SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt on Nov. 16 filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals arguing that the court should reverse a lower court’s decision to vacate federal hydraulic fracturing leases because the sale of the leases complied with federal law and the cancellation of them was “unnecessarily drastic” (Montana Wildlife Federation v. David Bernhardt, et al., No. 20-35609, 9th Cir.).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge in the District of Columbia on Nov. 13 granted environmental groups’ motion and ordered the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remand its approval of leases for hydraulic fracturing in Wyoming with instructions that the agency must correct deficiencies in the environmental assessment that concluded that the lease sale complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The judge ruled that no fracking could occur on the leases in question until the corrections were made (WildEarth Guardians, et al. v. David Bernhardt, No. 16-1724, D. D.C., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 212928).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a move that was originally scheduled for December 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Nov. 17 advertised in the Federal Register that its Alaska State Office is issuing a call for nominations and comments on tracts of land within the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be leased for oil and gas exploration through hydraulic fracturing.
PHILADELPHIA — An order of Roman Catholic women on Nov. 11 sued a pipeline company in Pennsylvania federal court, seeking punitive damages against it for the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline across property owned by the order, which the order says was done in “reckless disregard” for the its religious beliefs. The order, which had a previous lawsuit dismissed, insists that the pipeline continues to cause trauma to its faith commitment (Adorers of the Blood of Christ, United States Province, et al. v. Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company, et al., No. 20-5627, E.D. Pa.).
DENVER — A federal judge in Colorado on Oct. 23 issued an order making final his previous order to show cause, thus officially closing a case brought by residents, environmental organizations and nuclear workers advocacy groups pertaining to a grand jury that investigated the actions of Rockwell International Corp. at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) former weapons-grade plutonium-239 processing facility, Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, which is now being considered as a site for hydraulic fracturing operations (Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups, et al. v. United States, No. 19-76, D. Colo.).
BISMARCK, N.D. — Two North Dakota state agencies on Oct. 9 sued the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and certain officials in federal court in North Dakota seeking to have the court declare unlawful and void the defendants’ decisions concerning the accurate location of the boundary between the bed of the Missouri River and tracts of land riparian to the river owned by the federal government. The plaintiffs maintain that access to oil and gas mineral rights are at stake (North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior, et al., No. 20-185, D. N.D.).
PHILADELPHIA — A panel of the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Nov. 5 granted a hydraulic fracturing company a combined total of $407,643.95 in attorney fees and expenses following the panel’s decision to not rehear a breach of contract case between the fracking company and a drilling operator (Orion Drilling Company LLC v. EQT Production Company, No. 19-3307, 3rd Cir.).
HOUSTON — A federal bankruptcy judge in Texas on Nov. 4 approved the Chapter 11 reorganization plan of a hydraulic fracturing services company that calls for holders of allowed secured claims to receive payment of the claim in full in cash or other considerations (In re: FTS International Inc., No. 20-34622, S.D. Texas Bkcy.).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on Oct. 23 filed a brief in the District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s defense for why a pipeline to carry hydraulically fractured oil and gas across Missouri fails because there is no evidence of public need (Environmental Defense Fund v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, No. 20-1016, D.C. Cir.).
NEW ORLEANS — A panel of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Nov. 4 affirmed a lower court’s summary judgment ruling against an insurer in a case pertaining to a hydraulic fracturing equipment failure, saying the insurer failed to demonstrate that the makers of a fracking pump that caught fire were liable for causation (AIG Europe Limited v. Caterpillar Inc., et al., No. 19-40934, 5th Cir., 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 34941).
TULSA, Okla. — A federal judge in Oklahoma on Nov. 2 ruled that a landowner’s case against the federal agencies that approved oil and gas leases for hydraulic fracturing could proceed despite the fact that the court could not add as a required party a Native American mineral council that was instrumental in approving the leases (David P. Hayes v. David L. Bernhardt, et al., No. 16-615, N.D. Okla., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 204045).
CHICAGO — A federal judge in Illinois on Oct. 28 denied a motion to dismiss by an officer of a company purporting to be a supplier of hydraulic fracturing sand, ruling that the energy company suing for fraud did not need to show that the officer had sufficient minimum contact with the state of Illinois for the claim to be valid (Putnam Energy Holdings LLC v. Fracxchange.com LLC, et al., No. 19-7234, N.D. Ill., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 200103).
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A federal judge in West Virginia on Oct. 29 ruled that an expert was not reliable and excluded him from testifying on behalf of property owners who contend that a hydraulic fracturing company breached its contract by accessing oil and gas mineral rights on neighboring property but not paying the correct amount of royalties for passing through the plaintiffs’ land (Ruth H. Wells, et al. v. Antero Resources Corporation, No. 20-9, N.D. W.Va., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 201178).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Oct. 31 issued a memorandum directing the secretary of Energy to submit a report that assesses “the potential effects of efforts to ban or restrict” hydraulic fracturing, including an analysis of the loss of any jobs, the possible increase in energy prices and implications such a ban might have on national security.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A split panel of the District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Oct. 27 denied the stay sought by environmental groups, states and municipalities to prevent the implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to rescind the 2016 Methane Waste Prevention Rule that pertains to pollution caused by the flaring of methane during oil and gas operations (California, et al. v. Andrew Wheeler, No. 20-1357, Environmental Defense Fund, et al. v. Andrew Wheeler, et al., No. 20-1359, [consolidated] D.C. Cir.).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Oct. 28 granted a petition for mandamus, remanding to a Texas federal judge with instructions to reconsider an infringement defendant’s request to transfer patent claims against it to a different Texas federal court (In re: Nitro Fluids L.L.C., No. 20-142, Fed. Cir.).
SAN FRANCISCO — The state of California on Oct. 21 filed a brief in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals contending that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the basic requirements for agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when it rescinded the 2016 methane waste prevention rule passed by the Obama administration (California v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, et al., No. 20-16157, 9th Cir.).
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Oct. 6 reversed summary judgment in a case involving a water permit for a fracking operation, finding that notifying neighbors whose land abuts a source lake by publishing a notice in a low-circulation newspaper is constitutionally inadequate for due process (Betty Sue Adams Purcell, et al. v. Todd A. Parker, et al., No. 118328, Okla. Sup., 2020 Okla. LEXIS 92).
SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration on Oct. 19 filed a letter of supplemental authority in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, contending that pursuant to a ruling in a separate case pending in federal court in South Carolina, conservation groups that oppose offshore hydraulic fracturing in the Arctic do not have standing (League of Conservation Voters, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, et al., Nos. 19-35460, 19-35461 and 19-35462, 9th Cir.).
By John P. Katerndahl