Guest Viewpoint – Solar Guy Knocks Chesapeake Energy

Last week MDN was contacted by Robert Magyar, Managing Director at Navitus Strategies, to offer a guest viewpoint to run on MDN. We occasionally post guest articles and agreed to post Bob’s article (below). His article takes a look at Chesapeake Energy and offers the view that although Chesapeake has laid off more than a thousand people and sold off (and continues to sell off) key assets, the company is still financially unhealthy. Bob offers his reasons why (mostly from hedging agreements). He also highlights the recent and ongoing problems Chessy has with royalty payments in Pennsylvania.

In our email correspondence Bob says, “we need natural gas” and that he is not anti-drilling by any stretch. However, we would note for the record that his company, Navitus, works on alternative energy projects–primarily solar–and so it seems in his own best interests to knock the shale industry (and one of it’s most prominent players) around just a bit. With that as a preface, here is Bob’s article on Chessy “continuing to grind down,” which first appeared on the freelance article website

It was another tough week for Chesapeake Energy Corporation (CHK), once the darling of the Pennsylvania Marcellus shale. On Wednesday it posted an unexpected 2013 loss of $116 million which came a day after the company’s announcement to sell off its core oilfield services group. Last week Pennsylvania State Attorney General Kathleen Kane confirmed her office has put together a working group to look into allegations of fraud against Chesapeake Energy who has been one of Pennsylvania’s biggest natural gas drillers. Despite all the tough news, Chesapeake’s CEO Doug Lawler remained remarkably upbeat stating, “2013 was a foundational year in which we focused on optimizing our business processes, implementing a disciplined capital budget, decreasing per unit cash costs, selling non core assets and reducing liabilities.” Shares of the company have continued to decline, today at $25.90 down from a 52 week high of $29.06 in November 2013.

Continued charges to end leasing rights of property obligations in Texas along with charges for terminations and layoffs of Chesapeake employees and ending numerous drilling rig leases, among other major cost issues, moved the company into the red. Average daily production output was just 2% over prior year same quarter. The company had to sell its natural gas production at an average price of a $1.90 per thousand cubic feet due in part to its prior volumetric production commitments. In order to raise cash starting back in 2009 the company entered into a series of agreements to sell its then future natural gas production at agreed to prices going forward.

With the price of natural gas going to a low of $1.72 per million BTU in April 2012, Chesapeake now finds itself having to sell its production below the current market price rate. Analysts had been expecting the company to realize significantly higher prices for its production for 2013.

Since 2012 the company has sold off nearly $15 billion of oil and natural gas fields, pipelines and partnerships while terminating more than one thousand employees. This week the company announced it will sell or spin off its core oilfield services group to raise more cash to pay down continued debt. The oilfield services group had 2013 revenues of approximately $2.2 billion, and its service offerings include drilling, hydraulic fracturing, oilfield rentals, rig relocation, and fluid handling and disposal, all key operating processes in hydraulic fracking. It is clearly a core and critical asset to the company.

A remarkably upbeat CEO Lawler said, “COS (Chesapeake Oilfield Services) is an outstanding business with a talented management team that we believe will offer Chesapeake and its shareholders enhanced return opportunities as a stand-alone company.”

This morning the company announced it had signed agreements to sell midstream compression assets for a combined $520 million. The realities are Chesapeake Energy is selling off its asset base in virtually every part of its company business model leaving industry observers and analysts to wonder if the company has not drilled itself into financial exhaustion.

In addition to ongoing Department of Justice and SEC investigations into the company, it’s yet again facing allegations it has cheated Pennsylvania leaseholders out of royalty payments. In 2013, the company agreed to settle a class action lawsuit regarding contested royalty payments but the deal is yet to be approved by a federal judge. Several weeks ago Governor Corbett, recipient of large amounts of oil and gas industry political contributions in his 2010 run for governor, and state senator Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) asked the state Attorney General to look into allegations of fraud against the company, over its royalty payments.

First Deputy Attorney General Adrian King stated, “We’re looking at it very closely.” “If there’s fraud we’ll take appropriate action, but it’s a little too early to say,” “At an appropriate point we’ll meet with the Marcellus Shale Coalition and Chesapeake Energy.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition is the shale gas industry’s Pennsylvania based front group to aggressively promote shale gas development in the state. It has been a powerful beacon of all good things shale gas while consistently downplaying any associated financial or environmental risks to Pennsylvania landowners. It was founded back in 2007 and largely funded by Chesapeake Energy under its former CEO Aubrey McClendon.

First Deputy Attorney General King did not state why it would be necessary for the state to meet with the industry front group given the Coalition is not legally involved in the royalty payment issues specific to Chesapeake.

Chesapeake Energy has repeatedly refused to comment on the royalty allegations. CEO Lawler did reply to Governor Corbett’s letter which demanded to know what is going on with royalty payments within the state. Lawler replied in writing, “We take your stated concerns seriously,” “Chesapeake is aware of questions regarding royalty payments in Pennsylvania, and we are working diligently to respond to these inquires.”

To learn more about Chesapeake Energy, go to:

Disclosure: The writer does not hold any U.S. securities in any oil or gas industry drilling company. He is not a member of any environmental or anti-fracking group and is not being paid by or has financial arrangements with any of the entities or people listed in this article.*

* (Feb 28, 2014) – Chesapeake Energy continues to grind down

  • rpm3145

    Jim, thanks for posting my article. If there is anything inaccurate or your readers believe to be of my opinion rather than public record facts, please let me know. The financials as practiced by drillers when it comes to shale gas are simply abysmal. CHK is mired in more than $25 billion in total debt, Devon Energy mired in $20 billion in debt along with many others in the industry. While I have proudly worked in the energy industry for more than 30 years, for BP and Royal Dutch Shell included, in all the deals I work on regardless of technology I focus on financial facts, not company or industry PR hype. Something many in the shale gas industry and those who support it should really factor into their thinking. Thanks again.

  • Jim Willis

    Thank you Bob. I’m always interested in airing an opposing viewpoint from people that are respectful–and who make good points!

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