Top 10 MDN Stories for 2016 – Can You Guess Most Popular Topics? [Free]

Each weekday Marcellus Drilling News locates and shares news from the Marcellus and Utica Shale. Over 50,000 people read MDN each month. Here is a summary of the top 10 most-read stories on MDN for all of 2016. We hope this will give you insight into what stories captured the interest of those in the industry, and landowners as well. Let’s do this David Letterman Top 10 style…

Coming in at #10 for 2016 was…
More Progress at Shell’s PA Ethane Cracker Plant Site
2016 was the year of the cracker in our region. Three of the top 10 most-read stories on MDN during 2016 were related to Shell’s mighty ethane cracker, including this story published in May. The story was published before Shell announced their final investment decision, which came a month later in June. This story told readers that all signs continued to point to a “go” decision for Shell’s planned ethane cracker plant facility in Monaca (Beaver County), PA. Shell had, at that point, spent over half a billion dollars. In April a local mall owner said that Shell had leased part of the mall’s parking lot for big bucks. And just a week before this story, Shell’s CFO said the PA cracker project is quote “an excellent project” and that they expect to make a decision soon. We offered a few more positive signs. Shell built a bridge over top a local highway to give trucks easy access to the site, and Shell committed $69 million to build a new water treatment plant for the local town. At the the time this story ran, in May, Shell was building a new dock facility which, according to company officials, will be “critical” to building the new plant. This story was just Jim connecting all of the dots to let readers know he was predicting a positive decision by Shell to build the cracker.

Story #9 for 2016 was…
Rumor: US Methanol Building 5 Methanol Plants in WV
Methanol plants convert natural gas into methanol, used as a chemical feedstock (or raw material) to create other things, like gasoline, antifreeze and more. More commonly you may call it a gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant. Methanol plants have the capacity to create a big demand for natural gas and sop up some of the oversupply we have in the Marcellus/Utica. In May we told you about Primus Green Energy’s plan to build a 160 metric tons per day (MT/day) methanol plant for Tauber Oil somewhere in the Marcellus. In this story, from August, we shared more exciting news. US Methanol, according to their website, is working on two Marcellus methanol plants, coming to West Virginia. One plant, called Liberty One, will produce 175,000 metrics tons per annum, or about 480 MT/day. Liberty Two will produce 150,000 MT/annum, or a about 410 MT/day. The really really exciting news? We stumbled across a rumor that U.S. Methanol is actually planning to build five methanol plants total. According to the rumor, we know where the first two plants already announced (Libertys One and Two) will be built–AND we know which driller they’ve contracted with to supply the natgas for those plants. This story dived into the details.

The eighth most-read story in 2016…
FERC Approves 3 Spectra Energy Pipe Projects in Marcellus/Utica
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a favorable environmental assessment (EA) for three Spectra Energy projects in August: Access South, Adair Southwest and Lebanon Express. The three are part of an expansion of the Texas Eastern Transmission (or Tetco) pipeline. The combined projects will transport an additional 662,000 dekatherms per day (662 million cubic feet) of Marcellus and Utica Shale gas from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi. This is great news indeed!

Story #7 for all of 2016 was…
Exclusive: Huntley & Huntley Hires Big Fish to Expand Marc/Utica Program
A small western Pennsylvania energy company, Huntley & Huntley, stepped up its game in the Marcellus/Utica Shale in May. MDN exclusively learned that H&H hired industry veteran Christopher Doyle to lead the development and expansion of H&H’s Marcellus and Utica Shale operation. Doyle was most recently executive VP of operations at Chesapeake Energy, where he was in charge of the Marcellus/Utica region for Chessy. He’s also an 18-year veteran of Anadarko Petroleum where, once again, he was in charge of the Marcellus/Utica region. H&H hired themselves a VERY big fish, which can only mean one thing: H&H is planning a major expansion into the Marcellus/Utica. This story provided background on Chris Doyle.

The sixth most-popular story in 2016 was…
Seventy Seven Energy Filing for Bankruptcy, Converting Debt into Stock
Pulling up to the drivethrough legal window, Seventy Seven Energy said, “We’ll take one prepackaged bankruptcy to go.” That was the upshot of an announcement in April from oilfield services company Seventy Seven Energy (SSE)–the old Chesapeake Oilfield Operating unit that was spun into its own company a few years ago. In February MDN reported that for 2015 SSE revenue was down 45% and the company lost $221 million. In January SSE was threatened by the New York Stock Exchange with de-listing its stock. One of SSE’s ongoing problems is that Chesapeake Energy, itself not in all-that-great-a-shape, provides nearly three-fourths of SSE’s revenue. In January SSE hired “restructuring” experts to figure out how to stay in business. Their solution, as we learned in April, is a prepackaged bankruptcy where SSE gets the vast majority of debtholders to agree to converting their debt into stock ownership in the company. So SSE is giving away much of the company to its current debtors, hoping they can keep the doors open. SSE emerged from bankruptcy two months after they filed, borrowing $100 million as they did so. However, the company finally threw in the towel just a few weeks ago, announcing it was selling itself to Patterson-UTI Energy, a competitor.

Coming in at #5 for 2016 was…
BLM Launches Auction to Lease Wayne National Forest for Fracking
It’s been 10 looooooong years, but finally the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has just posted a lease sale auction for 33 parcels in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, as we reported in this October story. Although there are some 18,000 acres under consideration for leasing by the BLM in Wayne National, this first batch amounts to about 1,600 acres–most of it in Monroe County, OH. Monroe is a prime location for Utica Shale drilling. Wayne National is the only national forest in Ohio and portions of it are found in Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Lawrence, Perry, Scioto, Vinton, and Washington counties. Wayne National is a “patchwork” of public land scattered among private land. Some 60% of the mineral rights below WNF are privately owned. Those mineral rights owners have been denied the use of their property rights for a decade because drillers can’t form units big enough to drill under without federal land. The BLM controls drilling on federally-protected lands like Wayne National. As a post script to this story, Wayne National ended up auctioning about half of the 1,600 acres just a few weeks ago. The rest of the original 1,600 acres had lingering title issues. At least some Utica drilling will now come to Wayne National Forest.

The MDN story coming in at 4th most popular for the entire year was…
Big News: FERC Grants Final EIS for ET Rover Pipeline
In June the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) handed Energy Transfer’s proposed Rover pipeline project, a $3.7 billion, 711-mile Marcellus/Utica natural gas pipeline that will run from PA, WV and eastern OH through OH into Michigan and eventually into Canada, a big red light. FERC told Rover and another pipeline project, Leach XPress, which will run from Marshall County, WV through Ohio to Leach, KY, that where their two projects meet something different would have to be worked out. Shortly thereafter the two projects being developed by different companies became best friends. Apparently that fix helped clear the path and FERC, as we reported in this story from August, issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) favorable to ET Rover. About the only left now is for a final approval to be issued by FERC for the project, which is now pretty much a foregone conclusion.

The third most popular story in 2016 was…
List of 59 Oil & Gas Companies Filing for Bankruptcy in 2015/2016
This story ran in April. In November 2015, MDN brought our audience a list of 36 North America drillers that had, as of that time, declared bankruptcy. The law firm compiling the list, Haynes and Boone, updated the list. The updated list at that time contained 59 drillers who have declared bankruptcy–42 from 2015 and, at that point, 17 in 2016. We provided our readers with a copy of the Haynes and Boone “Oil Patch Bankruptcy Monitor.” Unfortunately the bankruptcies kept rolling in. In October we delivered another updated version of the list, which at that time had ballooned to 218. We certainly think, and hope, that the worst is now over.

Story #2 in popularity over the past year was…
Shell PA Cracker Plant Project a Lot Bigger Than First Thought
This story, which ran in June, was published the day after MDN broke the fantastic news that Shell has decided to move forward with building their multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant. Shell mentioned their positive final investment decision (or FID) as part of a larger, wide-ranging announcement on their plans for the next few years and beyond. They were slow off the mark, but Shell finally issued a separate press release about the FID for the Monaca, PA ethane cracker plant complex. As usually happens with a story this big, more details came out after the initial announcement. For example: Shell’s initial estimate for the cost of the project, more than four years ago, was quote “$2-$3 billion.” Now? They won’t say. But some news sources are reporting it will be closer to a $6 billion investment. One even goes as high as $11 billion! What Shell *is* saying is that construction on the main part of the facility will begin in 18 months, with production expected to flow beginning “early in the next decade”–which we take to mean sometime around 2020 or 2021. Shell says the project will provide work for 6,000 temporary construction workers while it’s being built, and 600 permanent, full-time employees to operate the facility once it is built. Needless to say, local economic and government leaders in the Pittsburgh region are ecstatic with the news. This story shared details about the Shell ethane cracker coming to PA, along with select reaction and comments.

And now, for the #1 most popular story published on MDN for all of 2016 was…
Shell Begins Hiring for Monaca, PA Ethane Cracker Plant
A sharp MDN reader called our attention to a job posting on LinkedIn back in February. The posting, by Shell, seeks a quote “Technical Service Team Lead Polyethylene (Pittsburgh, PA).” When you read the job listing, which we included in this post, it clearly states it the job is for their Monaca, PA ethane cracker plant complex. This was a single job posting, although it’s for a very important position. You have to remember that Shell did not announce their final investment decision to move forward until June, four months after we called attention to this job posting. Our point at the time was this: You don’t spend millions building a new bridge over a highway as a new entrance to a piece of property, and you don’t spend $80 million to clean up that site, and you don’t spend $69 million to move a water intake site and build a new water treatment site for the local town because the current water intake is on the site where you want to build, and you don’t spend money to lease land to build two ethane pipelines to that site, and you don’t begin hiring people to work on/at the plant–unless you’re serious about building it. We’re happy to say, we were right!

And there you have it. Those are the Top 10 stories read by tens of thousands of people this past year on MDN. We call 2016 “the year of the cracker.”

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