Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP) sought permission to enter Hazel Palmer’s property to conduct preliminary surveys in order to build a natural gas transmission line. When Palmer withheld her consent, ACP provided a notice of intent to enter her property pursuant to Va. Code 56-49.01. Palmer continued to deny permission, and ACP filed a petition for a declaratory judgment requesting a declaration of its rights under section 56-49.01. Palmer filed a plea in bar and a demurrer, arguing that section 56-49.01 applies only to domestic public service companies and is unconstitutional under Va. Const. art. I, 11 because it impermissibly burdens a fundamental right. The circuit court overruled Palmer’s plea in bar and demurrer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 56-49.01 establishes the General Assembly’s intent that the entry-for-survey privilege be available to foreign natural gas companies that do business within the Commonwealth; and (2) Palmer’s fundamental property rights do not include the right to exclude ACP in this case. View "Palmer v. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC (ACP) sent Landowners letters seeking permission to enter their properties to conduct preliminary surveys and studies in order to build a natural gas transmission line. When Landowners withheld their permission, ACP provided notices of intent to enter their properties pursuant to Va. Code 56-49.01. ACP then filed petitions for declaratory judgment against Landowners seeking an order declaring that the notices of intent to enter provided ACP with a right to enter Landowners’ properties. The circuit court issued a final order concluding that ACP was entitled to enter landowners’ properties pursuant to section 56-49.01. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that ACP’s notices were deficient because they did not “set forth the date of the intended entry” as required by section 56-49.01(C). View "Chaffins v. Atlantic Coast Pipeline, LLC" on Justia Law

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Dominion obtained necessary certificates for transmission lines to connect Dominion’s recently-approved Wise County power plant with an existing Russell County substation. In 2008, Dominion offered Hylton $19,100 to purchase a 7.88-acre easement. Hylton owned 354 acres across 20 contiguous and two non-contiguous tracts. He owned the surface and mineral rights of some tracts and only the mineral rights of others. Dominion included an appraisal, acknowledging that, according to Hylton, two major coal seams run through or near the property and that Hylton’s ability to sell or lease those mineral rights might be damaged. The appraisal did not consider mineral rights in determining fair market value. The parties signed an agreement granting Dominion the right to enter and construct the transmission line. Dominion filed its petition for condemnation, limited to the surface use of Hylton’s property and moved to prohibit Hylton from presenting evidence of “the separate value of coal,” damage to tracts not taken, and “damages for duplicative or inconsistent claims.” Hylton later moved to dismiss, arguing that Dominion’s pre-petition offer to purchase was not a bona fide offer, under Code 25.1-204, so that Dominion had failed to meet jurisdictional requirements for condemnation. The trial court dismissed and awarded Hylton attorneys’ fees. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the dismissal and the denial of Dominion’s motion in limine with regard to evidence related to the separate value of the coal and the potential surface mine. Because the issue of whether the unity of lands doctrine applies with respect to neighboring lands, not part of the taking, is a question of fact, denying the motion on that issue was appropriate. View "Va. Elec. & Power Co. v. Hylton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a successor in title to property interests retained by grantors in two severance deeds executed in 1886 and 1887, filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that the term “minerals” used in the deeds did not effect a conveyance of the natural gas and coal bed methane underlying her land. The circuit court sustained demurrers to Plaintiff’s original and amended complaints, holding that the term “minerals” included the gas as a matter of law. The Supreme Court affirmed after reaffirming the holding in Warren v. Clinchfield Coal Corp., holding that the two severance deeds at issue in this case conveyed the gas as a matter of law. View "Dye v. CNX Gas Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals arose from a final determination of the State Corporation Commission in a mandated biennial review of the rates, terms, and conditions for the provision of generation, distribution and transmission services of an electric utility. As pertinent here, commencing in 2011, the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act required the Commission to conduct biennial reviews of an electric utility's performance during the two successive twelve-month periods immediately prior to such reviews pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 56-585.1(A). At issue in this appeal was whether in the 2011 biennial review of the performance of Virginia Electric and Power Company in the 2009-2010 test period the Commission erred in determining that the utility's authorized fair rate of return on common equity of 10.9 percent would apply to the entire 2011-2012 test period in the next biennial review in 2013. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's construction of Code 56-585.1 was based upon the proper application of legal principles, and the Commission did not abuse the discretion afforded to it under that statute. View "Va. Elec. & Power Co. v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Appalachian Power Company (APCO) sought rate adjustment clause recovery of $33.3 million in environmental compliance costs that the State Corporation Commission denied. The Supreme Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded, holding (1) APCO was entitled to a rate adjustment clause for recovery of actual costs it directly incurred for environmental compliance in 2009 and 2010 but did not recover through its base rates, and the portion of the Commission's decision denying recovery of environmental compliance costs on the basis that those costs were connected with projects included in APCO's base rates which APCO had the opportunity to recover was reversed; and (2) the portion of the Commission's decision denying APCO recovery of environmental compliance costs alleged to be embedded in the capacity equalization charges APCO paid to its affiliates in 2009 and 2010 was affirmed. Remanded. View "Appalachian Power Co. v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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In this action, the trial court granted summary judgment against a locality, holding it liable to landowners under the State Water Control Law, Va. Code Ann. 62.1-44.2 through -44.34:28, in particular Code 62.1-44.34:18(C) of the Oil Discharge Law, for the contamination of groundwater by leachate and landfill gas. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment, holding that the trial court erred in awarding summary judgment to the landowners and finding the locality liable under the Oil Discharge Law, as the Oil Discharge Law does not apply to the passive, gradual seepage of leachate and landfill gas into groundwater. View "Campbell County v. Royal" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the court of appeals erred in (1) reversing a circuit court's judgment and applying the arbitrary and capricious standard of review to the State Water Control Board's decision to reissue a Virginia pollutant discharge elimination system permit to Virginia Electric and Power Company for its nuclear power station; and (2) reversing the circuit court and affirming the Board's determination that the discharge of heated water from the station into a waste heat treatment facility, classified as a "waste treatment facility" under state and federal regulations, did not require a separate discharge permit. For the reasons stated in Commonwealth v. Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc., the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Blue Ridge Envtl. Defense League v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Kivalina, a native community located on an Alaskan barrier island, filed a lawsuit (Complaint) in a California district court against The AES Corporation, a Virginia-based energy company, and numerous other defendants for allegedly damaging the community by causing global warming through emission of greenhouse gases. Steadfast Insurance, which provided commercial general liability (CGL) to AES, provided AES a defense under a reservation of rights. Later AES filed a declaratory judgment action, claiming it did not owe AES a defense or indemnity coverage in the underlying suit. The circuit court granted Steadfast's motion for summary judgment, holding that the Complaint did not allege an "occurrence" as that term was defined in AES's contracts of insurance with Steadfast, and that Steadfast, therefore, did not owe AES a defense or liability coverage. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Kivalina did not allege that its property damage was the result of a fortuitous event or accident, but rather that its damages were the natural and probable consequence of AES's intentional actions, and such loss was not covered under the relevant CGL policies. View "AES Corp. v. Steadfast Ins. Co." on Justia Law