameter, MVP pipeline project stretching from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.  See Mountain Valley Pipeline v. Matthew D. Wender, et al., Case No. 2:17-cv-04377, Mem. Op. and Order (S.D. W. Va. August 29, 2018).

Please read more about this decision in this Alert.

The 2018 Babst Calland Report Focuses on the Appalachian Basin Oil & Gas Industry Forging Ahead Despite Obstacles

Babst Calland today released its annual energy industry report: The 2018 Babst Calland Report – Appalachian Basin Oil & Gas Industry: Forging Ahead Despite Obstacles; Legal and Regulatory Perspective for Producers and Midstream Operators.  This annual review of shale gas development activity in the Appalachian Basin acknowledges an ongoing rebound despite obstacles presented by regulatory agencies, the courts, activists, and the market. To request a copy of the Report, contact info@babstcalland.com.

In this Report, Babst Calland attorneys provide perspective on issues, challenges, opportunities and recent developments in the Appalachian Basin and beyond relevant to producers and operators. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s May 2018 report, the Appalachian Marcellus and Utica shale plays account for more than 40 percent of U.S. natural gas output, compared to only three percent a decade ago. Since then, the Appalachian Basin has become recognized in the U.S. and around the world as a major source of natural gas and natural gas liquids.

The industry has been forging ahead amidst relatively low natural gas prices, infrastructure building, acreage rationalization and drilling plans that align with business expectations. The policy landscape continues to evolve with ever-changing federal and state environmental and safety regulations and tax structures along with a patchwork of local government requirements across the multi-state region.

Joseph K. Reinhart, shareholder and co-chair of Babst Calland’s Energy and Natural Resources Group, said, “This Report provides perspective on the challenges and opportunities of a shale gas industry in the Appalachian Basin that continues to enjoy a modest rebound. While more business-friendly policies and procedures are emanating from Washington, D.C., threats of trade wars are raising concerns about the U.S. energy industry’s ability to fully capitalize on planned exports to foreign markets.”

To read more: click here.

Governor Justice Signs Bill Prohibiting Deduction of Post-Production Costs from Converted Flat-Rate Leases

Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 360 relating to payment of royalties pursuant to flat-rate oil and gas leases on Friday, March 9, 2018. The law is effective on May 31, 2018. Previously, West Virginia law prohibited the issuance of permits for new wells or reworked wells on flat-rate leases unless the owner of the working interest agreed to pay the owner of the oil or gas a set royalty of at least one eighth of the proceeds “at the wellhead.” The Supreme Court of Appeals recently interpreted the statute as allowing the operator to deduct post-production expense when computing royalty. The bill now requires that owners of oil or gas receive not less than one eighth of the gross proceeds, free from any deductions for post-production expenses, received at the first point of sale to an unaffiliated third-party purchaser in an arm’s length transaction.

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