Top 10 Most-Read MDN Stories from Jan-Jun 2016

top10.jpgMDN is pleased to announce a regular feature on Scranton radio station 94.3 FM “The Talker.” Each Saturday the station airs the Shale Gas News show, co-hosted by MDN friend Bill desRosiers (of Cabot Oil & Gas). Bill recently asked Jim to supply a weekly segment recounting the top stories read on MDN. That is, MDN is becoming the official news source for Shale Gas News! To kick things off, Jim compiled a list of the Top 10 most read stories on MDN for the first six months of 2016. It’s an interesting list, as you’ll see. It may or may not surprise you to learn that 4 of the top 10 stories relate to Shell’s planned ethane cracker plant, a $3 billion+ project that will create thousands of jobs and inject something like $20 billion in the state’s economy. The Shell cracker is a really big deal! Without further ado, let’s count them down like Letterman used to…

Coming in at #10 for the most read stories on MDN for the first six months of 2016…
Board Shakeup at CONSOL Energy – 3 Retire, Including Chairman
In February there was a major shakeup at CONSOL Energy at the highest level. Three CONSOL board members are out, three new members are in, and the Chairman of the Board, J. Brett Harvey, was replaced and assumed the honorary role of Chairman Emeritus. MDN suspects this major change was in the works for weeks or months, but until CONSOL announced it in February, MDN had not heard a peep about it. And apparently no one else had, either, judging from the amount of people reading the article. It’s always important to keep an eye on a company’s board. With new members and a new chairman you often get a change in direction.

Coming in at #9 was this sad story…
More Info Comes to Light About McClendon’s Last Days/Last Moments
In March the world was stunned to learn that one of the most recognizable names with fracking, Aubrey McClendon, was killed in a car crash. McClendon was co-founder of Chesapeake Energy and led that company until he was forced out in 2013. He turned around founded another company, American Energy Partners. McClendon was the first person to recognize the potential of the Utica Shale in Ohio, calling the Utica “the biggest thing economically to hit Ohio, since maybe the plow.” McClendon was larger than life. The crash that killed him came a day after he was indicted by the U.S Department of Justice. There were and continue to be plenty of rumors. Was it truly an accident? Or did he commit suicide? This article shared more details about the accident that claimed McClendon’s life.

Most popular story #8 for the first half of 2016…
2 Rigs Reactivated – One in WV, the Other in OH
MDN is a blog site, so sometimes Jim shares rumors that come his way–if he has cause to believe them. This article was based on one such rumor, from a reliable source. Jim learned that Northeast Natural Energy had contracted a rig in West Virginia for drilling in that state, and Eclipse Resources (headquartered in State College) contracted a rig in the Ohio Utica. A couple of rigs going back into service may not sound like a big deal, but remember that we’ve been in a serious downturn in the market. People are looking for any piece of good news they can find!

The 7th most popular story on MDN in the first half was…
Breaking: Shell Pulls the Trigger, PA Ethane Cracker is a Go!
MDN was one of the first to break the fantastic news that Shell has committed to build an ethane cracker plant in Monaca (Beaver County). Jim discovered the news in a press release from Shell touting the company’s “Capital Markets Day”–the one day each year when Shell wines and dines investors and analysts at company headquarters in the Netherlands. Jim’s eyes about fell out of his head when he was reading along and saw this statement, buried deeply in the press release: “Today we are announcing the final investment decision on a new, 1.5 million tonnes per annum cracker and polyethylene plant in Pennsylvania, USA, which will use natural gas from shales production as its feedstock.” Other media picked up on the news after MDN ran with it, and a day later Shell issued a separate press release about the announcement.

Story number 6 in MDN’s most popular list:
Marcellus/Utica Gas May Head to Georgia & Florida via Alabama Pipeline
Marcellus shale gas may get access to an important new market, but not until 2019. Northeast gas will be able to service the populous southeastern states of Georgia and Florida in about three years’ time with the construction of two new pipelines. The first pipeline is called the Sabal Trail, a 516-mile pipeline from Alabama through Georgia and then through much of Florida. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved Sabal Trail. But how would northeast gas actually get to Alabama? That’s where a shorter intrastate pipeline in Alabama comes into play. American Midstream Partners announced an “open season” in February for a 45-mile extension of the Magnolia Intrastate pipeline. If built, the Magnolia expansion would connect to other pipelines, one of which connects to Sabal Trail. The Magnolia expansion, if built, will not be in service until 2019.

Story number 5 in the list:
Exclusive: Huntley & Huntley Hires Big Fish to Expand Marc/Utica Program
MDN is a news curator and aggregator. Editor Jim Willis locates stories, and then provides his own “take” on those stories, reminding people of the history for a given story, and telling folks why he thinks a story is or is not important. Every now and again MDN gets to break news. This was one of those times. Huntley & Huntley, a smaller exploration and production company headquartered in western Pennsylvania, hired a really big fish to work on expanding the company’s Marcellus and Utica program. H&H hired Chris Doyle, an industry veteran who used to run Anadarko Petroleum’s Marcellus/Utica program.

We’re now down to the 4th most read story for the first half of 2016…
More Progress at Shell’s PA Ethane Cracker Plant Site
This story was run before Shell made their announcement confirming they will build the cracker plant. Jim likes to speculate and point out bits of evidence he finds to support his speculating. In this case, Jim pointed out, before the final investment decision by Shell, that Shell had already spent $500 million on the cracker project. He asked, who in their right mind would spend that much and then not go ahead? Jim also quoted a mall owner who said Shell had leased part of his mall’s parking lot–so they could have construction workers park their vehicles. Jim likes to connect dots and these dots all pointed to a positive sign that Shell would eventually build the cracker.

The 3rd most read story for early 2016:
Shell PA Cracker Plant Project a Lot Bigger Than First Thought
This story was published the day after Shell had announced they would definitely build the cracker. From the beginning, Shell said it would cost $2-$3 billion to build the ethane cracker in Pennsylvania, but lately they won’t commit to a price tag. This story quotes several sources who say the price tag is closer to $6 billion. One even speculated it could go as high as a staggering $11 billion!

The 2nd most read story on MDN in the first six months of this year…
List of 59 Oil & Gas Companies Filing for Bankruptcy in 2015/2016
There’s an old saying in the news business–if it bleeds, it leads. Meaning accidents and bad things are always the things people want to hear about or read first. We’re all morbid! Houston law firm Haynes and Boone periodically issues a report listing oil and gas companies that have had to declare bankruptcy. It’s kind of a macabre list. Everyone reads it to see if their favorite company is listed. The good news for the Marcellus play is that only one company concentrating on drilling in the Marcellus was in the list at that time–that company being Magnum Hunter Resources. Since this story ran, Jim ran an update in a July story. The number of declared bankruptcies in the oil patch is now 85, and unfortunately 3 more Marcellus-focused companies are now on the list.

Finally, the #1 most read story on MDN for the first six months of 2016 (drum roll please!)…
Shell Begins Hiring for Monaca, PA Ethane Cracker Plant
This is the fourth cracker related story in the list, and it came early in the year, before Shell announced their decision to definitely build the plant. A source tipped MDN that Shell was running a job posting on LinkedIn, looking for a “Technical Service Team Lead Polyethylene (Pittsburgh, PA).” Jim was making the case, yet again, that Shell was looking, walking and quacking like a duck–like a company that would build the cracker. And sure enough, it quacked.