Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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Carbon County Resource Council and Northern Plains Resources Council (collectively, Resource Councils) challenged the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation’s (the Board) approval of well stimulation activities at an exploratory gas well in Carbon County. Specifically, Resource Councils claimed that the Board’s permitting process violated their constitutional right to meaningfully participate in government decisions. The district court concluded that Resource Councils’ constitutional challenge was not ripe for judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Resource Councils’ claims are ripe for judicial review; but (2) the Board did not violate Resource Councils’ right to participate in its consideration of the permit at issue in this case. View "Carbon County Res. Council v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law

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Appellants (collectively, the Teisingers) claimed a 3/5ths royalty interest in oil, gas, and minerals located on several sections of land in Richland County. The Teisingers’ assert that their 3/5ths royalty interest was reserved in a 1953 warranty deed. The district court denied the Teisingers’ claim and quieted title to the royalty interest in favor of Appellees (collectively, the Sundheims). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court (1) improperly admitted testimony from an English professor interpreting the language of the warranty deed’s royalty interest reservation; (2) erred by resolving the ambiguity in the warranty deed in favor of the Sundheims; and (3) erred in applying the doctrine of laches to bar the Teisingers’ claim to the 3/5ths royalty interest. Remanded for entry of judgment quieting title to the 3/5ths royalty interest reserved in the warranty deed in favor of the Teisingers. View "Wicklund v. Sundheim" on Justia Law

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The dispute in this case centered on the ownership of subsurface mineral rights to coal-rich land located in Musselshell County. Plaintiffs filed this action against Musselshell County to quiet title to the property. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the County and awarded costs but not attorney fees. Plaintiffs appealed, and the County cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in concluding that the pertinent statute of limitations barred Plaintiffs’ quiet title action; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the County its attorney fees. View "Bergum v. Musselshell County" on Justia Law

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Morgen Farm and Ranch, Inc., which owned surface rights to certain property, leased oil and gas rights on a portion of its property to a corporation. The corporation later assigned its interest in the lease to Interstate Explorations, LLC, which drilled and completed a well on the Morgen property. Interstate later filed suit against Morgen requesting a declaration that Morgen had wrongfully denied an easement necessary for installing a power line to operate the well. Morgen counterclaimed that Interstate had damaged the surface of the property by spilling hydrocarbons. Interstate moved to dismiss Morgen’s counterclaims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that Morgen had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before initiating legal action for damages. The district court denied Interstate’s motion to dismiss, concluding that a surface owner is not required to exhaust an administrative remedy under the Surface Damage Act before litigating a damage claim in the courts. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly denied Interstate’s motion to dismiss Morgen’s counterclaims. View "Interstate Explorations, LLC v. Morgen Farm & Ranch, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2012, after auditing Cloud Peak Energy Resources, LLC’s Montana Coal Tax payments for years 2005-2007, the Department levied a deficiency assessment for additional taxes owing from sales involving non-arm’s length (NAL) agreements. Cloud Peak filed a complaint alleging that the Department’s methodology for determining market value was illegal and that it had also illegally assessed taxes on coal additives for the years 2005-2007. The district court (1) held in Cloud Peak’s favor on the first issue, concluding that the market value of coal sold under NAL agreements is determined by comparing its price with that of coal sold under arm’s length contracts negotiated in a similar timeframe; and (2) ruled in the Department’s favor on the issue regarding additives. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the district court (1) correctly found that market value is properly based upon similarly negotiated contracts, but the additional language included in the order was inappropriate; and (2) did not err in holding that coal additives used from 2005-2007 are subject to Montana Coal Taxes. View "Cloud Peak Energy Res., Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Cahill Seeds, Inc. (Cahill) began planning the construction of a new seed washing plant and submitted requests for electric service to Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) and Sheridan Electric Co-op, Inc. MDU subsequently upgraded its transmission and distribution systems near Cahill, which allowed MDU to provide three-phase Wye power to Cahill. MDU then began providing three-way Wye power to Cahill. In 2013, Sheridan filed a complaint alleging that MDU violated the Montana Territorial Integrity Act (MTIA) when it extended power to Cahill. The district court found that Sheridan had the right to serve Cahill under the priority provisions of the MTIA. Specifically, the court found that the 1.33 mile distance from Sheridan’s three-phase Wye transmission line to Cahill gave Sheridan priority over MDU, whose three-phase Wye line was 6.5 miles away. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mont. Code Ann. 69-5-105(1) unambiguously granted priority to Sheridan because it had the line nearest to Cahill and the distribution system capacity to serve Cahill. View "Sheridan Elec. Coop, Inc. v. MT-Dak Utils." on Justia Law

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Hansard Mining, Inc. and Donald Hansard (the Hansards) sought resolution of a dispute with Barry McLean and the Estate of Glen Harold McLean (the McLeans) concerning overlapping property rights. The parties’ competing claims derived from conflicting patents issued by the United States. The district court granted judgment in favor of the Hansards, concluding that the Hansards’ mining patents had priority over the McLeans’ homestead patent. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting the Hansards’ motion for summary judgment and in denying the McLeans’ cross-motion for summary judgment, as the Hansards owned the surface and the subsurface rights of their mining claims, and the conflicting portions of the McLeans’ patent were void. View "Hansard v. McLean" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Irene and John Moerman each signed an oil and gas lease with Prairie Rose Resources. In 2011, the Moermans filed a complaint for declaratory judgment claiming that their leases with Prairie had expired because, inter alia, Prairie had failed to establish oil production until after the expiration of the primary term of the lease. Prairie counterclaimed for a declaration that the lease remained in effect. The district court entered judgment in favor of Prairie and awarded Prairie its attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly concluded that the parties' oil and gas leases remained in effect; and (2) because the Moermans failed to establish that the leases had been forfeited, Prairie's attorney fees in defending the action were recoverable. View "Moerman v. Prairie Rose Res., Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the Montana Board of Oil & Gas Conservation's (MBOGC) issuance of twenty-three gas well permits to Fidelity Exploration and Production Company in the area known as the Cedar Creek Anticline (CCA). The Montana Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation (collectively, Federations) challenged the issuance of the permits. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees, MBOGC, Fidelity, and Montana Petroleum Association, holding that the Federations failed to rebut the presumption of validity in the MBOGC's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in (1) conducting its review under Mont. Code Ann. 82-11-144 and in considering evidence outside the administrative record; (2) determining that the environmental assessments prepared by MBOGC for gas development in the CCA were adequate under the Montana Environmental Policy Act; and (3) ruling that MBOGC did not have to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement for oil and gas development in the CCA. View "Mont. Wildlife Fed'n v. Bd. of Oil & Gas Conservation" on Justia Law

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NorthWestern Energy proposed constructing an electric transmission line from Montana to Idaho and submitted its application for a certificate from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). While preparing a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Jefferson County informed DEQ that it expected DEQ to consult with the County in determining the route. Jefferson County subsequently filed a petition for writ of mandamus and injunction relief against DEQ, (1) seeking an order requiring DEQ to comply with the Montana Environmental Policy Act and other environmental legislation, and (2) requesting DEQ be enjoined from releasing a draft EIS. NorthWestern subsequently intervened. The district court ruled in favor of Jefferson County after determining that DEQ had not satisfied its duty to consult with Jefferson County under Mont. Code Ann. 75-1-201(1)(c) and enjoined DEP from releasing the Draft EIS until it had done so. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) at this stage in the process, DEQ had not violated a clear legal duty to consult with the County prior to issuing its draft EIS; and (2) because the County had adequate legal remedies once DEQ rendered a final agency action, the County was not entitled to mandamus or injunctive relief.