Court Rules Against Pipeline Condemnation of State-Owned Lands

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit,
the federal appeals court responsible for cases arising in New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Delaware, ruled for the
state of New Jersey and against the developers of the PennEast natural gas
pipeline. The pipeline company, holder of a license from the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), had filed suit against the state and other
property owners under the Natural Gas Act to exercise eminent domain over lands
needed to construct its 116-mile pipeline from Luzerne County, Pa., to Mercer
County, N.J.  Among the lands subject to
the condemnation were properties and easements owned by the state of New
Jersey, including 40 parcels subject to state-held agricultural protection and
open space easements. New Jersey objected to the condemnation of these lands
citing several grounds, but the federal district court granted
the condemnation in December 2018. The state appealed. In its Sept.

Pa. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in ‘Rule of Capture’ Case

Pennsylvania’s top court will hear oral arguments on Sept. 12 in a case being closely watched by gas drillers and industry associations,
as well as land owners. “Rule of capture” is a long-established legal principle used
in conventional well drilling. It holds that a property owner can drill a well
and extract oil or gas, even if it comes from beneath another owner’s land
without that person’s permission. It is based on the fact that gas and oil
traditionally were found in underground reservoirs and could migrate freely across
property lines.

DEP Audit Finds Beaver County Agency had Poor Oversight of Two Major Pipeline Projects

The Pennsylvania Department
of Environmental Resources recently revoked some of the Beaver County
Conservation District’s permitting powers after an audit showed that it did
a poor job overseeing many projects, including several big natural gas pipelines
being built there. The agency had been authorized to issue erosion and
sedimentation and water encroachment permits for the DEP. A press release noted
that such delegation of duties to county conservation districts is optional,
and that DEP will now take over handling those permits. An audit
conducted in April found that the agency did not have proper staffing, and
did not properly review applications, coordinate with DEP or sufficiently
inspect projects. “DEP staff identified significant and consistent problems
with BCCD’s recordkeeping, permit review, and inspections,” said DEP Secretary
Patrick McDonnell in a press release.

Governor Wolf met by Mariner East Opponents

Gov. Tom Wolf has made Pennsylvania’s energy industry a key
focus of his administration. However, while some plans proposed by the governor
have been met with praise, others have caused contention. Wolf campaigned on several environmental and energy issues
in both of his runs for office. He promised to harness the natural gas and oil
industry in the state, and ensure that Pennsylvania’s public lands would be
protected. He has delivered on parts of these promises, like his 2015
moratorium on leasing public lands to oil and gas drillers.

Increase in Wastewater Pipelines Raises Regulation Questions

Natural gas companies are looking for better, more efficient ways to transport and dispose of contaminated wastewater used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Other shale basins across the United States have employed the use of a pipeline system to transport wastewater to other wells or treatment facilities rather than trucking it to reduce costs and community impacts. Major natural gas companies in Pennsylvania are following suit, though major questions linger about their monitoring to ensure there are no leaks.

Pennsylvania Takes Steps to Strengthen Gas Liquids Pipeline Safety Rules

The PUC on June 13 announced it is considering two separate rule-making proposals involving safety of pipelines carrying petroleum products and other hazardous materials.

The first is seeking public comment on an advance notice of rulemaking order to be considered in making potential changes to comprehensive safety regulations. The areas that may be addressed include a number of subjects that were problems with the Mariner East II pipeline, which was built across the state, but also resulted in spills, water damage, several shutdowns, and fines.

The second proposal would require that pipeline public utilities would be required to file annual reports of a pipeline’s service life, capital investment plans and other financial reports.

Regulation and Oversight of Pipelines Carrying Natural Gas Liquids

Regulators and legislators are taking a new look at regulation of the pipelines that carry highly valuable gas liquids from the fracking fields of North America to the processing facilities and refineries that convert these liquids into plastics, fuels, and chemical products.

District Attorneys go to Court to Block Flow of Contaminated Gas Drilling Leachate to Treatment Plant

Two Western Pennsylvania district attorneys in May took the unusual step of going to court to block a Westmoreland County landfill from sending water contaminated with gas drilling waste to a nearby treatment plant. The contaminated water, known as leachate, from the
Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, is primarily precipitation that soaks through the landfill contents, picking up contamination. It is collected and piped to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority’s treatment plant, and then discharged into the Monongahela River, which is a source of drinking water for residents in
four counties.

West Virginia Court Rulings Highlight Evolving Law on Property Owner Rights

Two recent decisions by the West Virginia Supreme Court
illustrate the evolving legalities over the rights of property owners near gas
drilling operations. In a ruling issued June 5, the court unanimously ruled that
EQT trespassed when it drilled wells on property owned by two Doddridge County
residents to access gas reserves on neighboring properties. While the company had a lease that entitled it to drill for
gas beneath their property, it did not have permission to enter the land to
build a new well pad to take the gas from thousands of acres of adjoining land. Unconventional gas well development involves drilling horizontal
wells deep into the earth, which then are turned laterally and can stretch out
a mile or more. After drilling, a process called hydraulic fracturing is used
that involves pushing fluids and sand under high pressure into the well to
fracture or “frack” the Marcellus Shale layer and allow the gas stored in it to
be released.

EQT Violations Raise Awareness for Sedimentation Control

In dealing with the Municipal Separate Strom Sewer System (MS4), which are state-level stormwater requirements to meet federal Clean Water Act standards, and its permitting requirements, local communities understand better than most how important sediment control is to water quality and how strictly these permitting requirements are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments, however, are not the only sector beholden to state-level stormwater permitting and regulation. Recently, EQT was fined just over $330,000 for a series of DEP permit violations including failure to control sedimentation runoff, as well as failure to report the runoff. The violations were discovered in February of 2018 in Forward Township, Allegheny County. EQT, based in Pittsburgh, is the country’s largest producer of natural gas.