PA PUC Overrules Lib Judge – Mariner East 1 Returns to Service

As MDN predicted, yesterday the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted to overturn a previous action by liberal administrative law judge, Elizabeth Barnes, to shut down the Mariner East 1 (ME1) pipeline (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). ME1 is back up and running. All five PUC members supported returning ME1 back to service. However, three of the five PUC members agreed with Judge Barnes’ decision to temporarily shut down work on the Mariner East 2 pipeline project in West Whiteland Township (Chester County). Two of the five PUC members wanted all of Barnes’ ruling to be overturned. The reporting on this is somewhat confusing. PUC Chairwoman Gladys Brown put forward a motion to (a) turn ME1 back on, and (b) keep ME2 in West Whiteland stopped, for now, pending more information from Sunoco Logistics. The vote was 3-2 in favor of Brown’s motion. The 2 voting against it did so because it didn’t go far enough (they wanted ME2 construction to resume). So although the vote was 3-2, all 5 of the members wanted ME1 back on. That’s the real nub of the news–the subtlety that’s missed in most media reports. The 3-2 “split decision” that’s being reported is the decision to overrule Barnes on ME1, but keep her ruling intact (for now) on ME2. The PUC has ordered Sunoco to provide more information in the next 20 days: inspection and testing protocols, emergency response plans, and copies of safety training curriculum for employees and contractors. The PUC will then reconsider whether or not to allow ME2 work to resume in West Whiteland. But here’s the thing: Work on the rest of the 300+ mile pipeline continues everywhere else in the state–everywhere but West Whiteland. Overall, yesterday’s PUC action was a crushing defeat for PA State Sen. Andy “Tony Soprano” Dinniman (Democrat) and his Big Green cronies who want to assassinate the entire ME1 & ME2 projects by focusing on one small area…
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Federal Court Upholds Ohio Forced Pooling Law in Chesapeake Case

In 2015, landowners in Harrison County, OH who own 127 acres (the Kerns) filed a lawsuit alleging their property rights were about to be violated because Chesapeake Energy had filed a pooling request with the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources (ODNR) to pool (combine) the Kerns property with surrounding properties for shale drilling. The Kerns had not signed and do not want drilling under their land. Their neighbors do. Ohio has a law on the books that allows for “forced pooling” in cases when a majority of the surrounding land is leased but landowners with small positions refuse to sign. The Kerns resisted and fought the case all the way to Ohio Supreme Court, which rejected their claims. Chesapeake drilled and fracked three wells (on a neighboring property), which included drilling under the Kerns’ property. So the Kerns filed a new lawsuit in 2016, in federal court, claiming a “taking” of their property had occurred. The federal court has just ruled–against the Kerns. This was the first time a court case dealt directly with the constitutionality of Ohio’s unitization (forced pooling) law. The upshot: Ohio’s forced pooling law remains intact and in force…
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Despite Court Ruling, Atlantic Coast Pipeline Continues Construction

In May MDN told you that the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had invalidated (vacated) a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) to accidentally kill a few bats and bumble bees (classified as endangered) as it builds the massive $6.5 billion, 600-mile project from West Virginia to North Carolina (see U.S. Fourth Circuit Court Vacates Key Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipe). The Sierra Club and several other radical, far-left groups were behind the court case that led to the decision. However, as it turns out, the decision doesn’t really hurt the project all that much. The vacated permit isn’t so “key” after all. Of the 600 or so miles of pipeline getting built, the vacated permit from Fish and Wildlife only affects about 10 miles of pipeline (see Only 10 Miles of Atlantic Coast Pipeline Affected by Court Ruling). The radicals are back, not happy that only 10 miles of pipeline is idled for now. In a “but, but, but, but, but” request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the antis argue FERC should shut down the whole enchilada–because they don’t like having just 10 miles shut down. Meanwhile, Dominion keeps up steady-and-sure construction of the project. It’s getting built, even as you read this…
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PA Superior Court Rejects Southwestern “Briggs” Trespass Appeal

An unwelcome and troubling development in the Southwestern Energy “Briggs” court case. MDN brought you important news in April that the Pennsylvania Superior Court had handed down a decision (known as the “Briggs” case) that has the power to greatly restrict, perhaps even stop, Marcellus drilling in PA (see PA Superior Court Overturns “Rule of Capture” for Marcellus Well and PA “Rule of Capture” Case has Power to Limit Marcellus Drilling). The issue, in brief, is that the Superior Court decision disallows using an age-old principle called the “rule of capture” when it comes to shale drilling and fracking. It opens the door to a myriad of frivolous lawsuits claiming that a fracture, a crack created during fracking, is draining gas from a neighbor’s property without justly compensating the neighbor for the gas. Southwestern successfully argued in a lower court that the odd crack here and there that may slip under a neighbor’s property is permissible. The landowner appealed to Superior Court and three judges heard the case. Two of the three overturned the lower court and sided with the landowner. Southwestern, following the decision, petitioned the Superior Court to have all of the sitting justices (called en banc) hear the case (see Southwestern Appeals “Trespass” Case to Entire PA Superior Court). Sadly, on Friday, the Superiors declined to rehear the case. The next step? Southwestern has appealed the case directly to the PA Supreme Court…
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Columbia Sues WV Landowners for Delaying Mountaineer XPress Work

It’s one thing for a landowner (or Big Green supporter, sometimes one and the same) to oppose a pipeline project by protesting, asking politicians to get involved, writing to regulatory agencies, etc. We have a great American tradition of free speech. Go for it. But it’s quite another thing to “harass, intimidate and interfere” with work crews in an area by screaming at them and shooting your “large caliber gun” near where they’re working. Columbia Gas Transmission is currently building the Mountaineer XPress Pipeline, a $2 billion, 170-mile pipeline that will flow 2.7 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day of natural gas from existing and future points of receipt along or near the Columbia pipeline system–most of it located in West Virginia (see Details on Columbia Pipeline Mountaineer XPress Pipeline Project). At 2.7 Bcf/d, Mountaineer XPress is the second largest (by volume) new pipeline project for the Marcellus/Utica region–second only to Rover’s 3.25 Bcf/d pipeline. It is a big and important project. And yet, a single couple whose land the pipeline does NOT cross can delay the entire project with threats and intimidation and interference. That’s the charge Columbia has made in court. On April 30, Columbia sued a couple in Doddridge County who live near an active construction site for Mountaineer XPress, claiming their hostile actions toward workers have caused a delay for the entire project–and that’s costing Columbia big bucks. Columbia wants to ask a jury to extract some of that lost revenue from the hostile couple as compensation. Lesson: Your (hostile, threatening) actions have consequences, and may cost you money…
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Lebanon County Judge Rules ME1 is Public Utility, Pump Stn OK

This story stretches back four years. In November 2014, MDN told you about anti-drillers in Lebanon County, PA who had succumbed to shiny object syndrome and transferred their irrational hatred of fossil fuels from the Williams Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project to the already-in-the-ground but getting repurposed Sunoco Logistics Mariner East 1 pipeline (see New Target for Lebanon, PA Antis: Mariner East Pipeline). As part of converting ME1 from an oil pipeline to flow natural gas liquids, including propane and ethane, from western PA to the Philadelphia area, some 31 pump and valve stations needed to be built–one of them in West Cornwall in Lebanon County. Three local residents and an anti-drilling group called Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County filed an appeal with the zoning board to force the town to rescind permits they granted to allow the pump station. In May 2015, the West Cornwall Township Zoning Hearing Board declared the appeal “moot”–meaning denied (see Antis’ Zoning Appeal re Mariner East Pump Stn in Lebanon “Moot”). The antis decided to throw good money after bad and appealed the matter to Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas (i.e. county court). Finally, after years, the judge in the case backed ME1 over the antis, delivering his decision earlier this week. The judge ruled that ME1 is exempt from certain local zoning restrictions because it is (yes), a “public utility.” Which should not surprise anyone. Just last week the U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing when it refused to hear an eminent domain case for ME2, a different but closely related pipeline (see U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Eminent Domain for ME2 Pipeline). Like ME2, ME1 is a public utility. So say all the courts…
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Penn Twp Frack Ban Decision Now in Hands of Local Judge

Last November we updated you on a lawsuit filed by a group of anti-fossil fuelers in Penn Township (Westmoreland County), PA (see Penn Twp Ninny Nannies File Lawsuit to Block Apex, H&H Wells). A group calling themselves Protect PT, backed with money and legal help from Big Green group PennFuture, filed a lawsuit to try and stop Apex Energy and Huntley & Huntley (H&H) from drilling wells in the township. A Westmoreland County judge heard some testimony in the case in April (see Penn Twp Antis Try to Use PA ERA to Block Shale Drilling). The peril with Protect PT’s lawsuit is that it uses Pennsylvania’s so-called Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), which liberal PA judges have, in recent years, breathed new life into. The argument is that fracking denies those who live near this temporary activity their “right” to enjoy Mom Nature, therefore it should be banished forever. Protect PT is attempting to pull off a total frack ban in the Penn Township. Although the judge heard testimony in April, more was given this week. All testimony is now done and the case rests with the judge. We expect whoever loses will appeal. Below is a recap of the case and the testimony given this week…
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U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Eminent Domain for ME2 Pipeline

It’s been a long, tough fight to get the Mariner East 2 Pipeline (ME2) project built. In fact, it’s still not 100% built (it is about 98% done). Construction on a tiny section near Philadelphia is currently being stopped by a liberal judge (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). We expect that to be resolved soon. However, the project has been sued multiple times in different courts. One of the favored legal arguments was/is to say the project does not have the right to use the power of eminent domain to force recalcitrant landowners from accepting it. One such case, brought by a Lebanon County, PA landowner, was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday the Supremes declined to review the case, a challenge to ME2’s ability to use eminent domain, thereby cementing a ruling by the PA Commonwealth Court that ME2 can indeed use eminent domain. Period. End of sentence. The Supreme Court ruling is just the latest in a string of rulings favoring the ME2 project. Last summer, a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel ruled in favor of ME2, upholding its status as a public utility because it will provide increased public access to energy resources like propane. Huntingdon County Common Pleas Court Judge George Zanic ruled against efforts to delay construction of ME2 after Commonwealth Court validated the utility status by dismissing an appeal. None of this is new. The court have repeatedly ruled against challenges to the state Public Utility Commission’s designation of ME2 as a public utility with  public benefits. And now, the Supremes have rendered the final word: ME2 is a public utility
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PA Supreme Court Rules on Gorsline Zoning Case – Mixed Decision

Not long after the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Act 13 Marcellus Shale drilling law in 2012, signed into law by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, seven selfish towns sued, claiming they should have the right (via zoning laws) to determine just where an oil and gas well can be located within their borders. The challenge was brought by rabid anti-drillers and appealed all the way to the PA Supreme Court, where unfortunately the antis won (see PA Supreme Court Rules Against State/Drillers in Act 13 Case). What the antis didn’t think about was the fact some towns may decide to exercise their newly-won rights to allow wells, instead of prohibit them. Whoops. Guess they didn’t see that one coming. A town in Lycoming County decided to allow a shale well on property zoned residential/agricultural (i.e. farming country) by using a “conditional use” permit. Anti-drilling Big Green groups, including PennFuture, THE (arrogant) Delaware Riverkeeper, and the Peters Township gang (none of which are from mid-PA where the town is located) sued to deny the town the right to exercise its Act 13 authority to allow a shale well. The case, Brian Gorsline v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfield Township (Gorsline is an avowed anti-driller), was appealed to the PA Supreme Court and in March 2017 (over a year ago!) the Supremes heard oral arguments (see Gorsline Zoning Case Argued Before PA Supreme Court Justices). Last Friday the Supremes came down from Mt. Olympus to issue their ruling–and they ruled (4-3) against the town and for the antis. However, before you jump to any conclusions and before you believe headlines from Big Green supporters trumpeting their “victory,” you need to know this: the decision potentially makes it harder (not easier) for antis to stop drilling in the future. We’ll explain…
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PA Supreme Court Upholds Block on DEP Chapter 78a Drilling Regs

In October 2016, after five years in the making, Pennsylvania adopted new shale drilling regulations (see PA’s New Chapter 78a Drilling Regs Go into Effect Oct 8). Although the regs were ready at the end of the Gov. Tom Corbett Administration, Corbett fumbled the ball and the regs didn’t get adopted, which left them vulnerable to the incoming left-leaning Tom Wolf Administration. Wolf’s people mangled the regulations under the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) Dictator/Secretary John Quigley, who got fired over unethical collusion with Big Green groups. Some of the good stuff remained, but onerous new elements were introduced. The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), which represents PA’s biggest shale drillers, filed an appeal in Commonwealth Court to block the most onerous aspects of the new regulations (see Marc. Shale Coalition Files Lawsuit to Block PA Chapter 78a Regs). The judge agreed to “temporarily” block some of the items in the MSC list (see PA Judge Temporarily Blocks Some DEP Chapter 78a Drilling Regs). In December 2016, the DEP escalated the case by asking the PA Supreme Court to undo the block on those regulations imposed by the lower Commonwealth Court (see PA DEP Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Stay on New Regs). Last October the Supremes heard oral arguments in the case (see PA Supreme Court Hears Arguments on DEP Request to Unblock Regs), and on Friday the Supremes ruled to not undo the block on DEP’s onerous regs–but instead bumped the case back down to Commonwealth Court to let the matter play out there…
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Big Green Sues to Stop DTE Energy’s MI Gas-Fired Electric Plant

Click image for larger version

Last June DTE Energy filed paperwork in Michigan to build a new “state-of-the-art” natural gas-fired power plant in St. Clair County (see DTE Energy Files to Build New Natgas-Fired Elec Plant in Michigan). The gas-fired plant will produce 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 850,000 homes. If all goes according to plan, the new $1 billion plant will go online in 2022, helping to offset three coal-fired plants set to be retired by 2023. The process is long to approve and then build such a project, with many hoops to jump through. The first hurdle, perhaps THE major hurdle, is an approval by Michigan utility regulators. That happened in April. Right on cue the far-left Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Earthjustice, all of which seem to have unending sources of cash to file lawsuits, have together filed an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) decision to approve the project…
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Nightmare: Appeals Court Upholds Right to Cancel Pipeline Deals

Drillers may have a new “get out of (pipeline) jail free” card. If you don’t like your 10-20 year pipeline contract, just file for bankruptcy and cancel the contract during the “reorganization” process, emerging from bankruptcy without the responsibility to fulfill the long-term contract you signed. That’s the option just upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (unsurprisingly located in New York). MDN has covered this issue for more than two years. In March 2016, MDN brought you the news that a NY bankrutpcy court judge had allowed Sabine Oil & Gas, going through bankruptcy, to cancel a pipeline gathering contract with Cheniere’s Nordheim Eagle Ford Gathering in Texas (see Midstream Nightmare Comes True: Judge Lets Driller Cancel Contracts). Nordheim spent $84 million building a pipeline system to Sabine’s wells. In return for laying out that kind of money, Sabine, as is almost always the case, signed a multi-year contract with Nordheim (10 years in this case), ensuring Nordheim would make a profit on its up-front investment. The judge allowed Sabine to unilaterally cancel the deal several years into the contract as part of the bankruptcy process. We asked at the time: If a driller signs a contract and that signature is no longer any good, will anyone build pipeline systems anymore? We later brought you insight from a pair of lawyers who said: “If other judges follow the analysis and conclusions reached in the Sabine Oil case, the expectations of midstream service providers in the oil and gas extraction process might be turned on their heads” (see Lawyers Warn Pipeline Case May Turn Midstreamers “On Their Heads”). Indeed. Now that the Second Circuit has upheld this disastrous lower court decision, with the only appeal option left being the U.S. Supreme Court (which likely won’t take the case), we’re holding our breath to see what happens next. It seems this is the nightmare we can’t wake up from. Will midstream companies quit building gathering systems?…
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FERC Defends Atlantic Bridge Pipe Approval in DC Circuit Court

In January 2017 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted final approval for the Atlantic Bridge expansion project (see FERC Approves Atlantic Bridge Project for New England/Canada). The Spectra Energy/Enbridge project beefs up capacity along the Algonquin Pipeline, along with more capacity for Spectra Energy’s Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, to carry more Marcellus/Utica gas into New England and (eventually) all the way to Nova Scotia, Canada. Much of the project is now done–except in Massachusetts where a critical compressor station planned for Weymouth is stalled (see Massachusetts Blocking Atlantic Bridge Pipeline from Completion). Weymouth itself along with a smattering of radical environmentalist groups filed a lawsuit against FERC, claiming FERC did a “shoddy environmental review” before approving the project, arguing FERC’s approval should be overturned by the court. On Tuesday FERC fired back asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss the frivolous lawsuit and let them get on with finishing this critical project…
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Sunoco Appealing ME1 Shutdown to Full PUC to Overturn Lib Judge

As MDN reported last Friday, fossil fuel opponents finally located a liberal judge that they could persuade to abuse her judicial power to shut down not only construction on the 98% complete Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline project, but also shut down Mariner East 1 (ME1), a pipeline that has been working with no issues or problems for over a year (see Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice). It is an outrage that a single judge can inflict such economic damage. Sunoco responded by saying they are pursuing “all legal remedies to overturn this Order, including our right to request PUC review of the Order, which will be filed within the next seven days.” If/when Sunoco appeals to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the full commission can and likely will meet right away, in a non-public hearing, and could restore ME1’s right to flow NGLs immediately, overruling the judge’s overtly political order. It could happen as fast as this week, although it’s more likely to happen next week. In the meantime, every day ME1 is down, great economic harm comes to companies like Sunoco and their customers that use ME1, primarily Range Resources…
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Last MVP Tree Sitter in Franklin Co. Comes Down, Trees Cut

MVP protester

We’ve run out of words to describe just how lunatic (and hypocritical) Big Green radicals are in their quest to stop fossil fuel projects. The last of the tree sitters opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project in Franklin County, Va. who had taken to climbing and living in trees along the pipeline’s path have come down, after a judge charged them with contempt (in federal court, a very serious charge), and after MVP workers began cutting some of the trees close to where they were located. A tree sitter calling himself Ink (like the stuff used in pens) had been living in the trees in Franklin County for the past two weeks. He claims that when MVP workers began cutting branches and tops of trees nearby, some of which were connected to a spiderweb of ropes put there by the protesters, one of the branches hit Ink and scratched him, making him bleed. Poor baby. Here, let us grab a box of Kleenex to wipe away our tears. After Ink came down, another protester went up, calling herself Sprout. She stayed up there for four hours. After Sprout was ordered to appear in court on federal charges, she came down too, ending the tree sitting in Franklin. For now. We believe there may be two “sitters” (one up a tree, one up a pole) left in other locations. These “brave” people who refuse to use their real names and identify themselves go by names like Ink, Sprout, Red and Nutty. Need we say more? Our point: Fight for your cause in court or with regulatory agencies. Don’t take the law into your own hands. We live in a land with laws, not anarchy where everyone does what is right in his own sight. If the actions of these so-called protesters (i.e. illegal law breakers) are left unchallenged, it is the beginning of the end for our society built on the rule of law…
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Antis Get Lib Judge to Shut Down All Mariner East Pipes, Dems Rejoice

Anti-fossil fuel nutters have finally, after months and years, scored a minor victory. They’ve been shopping to locate an ultra-liberal judge who would ignore the law and instead issue edicts from the bench–to shut down both the Mariner East 1 (ME1) and Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline projects. Yesterday Elizabeth Barnes, an administration law judge for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), unilaterally ordered Sunoco Logistics Partners to “cease and desist all current operation, construction, including drilling activities on the Mariner East 1, 2 and Mariner East 2X pipeline” in West Whiteland Township (Chester County, PA). The judge also moved to shut down all operations of Mariner East 1 across the state, ruling that she is “enjoining Respondent from operating Mariner East 1.” It is a breathtaking display of arrogance and seizure of power that does not belong to her. The ruling runs counter to other decisions regarding these critical pipeline projects–projects that have been thoroughly vetted by numerous regulatory agencies. Construction of ME2 is 94% complete! ME1 has been flowing NGLs for over a year–with ZERO problems! And yet Barnes has shut it all down, with the stroke of a pen. We predict it won’t last long…
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