Problem: Some Marcellus/Utica Drillers Entering 2016 Not Hedged

A recent report issued by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services sounds an alarm over the issue of hedging for 2016–in particular for independent producers in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region. What’s hedging and why do we care? Drillers (and others who buy and sell natural gas) often engage in a practice called hedging, which is, in a simplified explanation, a contract to sell (or buy) a commodity like natural gas at an agreed-on price at a future date. There is an element of risk in hedging. From a driller’s perspective, if you strike an agreement to sell your gas in the future and the price goes a lot higher, you have to sell your gas at the lower price you agreed to. That’s the down side. But if the price goes a lot lower in the future, you’ve covered your derriere by locking in a higher price for the gas you produce–making money when your competitors aren’t. Drillers and others who buy and sell gas use hedging as a way to guard against price swings. It’s a “risk management” function in a company. Unfortunately most of the hedges previously arranged more than a year ago are now expiring. And nobody but nobody is willing to strike a contract right now for $3 or $4/Mcf gas a year or more down the road. No one believes the price will recover that much. Which means many drillers (in our neck of the woods) are entering 2016 without their production being hedged–a very scary proposition…

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