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PA federal judge vacates controversial fracking verdict

In a win for industry, a Pennsylvania federal judge on Friday vacated a controversial fracking verdict in the highly publicized case Ely v. Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. The verdict was against the great weight of the evidence and shaded by the plaintiffs’ attorney’s missteps, said the court in its decision.

Last March, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the plaintiffs in the case $4.24 million for loss of the use and enjoyment of their property, namely their water supply, which injury the plaintiffs alleged stemmed from the defendant’s fracking operations in the surrounding area. On Friday, the court set aside … Continue Reading

Trump tells US Interior to reconsider fracking rules

President Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order with broad implications for the oil and gas industry. Among its provisions, the order requires the US Department of the Interior to reanalyze its fracking regulations.

The executive order, entitled Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, announces a shift in American environmental policy. It establishes as paramount in the new administration domestic energy production, economic growth, and American job creation. It requires that the executive branch review its regulations, policies, procedures, and the like to determine their effect on domestic energy growth. Where appropriate, it requires officials to suspend, revise, or … Continue Reading

PA DEP addresses possible link between local earthquakes and fracking

Pennsylvania’s environmental regulators last month addressed a potential link between a string of small local earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing in the Utica Shale. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a report in February analyzing together four small-scale earthquakes, which occurred in April 2016 in Lawrence County, and fracking operations in the surrounding area.

The relevant well pad, the report states, is located within five miles of most of the reported epicenters of the earthquakes. Fracking began at the pad almost a month before seismic activity was recorded in nearby townships.

Says the DEP in the report, “There is … Continue Reading

PA Department of Environmental Protection’s negotiating power fracked

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) may see new challenges in negotiating settlements with purported violators of Pennsylvania’s Clean Stream Law.  A recent Pennsylvania appellate court ruled that ongoing penalties are impermissible for a single waterway leak from fracking activities under the state’s Clean Streams Law.  The Clean Stream Law punishes violators for pollution released into state waters.

In EQT Production Co. v. DEP, a natural gas production company sued the DEP for interpreting the Clean Stream Law to allow the DEP the ability to impose a minimum $1.2 million penalty for a leak from a gas well pad that … Continue Reading

Quarterly Legislative Activity Update: Marcellus and Utica Shale Regions

Our Norton Rose Fulbright Pittsburgh-Southpointe practice tracks legislative activity that we believe may impact oil and gas development within the Marcellus and Utica shale regions (Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio). This Quarterly Update contains all of the relevant legislative activity occurring in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Read the complete Quarterly Update.… Continue Reading

Oklahoma shuts down wastewater disposal wells after recent earthquake

For years, the oil and gas industry has been blamed for the increase in seismic activity in various areas of the United States. Previous posts on this blog have tracked the allegations that hydraulic fracturing operations have contributed to seismic activity. A recent earthquake over the weekend has again sparked a debate regarding the alleged connection between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity.

On Saturday, a 5.6-magnitude earthquake occurred in Oklahoma. The epicenter of the earthquake was located 9 miles northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma, but reports suggest that several states felt the impact of the earthquake. In light of the earthquake, … Continue Reading

EPA Fracking Study Attacked

On August 11, 2016, EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) challenged EPA’s recent determination that hydraulic fracking mechanisms did not lead to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”  In June 2015, EPA released its hydraulic fracking study, formally known as “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft),” performed by an independent panel of various groups that included academic scientists, industry and environmental groups.  As previously discussed on the Hydraulic Fracking Blog, EPA determined that hydraulic fracking did not largely impact drinking water in … Continue Reading

Quarterly Legislative Action Update: Marcellus and Utica Shale Region

Our Norton Rose Fulbright Pittsburgh-Southpointe practice tracks legislative activity that we believe may impact oil and gas development within the Marcellus and Utica shale regions (Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio). This Quarterly Update contains all of the relevant legislative activity occurring in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio during the second quarter of 2016.

The next issue of the Quarterly Update will be published in October 2016 and will contain all of the legislative activity occurring through the third quarter of 2016. New legislative activity occurring after publication of this Update will be posted to Norton Rose Fulbright’s Hydraulic Fracking Blog … Continue Reading

The Bureau of Land Management appeals hydraulic fracturing decision

As discussed in a prior post, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl recently struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) hydraulic fracturing rule. In the BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule, the BLM imposed stricter rules on well casing, wastewater storage, and chemical disclosure. Judge Skavdahl held that the BLM lacked the authority to enact the rule. On Friday, the BLM filed its notice of appeal of Judge Skavdahl’s decision. The appeal is currently pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Prior to the BLM’s recent appeal, the BLM and the other groups supporting the BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule … Continue Reading

Recent Hydraulic Fracturing Rule Invalidated

Last year, the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a rule heightening the requirements placed on hydraulic fracturing operations on federal and tribal land. Specifically, the BLM heightened the rules for well casing and wastewater storage and required the disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process. The BLM’s hydraulic fracturing rule was challenged by Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the Western Energy Alliance. In September 2015, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl stayed the implementation of the rule pending the result … Continue Reading

Legislative Activity Update – Three Pennsylvania Bills

The following bill, which had been introduced previously, has been acted upon by the General Assembly since the last Legislative Activity Update:

PA House Bill 1704 – Amendments to Engineer, Land Surveyor and Geologist Registration Law

Sponsor: Mark Mustio (Republican – part of Allegheny County [outside Pittsburgh])
Overview: Provides for use of current term “Engineer Intern” for predecessor title of “Engineer-in-Training.”

Allows for distance learning to complete continuing professional competency requirements so long as course relates to professional practice and units awarded are verifiable and measurable by actual hours of instruction.

Amendments: Printer’s Number 2972:

Minor typographical changes.

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Sierra Club files earthquake lawsuit and Oklahoma regulators issue disposal injection reduction plan

Sierra Club makes induced seismicity claims against energy companies in federal lawsuit under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Days after a 5.1 magnitude quake shook Oklahoma on February 13, 2016, a federal suit claiming induced seismicity was filed. Sierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC, et al., No. CIV-16-134-F, (W.D. Okla. filed Feb. 16, 2016). The suit, filed under the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. § 6972(a)(1)(B), is brought on behalf of Sierra Club members in Oklahoma and Kansas who have allegedly suffered property damage from earthquakes. The complaint claims earthquakes allegedly induced … Continue Reading

State funding triggers TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program

The TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program, under the auspices of the University of Texas, is getting going, fueled by $4.5 million allocated by the Texas Legislature, with two new hires and seismographic equipment soon to be deployed.  The new project manager for TexNet is Alex Savvaidis, who operated a similar program in Greece.  Peter Hennings, a former ConocoPhillips structural geologist, will also join the UT Bureau of Economic Geology.  He will manage research at the new Center for Integrated Seismicity Research to analyze the TexNet data, working with Professor Ellen Rathje, a UT civil engineering expert on the impact of … Continue Reading

DOI proposes methane and waste reduction rule

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, proposed a rule developed by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) that would limit the flaring, leaking and venting of natural gas on public and tribal lands.  The reported purpose of this proposed rule is to cut down on methane emissions and prevent waste of natural gas. 

A significant portion of public and tribal lands overlay the Bakken formation.  If enacted, this rule will impact the oil and gas industry in the region as operators plan for gas capture, detect leaks, and monitor and limit gas flaring.

The new measures would require … Continue Reading

Political controversy surrounds peer-review attack on EPA fracking study

On January 7, EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) released a 133-page draft report recommending EPA soften its “landmark” findings that hydraulic fracking does not lead to “widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S.” This rebuttal comes on the tail of similar studies finding that hydraulic fracking does not contaminate drinking water.

The board, formed by a peer group of scientists, did not attack the method EPA used to reach its ultimate conclusion, only the final conclusion.

“The SAB is . . . concerned that this statement does not reflect the [lack of evidence], uncertainties and … Continue Reading

Oklahoma residents sue 12 energy companies over quakes

On January 11, 2015 Oklahoma residents from Edmond and Oklahoma City filed suit against twelve energy companies, alleging that the defendants caused or contributed to seismic activity, though no scientific evidence is cited. Felts, et al. v. Devon Energy, et al., No. CJ-2016-137 (Okla. Cnty. Dist. Ct. filed Jan. 11, 2016).  Plaintiffs assert negligence and strict liability claims, arguing that Defendants were the “but for” cause, or in the alternative, the proximate cause, of  earthquakes in December and January, although the multiplicity of defendants sued may indicate a lack of evidence regarding causation.  Plaintiffs claim property damage for cracks … Continue Reading

Quakes in Oklahoma and Canada highlight changing legal parameters for operators

Edmond, Oklahoma experienced a 4.3 magnitude quake December 29 amid a swarm of quakes the state experienced that day.  Chimneys and contents of shelves purportedly tumbled to the ground, and 4,400 individuals lost electricity.  The Oklahoma Corporation Commission continues to develop a response to the complex phenomenon, noting January 1 that “the initial review of the data for the area in question has not identified any oil and gas wastewater disposal wells that are both high volume and in the state’s deepest formation, a combination that researchers have identified as being at the highest risk for inducing earthquakes.”

The announcement … Continue Reading

UK Task Force Approves Fracking

On December 15, 2015, in a two-page report, a group of experts coined the “UK Task Force” issued their “Final Conclusions and Recommendations,” approving the safety of further drilling and exploration for shale gas in the United Kingdom. Based on a year of research into the potential “positive and negative” impacts of shale exploration and drilling, some of the highlights from the results include:

  • “Shale gas can be produced safely and usefully” in the UK in accord with industry-leading standards.
  • “The risk from shale gas to the local environment or to public health is no greater than that
Continue Reading

Legislative Activity Update – Two Pennsylvania Bills

The following bill, which had been introduced previously, has been acted upon by the General Assembly since the last Legislative Activity Update:

PA House Bill 1327 – Amendments to Fiscal Code

Sponsor: Michael Peifer (Republican – parts of Pike and Wayne Counties [northeast Pennsylvania])

Original bill

(Printer’s Number 1788) was unrelated to oil and gas.


House Bill 1327 became the vehicle to implement provisions of General Fund budget, most of which are unrelated to oil and gas development or regulation.  Provisions relevant to oil and gas development in each of the bill’s subsequent amended versions are

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Legislative Activity Update – 7 Pennsylvania Bills and 1 Resolution

The following two bills, which had been introduced previously, have been acted upon by the General Assembly since the last Legislative Activity Update:

PA House Bill 1325 – Amendments to Second Class Township Code Regarding Storm Water Facilities

Sponsor: Mark Mustio (Republican – part of Allegheny County [Pittsburgh])
Overview: Allows board of supervisors to enact and enforce ordinances to govern and regulate the planning, management, implementation, construction, and maintenance of storm water facilities.

Allows township to assess fees based in whole or in part on the characteristics of the subject property.

Amendments: Printer’s Number 2554:
Changes provision relating to
Continue Reading

Earthquakes tracked by state authorities and public with new tech

Seismic activity last week near Dallas grabbed attention in the Twittersphere, despite its low magnitude, reflecting the increasing trend of earthquake monitoring through social media and new technologies.  The USGS, which tracks ground shaking through user-generated reports on its “Did You Feel It?” site, posted one of the seismic events last week within a mere ten minutes of its occurrence.  In some locations of interest, the USGS is aided by mobile arrays of in-ground seismometers the agency has deployed to directly record geophysical data.

Earthquake tracking is also occurring in the states.  This fall, a map that shows locations … Continue Reading

Florida house fracking bill passes second subcommittee

H.B. 191, a Florida bill that would facilitate fracking throughout Florida recently gained approval in the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. Since this is the second subcommittee it has passed, the bill is poised to be debated by the entire House in Florida’s upcoming January legislative session.

So far, opposition from the bill has come from environmental groups and the Florida League of Cities. The League opposes provisions that preempt local governments from enacting anti-fracking ordinances and regulating where and how fracking is conducted within their borders. The League’s opposition, however, may be misplaced. Local oil and … Continue Reading

Seismic activity in Oklahoma results in new injection volume plans for wells near Crescent and Cherokee

On Friday, November 20, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission issued volume reduction plans for areas near Crescent and Cherokee that experienced seismic activity last week.  These plans are the latest in a series of similar measures taken by the state to control injection volumes of produced water and wastewater in various areas.

The Crescent area plan calls for four disposal wells within three miles of seismic activity to stop operations.  The plan also calls for a 50 percent injection volume reduction for seven disposal wells within three to six miles of the observed seismic activity that inject into the Arbuckle formation.  … Continue Reading

Wall Street Journal assesses induced seismicity liability debate

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal added to the debate over induced seismicity with an online opinion piece entitled, “Should Oil Firms Be Held Liable in Earthquake Lawsuits?” Law professor Blake Watson at the University of Dayton took the position that oil and gas companies should be held strictly liable if underground fluid injection causes earthquakes, even if companies did nothing negligent.  By contrast, Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy at the R Street Institute think tank noted that the executive and legislative branches are better poised than courts to address induced seismicity risks.  As these issues emerge, … Continue Reading