Bracewell & Giuliani

Powered by the attorneys of Bracewell & Giuliani, Energy Legal Blog® is your resource for updates and analysis on national and global energy issues.
  1. A permit system may finally arrive for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act – New Opportunities and Responsibilities

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015 5:06 pm by

    TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallFor years, Federal Courts have held that individuals can be held criminally liable under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) for the death of birds regardless of whether they intended to harm them. While several courts have recently called into question this precedent, yesterday, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) started a process that could help clarify liability under the Act. However, with this clarity will come additional regulatory obligations and the creation of a bright line between compliance and noncompliance.

    Like the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the MBTA imposes criminal liability for harming specifically-identified birds. Unlike the ESA, however, the MBTA does not currently have an extensive permitting system. As a result, most companies are unable to proactively ensure compliance with the MBTA unless they can avoid harming any migratory birds during their operations – and complete avoidance is extremely difficult when engaging in many industrial activities of any scale. Thus, entities operating wind energy, communication towers, oil and gas production, and electrical transmission facilities, for example, have generally adopted best management practices and hoped that their proactive efforts would result in lenient treatment by FWS if and when their operations accidentally harm migratory birds. (more…)

  2. Major Air Enforcement Action Against New Plant Owner Suggests the Value of EPA’s “New Owner Audit Policy”

    Thursday, May 21, 2015 11:41 am by and

    A new $1.3 million Clean Air Act penalty action by U.S. EPA and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality against AK Steel Corporation has received significant public and media attention this week.  The proposed consent decree, filed with the court and opened for public comment on May 19th, includes significant cash penalties and supplemental environmental project requirements, along with burdensome obligations to establish an environmental management system, perform third party audits, and install costly new pollution controls.  Less often mentioned in this week’s stories about the consent decree is the fact that AK Steel just acquired the facility in question last year. (more…)

  3. Commercial UAS Modernization Act Introduced to Streamline Drone Integration

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015 5:16 pm by

    Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Hoeven (R-ND) recently introduced the Commercial UAS Modernization Act, legislation designed to streamline the integration of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the United States. The legislation would establish an interim rule governing small UAS operations, provide the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with some flexibility on issues like visual-line-of-sight (VLOS) operations, reduce the regulatory burden for commercial operators, create a new deputy administrator position at the FAA focused on UAS, and encourage maximum use of current FAA UAS test sites. (more…)

  4. Texas Regulators Take Robust Step Reacting to Reports Connecting Seismic Activity and Wastewater Injection Wells

    Friday, May 8, 2015 4:03 pm by

    Two members of the Railroad Commission of Texas recently said they will consider taking action against two wastewater injection wells linked by a recent scientific report to earthquakes north of Fort Worth Texas. Hearings have been scheduled for June, and the operators have been directed to “show cause” on why their permits should not be canceled, or perhaps suspended or modified, and the wells not be shut down. (more…)

  5. Reports Connecting Seismic Activity to the Injection of Produced Water

    Tuesday, April 28, 2015 10:06 am by and

    In recent days, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have each indicated that they are increasingly convinced that there is a connection between the underground injection of produced water and induced seismicity—small earthquakes caused by something other than naturally occurring activity.

    The Oklahoma Geological Survey released a statement on April 21, 2015 indicating that the increased seismic activity experienced in many parts of Oklahoma in recent years is “very unlikely” to be the result of naturally occurring forces.  In its statement, the OGS noted that Oklahoma has experienced more earthquakes in 2014 than in any year since 1977 and that, in many parts of the state, the seismicity rate is up to 600 times higher than the background seismicity.  The OGS drew a clear distinction, however, between hydraulic fracturing itself and the injection or disposal of water associated with oil and gas production.  It stated that the increased seismicity is not caused by drilling or extraction of oil or natural gas.  Rather, it is the disposal of naturally occurring water that is produced during the fracking process (known as “produced water” or “brine”) and re-injected into disposal wells that potentially causes increased activity, with the highest correlation being associated with oil and gas plays that contain the largest volumes of this kind of water.  The OGS was also careful to note that produced water connected to induced seismic activity represents a small percentage of the total volume of wastewater injected in disposal wells throughout the state.  (more…)

  6. FAA Continues to Modify UAS Approval Process to Expedite Integration

    Wednesday, April 15, 2015 9:20 am by

    By the end of 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had approved less than 15 Section 333 exemptions authorizing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations. Roughly three months later, that number has jumped to over 130 Section 333 exemptions approved. The surge in approvals can be attributed to recent changes in the FAA’s approval process as well as increasing pressure from the White House and industry to speed up UAS integration. A few of the recent changes implemented by the FAA include introduction of a “blanket” COA, reliance on a “summary grant” process, and dialing back of certain prerequisites to approval.   (more…)

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