Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law

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Oil producers (the Producers) challenged an administrative decision (the Decision) in which the Alaska Department of Revenue (DOR) decided to treat separate oil and gas fields operated by common working interest owners as a single entity when calculating the Producers’ oil production tax obligations. Relying on a statute that gave DOR the discretion to “aggregate two or more leases or properties (or portions of them), for purposes of determining [their effective tax rate], when economically interdependent oil or gas production operations are not confined to a single lease or property,” DOR concluded that operations on a number of smaller oil fields were economically interdependent with larger operations on the adjacent Prudhoe Bay oil field. The Producers argued that in interpreting the phrase “economically interdependent” in the Decision, DOR effectively promulgated a regulation without following the procedures established in the Alaska Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and, as a result, DOR’s Decision was invalid. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that DOR’s Decision was not a regulation because it was a commonsense interpretation of the statute and, therefore, DOR was not required to comply with APA rulemaking requirements. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision upholding DOR’s decision. View "Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Williams Alaska Petroleum owned the North Pole refinery until 2004. Williams knew that the then-unregulated chemical sulfolane was present in refinery property groundwater, but it did not know that the sulfolane had migrated off the refinery property via underground water flow. Flint Hills Resources Alaska bought the North Pole refinery from Williams in 2004 pursuant to a contract that contained detailed terms regarding environmental liabilities, indemnification, and damages caps. Almost immediately the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation informed Flint Hills that sulfolane was to be a regulated chemical and that Flint Hills needed to find the source of the sulfolane in the groundwater. The Department contacted Flint Hills again in 2006. Flint Hills’s environmental contractor repeatedly warned Flint Hills that sulfolane could be leaving the refinery property and that more work was necessary to ascertain the extent of the problem. In 2008, Flint Hills drilled perimeter wells and discovered the sulfolane was migrating beyond its property and had contaminated drinking water in North Pole. A North Pole resident sued Flint Hills and Williams, and Flint Hills cross-claimed against Williams for indemnification. After extensive motion practice the superior court dismissed all of Flint Hills’s claims against Williams as time-barred. Flint Hills appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that the superior court correctly applied the contract’s damages cap provision, but concluded that the court erred in finding Flint Hills’s contractual indemnification claims and part of its statutory claims were time-barred. The Court also affirmed the court’s dismissal of Flint Hills’s equitable claims. View "Flint Hills Resources Alaska, LLC v. Williams Alaska Petroleum, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review arose from competing claims of right to the pore space in a large limestone formation about a mile underground. Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, LLC (CINGSA) had leases with the holders of the mineral rights, the State of Alaska and Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI), that allowed it to use the porous formation as a reservoir for storing injected natural gas. But the City of Kenai, which owned a significant part of the surface estate above the reservoir, claimed an ownership interest in the storage rights and sought compensation from CINGSA. CINGSA filed an interpleader action asking the court to decide who owns the storage rights and which party CINGSA should compensate for its use of the pore space. On summary judgment CINGSA argued that CIRI and the State owned the pore space and attendant storage rights because of the State’s reservation of certain subsurface interests as required by AS 38.05.125(a). The superior court granted CINGSA’s motion. The City appealed both the grant of summary judgment and the superior court’s award of attorney’s fees to CIRI. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the State and CIRI indeed owned the pore space and the gas storage rights, and that it was not an abuse of discretion for the superior court to award attorney’s fees to CIRI. View "City of Kenai v. Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, LLC" on Justia Law

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Under an Alaska Department of Revenue regulation, all appeals of oil and gas property tax valuation must be heard by the State Assessment Review Board (SARB), while appeals of oil and gas property taxability must be heard by the Department of Revenue (Revenue). Three municipalities challenged this regulation, arguing that it contradicted a statute that grants SARB exclusive jurisdiction over all appeals from Revenue’s “assessments” of oil and gas property. The superior court upheld the regulation as valid, concluding that it was a reasonable interpretation of the statute. But after its review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that the regulation was inconsistent with the plain text, legislative history, and purpose of the statute; therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s judgment. View "City of Valdez v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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Federal law required electric utilities to purchase power generated by cogeneration facilities that met certain standards. A facility must be certified that it meets the standards. It may self-certify, by filing a form describing the project and asserting that it believes it meets the standards, or it may request a formal determination that it meets the standards. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska implemented this certification scheme on the state level, but the determination whether a facility qualifies fell within exclusive federal jurisdiction. The main issue this case presented for the Alaska Supreme Court's review was whether a self-certification constituted a federal determination that a facility meets the standards and whether the Commission must defer to this self-certification. The Court concluded that a self-certification did not constitute a federal determination and that the Commission’s broad discretion to implement the federal scheme meant it had the power to require a developer to formally certify its projects. View "Alpine Energy, LLC v. Matanuska Electric Association" on Justia Law

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At the center of this an appeal was the superior court's de novo valuation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) for tax assessment years 2007, 2008, and 2009. In February 2014 the Alaska Supreme Court issued a decision affirming the superior court's de novo valuation of TAPS for the 2006 assessment year.1 The parties introduced considerably more evidence during trial for the 2007, 2008, and 2009 years, but the operative facts remained substantially the same and the superior court applied similar standards and methods for valuation. Many of the issues raised on appeal were similar or identical to issues raised in the 2006 appeal and thus are partially or wholly resolved by the Court's prior opinion. Because the superior court did not clearly err or abuse its discretion with regard to any of its findings or its methodology, and because it committed no legal error in its conclusions, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc." on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue before the Supreme Court concerned the attorney’s fees and costs awarded in the 2006 Trans-Alaska Pipeline System tax assessment case. The superior court decided that the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the City of Valdez, and the North Slope Borough were prevailing parties for purposes of attorney’s fees and costs because they had prevailed on the main issues of the case. The superior court also applied the enhancement factors to raise the presumptive award from 30 percent to 45 percent of the prevailing parties’ reasonable attorney’s fees. The owners of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System appealed, arguing the superior court should have applied Alaska Appellate Rule 508 instead of Civil Rules 79 and 82. In the alternative, they contended: (1) that the three municipalities did not prevail as against the owners; (2) that fees should have been allocated between separate appeals; (3) that none of the prevailing parties were entitled to enhanced attorney’s fees; and (4) that the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s award should have been reduced as recommended by a special master. The Fairbanks North Star Borough and the City of Valdez cross-appealed, arguing that the superior court should have viewed this case as one involving a money judgment for purposes of an attorney’s fees award under Rule 82(b)(1) and, in the alternative, that they were entitled to a greater enhancement of their fees. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. v. Alaska, Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Alaskan Crude Corporation applied to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to have a suspended the "Burglin 33-1" well reopened to explore for oil and gas. Arguing that it was highly unlikely that oil from the well would rise to the surface unassisted, Alaskan Crude requested to be exempted from oil discharge response requirements or, in the alternative, to have the requirements reduced. The Commission made successive reductions to the technical flow-rate assessments and the response planning standards that it recommended to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for use in setting Alaskan Crude’s discharge response requirements. The Commission declined, however, to classify the Burglin 33-1 well as a gas facility, which would have exempted Alaskan Crude entirely from such requirements. Alaskan Crude appealed to the superior court, challenging the Commission’s recommended response planning standards and its well classification. The superior court affirmed. Alaskan Crude appealed from the superior court’s decision. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alaskan Crude Corporation v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Union Oil Company of California entered into a contract to sell its oil to Tesoro Alaska Company. Under the contract the Tesoro took title at the North Slope, but agreed to use a pipeline company associated with Union to transport oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The price per barrel was calculated as the West Coast market price less marine transport and pipeline tariff. The contract made no mention of whether the pipeline tariff was tied to the ultimate destination of the oil. At the time, the interstate and intrastate pipeline tariffs were the same. Tesoro shipped the oil to an in-state refinery and paid the tariff to the pipeline company. Union subtracted the tariff amount from the market price of the oil less marine transport and sent invoices to the buyer. Meanwhile, Tesoro successfully challenged the intrastate tariff as unjust and unreasonable and the pipeline company issued a refund, including 10.5% interest. Union claimed that it was entitled to the tariff refund under the contract. The superior court, on motions for summary judgment, awarded the principal amount of the refund to Union and the interest to Tesoro. Both parties appealed. Upon review of the dispute, the Supreme Court held that the contract's pricing term was a netback price to the Los Angeles market referencing the interstate tariff. Accordingly, the Court reversed the superior court's grant of summary judgment to Union and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of Tesoro. View "Tesoro Alaska Company v. Union Oil Company of California" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Oil and Gas Division (DNR), petitioned the Supreme Court for review of a superior court decision that under AS 38.05.035, the lack of continuing best interest findings (BIF) at each phase of an oil and gas project violated article VIII of the Alaska Constitution and that the DNR must issue a written best interest finding at each step of a phased project to satisfy the constitution. Because best interest findings after the lease sale phase are not required under the Alaska Constitution or AS 38.05.035, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court's ruling. Furthermore, the Court held that the State was constitutionally required to consider the cumulative impacts of an oil and gas project at its later phases. View "Sullivan v. Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands" on Justia Law