December 6, 2013 Weekly Round Up

**This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.**

This week I was able to speak at the Texas Commodity Symposium held in conjunction with the Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show.  It was a great symposium and I enjoyed the chance to visit with the attendees and hear the other speakers.  Hello to the new readers from the Farm and Ranch Show!  Here are a few ag law-related stories making news this week.

*Federal Reserve Bank Report Suggests Water Market Approach.  The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas published a report this week discussing the potential detrimental impact that water scarcity could have on the Texas economy and suggesting that a water market would allow water to be put towards the “most productive uses.”  [Read article here and report here.]

Photo via Jennifer Blackburn, National Sorghum Producers

*  Alaska Court Rejects Right to Farm Defense in Septic Waste Case.  A trial court judge recently ordered a landowner to eliminate the smell of lagoons filed with septic waste after finding that the lagoons are not protected by the Alaska Right to Farm statute.  The landowner, who dumped septic waste onto his 500 acre property for future use as fertilizer, attempted to rely on the Right to Farm statute as a defense to the nuisance claim brought against him by his neighbor.  In rejecting the defense, the judge explained first that because the defendant had never sold any products from his land, it did not qualify as a “commercial farm” as required by the Alaska statute, but instead appeared to be merely a “hobby farm” that was not entitled to protection.    Second, the court explained that the Right to Farm law does not apply to protect activities that may later support a farming activity.  As the court explained, “Right-to-Farm Act does not offer protection from a nuisance that may later support farming activity…Rather, the Right-to-Farm Act protects a farming activity that later becomes a nuisance because of subsequent expansion or adoption of new technology.”  Thus, the landowner was ordered to abate the nuisance.  [Read article here.  If anyone would like a copy of the Order, contact me and I will be happy to email it to you.]


*  Wyoming Supreme Court Hears Fracking Chemical Disclosure Case.  Last Wednesday, the Wyoming Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the question of whether the trade secrets exemption to Wyoming’s public records law allows oil and gas companies to shield the types of chemicals used in the fracking process from disclosure.  Wyoming, the first state to require disclosure of fracking ingredients, requires that a list of chemicals used in fracking be filed with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission.  Because this is a government agency, its documents are public record.  Thus, environmental groups sought the list of fracking chemical ingredients pursuant to Wyoming’s public information statute.  The documents were withheld after the Commission claimed they constituted trade secrets.

A group of environmentalists whose information requests were denied filed suit arguing that the individual ingredients in chemicals used in fracking cannot be considered trade secrets and, therefore, must be disclosed to the public.  The trial court sided with the state, finding the information to constitute trade secrets.  The case was then appealed to the Wyoming Court of Appeals.  During arguments, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Halliburton argued that the individual chemicals are trade secrets because they offer enough information to potentially betray competitive advantage to competitors.  The court will issue a written ruling in the future.  [Read article here.]


*Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider Ban on Fracking.  A bill in the Massachusetts Legislature seeks to impose a 10-year ban on fracking in the state and to prohibit the injection of fracking wastewater in the state.  The bill has been passed by the Joint Committee on Environment,  Natural Resources, and Agriculture and continues to make its way through the political process.   [Read article here.]


*Estate Planning Strategies for Baby Boomers.  An article this week by Andrea Coombes set forth 5 estate planning strategies for baby boomers.  It is well worth a read, especially considering the blog post earlier this week explaining what happens to your assets if you die without a will.  [Read article here.]

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