The “best of the rest” – stories that caught MDN’s eye that you may be interested in reading. In today’s lineup: Friends and foes wait on appeals court for ruling in Constitution Pipeline; OH voters want no part of frack bans; natgas shows signs of returning to Lycoming County; PA Gov Wolf rejects natgas-powered data center, kills 500 jobs; Spectra paying $1.2 million to run pipe through few miles of New England forest; shale gas in north Georgia?; RBN’s top 10 for 2017; Trump’s energy policy; what lies ahead for 2017; and more!
Friends and foes of Constitution Pipeline await appeals court ruling
Harrisburg & Philadelphia (PA) StateImpact Pennsylvania
Both sides await a ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which is hearing the Williams case against the permit denial in April by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation which said the pipeline plan failed to meet its water-quality standards. Williams, which heads a consortium of four companies, says it is determined to pursue the project. “The company remains steadfastly committed to the project and is optimistic the Court will announce its decision in 2017,” company spokesman Christopher Stockton wrote in an email. “In light of the pending legal challenges, the project’s in-service date is targeted as early in the second half of 2018, which assumes that the legal challenge process is satisfactorily and promptly concluded.” If it is built, the pipeline would carry enough gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to fuel about 3 million homes, the company says. Whoever loses at the Second Circuit is likely to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, predicted Lynda Farrell, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that advises landowners on how to make informed decisions on pipeline projects. Farrell said New York State is unlikely to back down on the issue.
Fishermen: not so fast with wind farm
Asbury Park (NJ) Press
Could sea scallops and longfin squid be reason enough to stop an offshore wind farm on the coast of New York and New Jersey? The Fisheries Survival Fund, which represents the majority of the U.S. Atlantic scallop industry, claims the site picked for the farm is on documented fishing grounds for both commercially important species. It claims the wind turbines would shut fishermen out. The group is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Sally Jewell, the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The BOEM has jurisdiction over the sea floor. Other plaintiffs include the Garden State Seafood Association, the Fishermen’s Dock Co-Operative in Point Pleasant Beach and the Borough of Barnegat Light. “We’re looking to stop the construction in it’s proposed location. If they want to build it somewhere else, that’s fine,” said Andrew E. Minkiewicz, attorney for the group. Last year, the co-op handled close to $15 million worth of seafood, of which roughly two-thirds were scallops, according to the lawsuit.
Why investors need to take a look at Chesapeake’s Utica position
Seeking Alpha/Callum Turcan
Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) had a massive 1.1 million net acre position in the Utica Shale as of its October 2016 update. In light of its 2015 midstream agreement, rising domestic gas prices, and additional takeaway capacity coming online in 2017, this is a key asset to watch when considering investing in Chesapeake Energy Corporation. Investors should note that Chesapeake Energy did sell off 37,000 net acres in the Utica, along with 22 producing wells and five DUCs (drilled but uncompleted wells) in Q4. During the first half of 2016, those producing wells pumped out an average of 24 MMcf/d of natural gas. That acreage was centered around Columbiana County in NE Ohio and Beaver County in Western Pennsylvania, outside of Chesapeake’s core Utica focus in Eastern Ohio. During the third quarter of this year, Chesapeake Energy Corporation pumped out 127,000 BOE/d net from the Utica. That was down 10,000 BOE/d from Q2 2016 but up 21,000 BOE/d versus Q3 2015. With two rigs now operating in the Utica as of Q3, the upper-end of its guidance over the next couple of years, Chesapeake’s Utica output (particularly dry gas) should perk up.
Ohio voters have spoken: A fracking ban would be a disaster
Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released a report that explains what would happen if fracking were to be banned in Ohio and across the nation – and the results are not pretty. The report found that Ohio would lose 397,000 (predominantly union) jobs, $33 billion in GDP, and Ohio households would be hit with an extra $3,956 per year in cost-of-living expenses. Ohioans have a lot to lose with a ban on fracking, so it’s really no surprise that they made their voices heard at the polls. In Youngstown, for example, voters rejected an anti-fracking ballot measure for the sixth time in a row on Election Day. Not only that, but due to a Democratic platform that threatens to reject fossil fuel development, Ohio’s union households voted Republican in the presidential election by a margin of 52 percent, a major shift from 2012 when 37 percent voted Republican. In other words, Ohioans voted overwhelming for energy production and all the benefits that come with it.
Poised to return: Natural gas industry shows positive signs in Lycoming County
Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette
After a slowdown in production due to low prices and other factors in 2016, the natural gas industry appears poised for a comeback next year. More truck traffic on local highways and secondary roads, coupled with the appearance of a few more white pickup trucks, signals the presence of natural gas industry workers. “You can always tell by increased truck traffic that there is more activity,” said Travis Windle, public relations liaison with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a collection of industry representatives. Evidence of this also may be seen at the Williamsport Regional Airport, where flights to and from Philadelphia are seeing more gas industry people in recent months after a major slowdown over the past few years from the peak of Marcellus Shale drilling in 2010. Airport marketing director David Frey said he is seeing a return of the crews that work on gas wells. “They change crews all the time. During the heyday a few years ago, a third to half passenger loads were gas-related, then we dropped off the table when activities ground to a halt for the last year or so. There were no more crew members, engineers or the like,” he said. Instead of drilling, companies have been building up their infrastructure, which takes less manpower than fracking and drilling, Frey said.
Gov Wolf rejects natgas-powered data center in Clearfield County, kills 500 jobs
Clearfield (PA) The Progress News
The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf recently sent a rejection letter to Clearfield County in response to its application to the state’s Keystone Opportunity Zone program for a proposed data center in Girard Township that was touted to bring about 500 jobs to the region. Clearfield County Commissioners, Clearfield Area School Board and Girard Township Supervisors all approved a resolution earlier this year, authorizing a new KOZ zone in an effort to attract builders of the giant data center. The deadline to submit this year’s application was Oct. 1. Rejection letters began arriving at the end of November. The proposed four million square-foot computer warehouse would have created jobs like groundskeepers, security, technicians and engineers — and construction of the facility would have brought construction of a natural gas power plant due to the availability of Marcellus Shale gas in the region. At the time, Cirrus Technology Center CEO Margie Guido, who proposed the project to the commissioners, school board and township, said locating the data center in Girard Township could also result in the construction company looking at the former Girard-Goshen Elementary School as a headquarters facility.
Range Resources and community ends year on high note
Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter
For the oil & gas industry, 2016 was a challenging year of low prices and reduced budgets. Despite the downturn, Marcellus Shale pioneers Range Resources conclude its support of Washington County non-profits and community organizations – at perhaps its highest level to date. While drilling budgets have been reduced Range’s commitment to the community has remained at high levels. In 2016 the Marcellus Shale driller supported more locally based community organizations than ever before – more than 225 groups, both large and small. The United Way of Washington County, which has seen a steady increase in donations every year since Marcellus Shale companies established a major presence in the area, raised its highest amount – $1,433,308 – in the 91-year history of the organization. Range’s vice president of engineering technology Joe Frantz was presented with the Lisa N. Beale Loyal Contributors Award, while the company contributed $131,399, which was near an all-time high for Range’s local campaign. “We’re so proud to be able to work in Washington County,” said Range’s Christina Colalillo who helps to partner with many nonprofit organizations for the company. “In good times or tough times, we’re going to continue to support this community as best we can. We really hit new highs this year through community grant matching programs in particular.”
OTHER U.S. REGIONS
Company agrees to pay $1.2m to run pipeline through forest
A company that wants to run a natural gas pipeline through a Massachusetts state forest has agreed to pay $1.2 million for the right. The agreement announced Thursday settles a lawsuit brought by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan. The company wants an easement through Otis State Forest in Sandisfield to expand an existing pipeline. The federally-approved Connecticut Expansion Project extends existing pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut, adding 4 miles of new underground pipeline in Massachusetts. The settlement includes $300,000 for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to acquire additional conservation land in the area; $300,000 toward mitigation and improvements to the forest; $40,000 for the fair market value of pipeline easements; and an additional $640,000 for environmental monitors and other mitigation.
Geologists believe drillers can tap North Georgia natural gas without fracking
Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press
Local environmentalists hope to push fracking regulations through the Georgia capitol next year. But as they do that, another issue remains unknown: How much natural gas actually sits a mile below the ground in Northwest Georgia? And can anyone take advantage? Because while fracking is controversial, with scientists linking the hydraulic fracturing practice to earthquakes and contaminated water, places like Whitfield and Floyd counties are in an interesting position. Drillers and geologists believe they can tap gas there without implementing the practice at all. When drillers frack, they rush water and sand and chemicals into a rock formation, called shale. The natural gas sits inside the shale. The fracking cocktail pops the rock open, holds it open and allows the driller to suck the natural gas to the surface. North Georgia, however, sits on the Conasauga Shale, a formation that runs from Alabama, through the Peach State and into Southeast Tennessee. And unlike in other shale formations, geologists don’t think drillers have to frack here. The reason? Hundreds of millions of years of plate tectonics. Rock formations shifted into each other, collided and broke each other open. Nature’s little fight left the region with a potentially big business — if someone can figure out how to extract the gas. So far, though, no luck. Economic forces are to blame. For one, oil prices have been cheap these last couple of years, leaving people in the energy business with little incentive to explore an unknown area like North Georgia. But also, the few people who have tried to make money off the Conasauga Shale have not been successful. Still, the gas sits down there.
Dallas Fed: Outlook improves for Texas oil & gas sector
Austin (TX) American-Statesman
Texas’ oil and gas business activity surged in the fourth quarter and the energy sector’s outlook for 2017 has improved markedly, according to a Thursday report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The Dallas Fed’s statewide index of business activity among exploration, production and services firms rose to to a reading of 40.1 from 26.7 in the third quarter. The index had been at -42.1 early in the year. Positive figures generally suggest activity expansion, while readings below zero indicate contraction. Oil and gas production stopped declining in the fourth quarter after falling throughout the year, the report said. “The oil and gas sector is entering 2017 on a positive note, as activity continued growing in the fourth quarter and outlooks improved significantly,” Dallas Fed senior economist Michael Plante said in a news release accompanying the report. The survey samples oil and gas companies headquartered in Texas, southern New Mexico and northern Louisiana, which together make up the Eleventh Federal Reserve District. Survey respondents were bullish about their companies’ outlook for 2017. Exploration and production firms increased their expectations of capital spending in 2017 and the company outlook index shot up 38 points to a reading of 57.1.
The Top 10 RBN energy prognostications for 2017
Each year in this Prognostications posting we try to discern a common theme for the year. Way back in 2013, our theme was surplus, which was a real shocker to a market accustomed to shortage. The next year, oversupply hit home, and the focus turned to demand—trying to figure out where all those hydrocarbons were going to go. Twelve months later, we concluded that the theme for 2015 should be price, and that certainly turned out to be true. In 2016 we broke with tradition and selected two opposing themes for the year: commitment and cash. The conflict between these two themes is what we saw last year (a) commitments already made to use things, build things and pay for things, and (b) the cash (or lack thereof) to pay for those commitments. For 2017, our theme is hope, or more specifically A New Hope (sorry, could not resist a Star Wars reference). That’s right. RBN is going positive on you. We are predicting a market where producers can make money at market prices, production volumes increase, and midstream assets start to see some of those volumes they were built to handle. But like we said in the introductory paragraph, don’t go crazy with this. The year 2017 will be better than 2015-16. Oil and gas prices will be higher. However, don’t be gearing up for a return to the pre-crash market of 2012-14. In 2017, participants will have to slog it out to achieve profitability. If they do work hard at the right things in the right places, though, the profits will be there. the #1 Prognostication for 2017 is…….Natural gas, particularly wet natural gas, will be a more attractive market than crude oil. If you buy our Prognostications about crude, gas and NGLs, this is where you land. The crude market will muddle along at prices that average somewhat higher than 2016, but no big recovery. The forward curve for natural gas is mispriced—too low given the coming surge in demand from LNG and Mexico exports. And NGL prices will be increasing more than both oil and gas, due to the ramp-up in ethane petrochemical demand and ethane exports. Put all that together and you get a rosier outlook for gas than crude, and an even rosier forward view for wet gas that will be the source for all those NGLs. E&Ps might want to consider this possibility as they make their acreage acquisition plans for 2017.
The oil and gas situation – a preview of 2017
Making projections about what will happen in the oil and gas space in the future is most often a fool’s errand, and I figure I’m just the fool to do it. So here we go with some predictions about what 2017 will hold for the U.S. oil and gas industry: Here’s an easy one: (1) OPEC members will cheat on their production quotas – If we know one enduring characteristic about the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it is that it has always had a problem holding its member countries to their agreed-to production levels. We should expect this most recent deal, finalized in December, to be no different. So, while the agreement will likely help to dry up the excess supply which currently exists on the global market, achieving an ultimate balance between supply and demand will not be an easy task to achieve. (2) President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts to normalize relations with Russia could impact the market – the incoming President has made no secret of his desire to seek a more healthy relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, and his selection of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State is a clear signal that this will be a major priority of his foreign policy. A normalization of relations between the U.S. and Russia would likely involve a lessening of U.S. economic sanctions implemented by the Obama Administration, and that in turn could incentivize Russia to produce more oil. With the initial term of its deal to limit output with OPEC being six months, we should expect higher exports from Russia during the second half of 2017. (3) Regulatory relief from the Trump Administration will prove more difficult to achieve than many think – make no mistake, the President-elect will have some significant low-hanging fruit in this area to quickly dispose of upon taking office. But that will mostly consist of regulations, like the EPA’s massive Waters of the United States regulation, that have not yet gone into effect, either due to court decisions or not having yet been finalized. Elimination of regulations already on the books will be more difficult to achieve, and involve the expending of a good deal of political capital. There is a good reason why the Congressional Review Act has only achieved modest success in rolling back regulations in the past.
Trump’s energy policy: 10 big changes on the way
President-elect Donald Trump intends to hit the ground running on energy and environment policy. Trump already has an expert team in place drafting important policy changes from the Obama administration. Here are 10 likely changes that will impact energy production, energy use, and the U.S. economy. (1) Goodbye to the Clean Power Plan. (2) Increased energy production on federal lands. (3) Coal gets a reprieve. (4) Wind power industry loses its free pass to kill bald eagles. (5) Wind and solar power loses disproportionate subsidies. (6) Ethanol gets closer scrutiny. (7) Yucca Mountain finally begins accepting nuclear waste. (8) Next-generation nuclear power surges forward. (9) Hydro power reverses its long decline. (10) Natural gas exports increase. What will be the impact of these expected changes in federal energy policy? The answer is more abundant energy, more affordable energy, and environmental policy that addresses true environmental concerns rather than serving as a protection racket for politically favored energy sources.
Top 5 issues to affect oil/gas in 2017 – Wood Mackenzie
Analysts at Wood Mackenzie in their 2017 forecasts for the oil and gas say the industry will turn cash flow positive for the first time since the downturn, if OPEC production cuts drive oil prices above US$55 per barrel. Tom Ellacott, senior vice president of corporate analysis research at Wood Mackenzie, said: “Most oil and gas companies will start 2017 on a firmer footing, having halved cash flow break-evens to survive the past two years. Further evidence of a cautious, U-shaped recovery in investment should emerge.” Wood Mackenzie’s corporate outlook indicates focusing on these five themes will characterise 2017 prospects for majors, independents and national oil companies (NOCs): (1) Strengthening finances will be a top priority (2) US Independents to lead the sector into a new investment cycle (3) Portfolios will adapt, down the cost curve and into new energy (4) Modest growth in production despite past capex cuts (5) An improved value proposition for exploration and mergers and acquisitions. “Overall 2017 will be a year of stability and opportunity for oil and gas companies in positions of financial strength. More players will look at opportunities to adapt and grow their portfolios,” said Ellacott. Strengthening finances will still be a top priority. Capital discipline, cost reduction and deleveraging will frame corporate strategies in 2017. But 2016 will prove to be the low point in the investment cycle, with confidence boosted by OPEC’s decision to cut production.
What lies ahead for 2017?
One of the major takeaways from our conference in February of 2016 was that low oil prices would lead to a strong rebound in natural gas prices in the second half of 2016 and that how the winter shaped out would determine just how high 2017 prices would run. We’ve done pretty well on both accounts. On the crude side we expected 2016 WTI prices to average $39.36 and as of today 2016 prices have averaged $43.21. The OPEC driven rallies in October and December have helped pull the average higher than our original expectations for the year, but have also gotten us closer to our original December target of $49.20 compared to an average of $51.89 for December month to date. On the natural gas side the rally has continued to play out as expected. A warm November did mute the overall rally this year but a cold December has helped set things up better for 2017. Operators are ramping up in the Haynesville to try to squash any long term price recovery, but the fact that our outlook on pipeline delays continues to be the norm rather then the exception will continue to help buoy prices. During 2016, multiple projects pushed back expected in-service dates including Atlantic Sunrise and Atlantic Coast Pipeline, while it is becoming increasingly likely that Rover will miss the winter tree cutting window and face up to a year long delay in 2018.
Shale spending is set to soar
Oil prices are rising and the worst of the downturn appears to be over. After two years of spending cuts, 2017 could mark the first time in several years that spending levels across the oil and gas industry increase. North American oil and gas companies could ratchet up spending by as much as 30 percent, according to Raymond James. That will be possible because banks are finally showing signs of loosening credit once again, after two years of slashing lending. The credit redetermination period, which occurs twice a year in the spring and fall, has been a closely watched event since the start of the oil price downturn in 2014. Every six months, oil analysts and investors pay close attention to see if banks will cut off drillers, hoping to reduce their exposure to a risky industry. Over the course of 2015, banks showed surprising leniency, considering the magnitude of the downturn and the extraordinary debt levels across the sector. But as the oil bust stretched into 2016, touching new lows, credit became increasingly hard to come by for the most indebted drillers. Still, the latest credit redetermination period illustrated some evidence that the industry is already passed an inflection point – the oil market is already beginning to rebound. According to Reuters, 34 oil and gas companies saw their credit lines raised by an average of 5 percent, providing an additional $1.3 billion in lending. That is a dramatic turnaround from the 40 percent reduction in credit witnessed over the past three redetermination periods, stretching back to early 2015. Not all companies received more favorable treatment – 10 companies surveyed by Reuters saw their credit lines cut and 12 more were left unchanged.
U.S. shale companies to boost spending as banks loosen purse strings
U.S. shale drillers are set to ramp up spending on exploration and production next year as recovering oil prices prompt banks to extend credit lines for the first time in two years. The credit increase is small, but with major oil producers worldwide aiming to hold down production in 2017, U.S.-based shale drillers are looking to boost market share to take advantage of higher prices, and greater availability of capital will make that easier. North America-focused oil and gas producers are expected to increase capital investments by 30 percent in 2017, according to analysts at Raymond James. A number of shale producers including Pioneer Natural Resources Co, Diamondback Energy Inc and RSP Permian Inc have forecast bigger budgets and increased output for next year. Every six months, oil and gas producers negotiate credit with banks based on the value of reserves in the ground. Through the latest round of talks in the fall, 34 companies had their available credit lines raised an average of about 5 percent, or more than $1.3 billion, according to data compiled by Reuters. The combined bank credit for the companies stood at $30.3 billion, compared with $28.9 billion at the end of spring 2016. The industry’s available credit had been cut by 40 percent over the past three reviews as it contended with a two-year price rout.
Biggest draw of stored working gas for 2016 reported
The biggest draw of working gas in storage for all of 2016 occurred in the next-to-last week in the old year, according to data gathered by the Energy Information Administration. For the week ended Dec. 23, working gas in storage fell to 3.36 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), a drop of 237 billion cubic feet (Bcf), or 6.6%, from 3.60 Tcf one week earlier, Kallanish Energy learns. The latest total was down 413 Bcf, or 10.9%, from the year-ago total of 3.77 Tcf, and was down 79 Bcf, or 2.3%, from the five-year average of 3.44 Tcf. (All numbers are rounded.) EIA divides the Lower 48 States into five regions for tracking working gas in storage, and all five were down double digits in the latest survey. The biggest drop came in the South Central Region, down 91 Bcf, or 7.3%, to 1.16 Tcf, from 1.25 Tcf during the week ended Dec. 16. The latest total was down 166 Bcf, or 12.5%, from the year-ago total of 1.32 Tcf, and was down 3 Bcf, or 0.3%, from the five-year average of 1.16 Tcf.
Natural gas: A big draw and an Arctic blast coming – why is the price falling?
Seeking Alpha/Richard Zeits
The market yawned at the 237 Bcf draw reported Thursday by the EIA. The market yawned at weather maps showing the entire U.S. engulfed in abnormally frigid weather. However, the market was busy re-establishing balance after a sharp but short-lived spike, which, in my interpretation, was in great part liquidity-driven. Natural gas price dynamics during the Thursday trading session this week offers an interesting case study for readers interested in natural gas with regard to what matters and what doesn’t in the natural gas world. The conclusion may be trivial, but is probably worth re-iterating: journalists often have superb access to the public eye, but have no say as it comes to price formation; traders with large amounts of capital, on the other hand, rule the game, while typically being completely invisible to the public eye. I would argue, the irrelevance and relevance, respectively, are in most cases merited. At 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, the EIA reported a 237 Bcf draw from Lower 48 underground storage. The data point covers the week ended December 23, 2016. I do not follow other analysts’ work, but I am being told that the draw exceeded the “consensus” by 5-15 Bcf, depending on the specific source used. The EIA report came on the heels of several sequential “colder” model revisions by “major” climate models, including the highly visible NOAA model (below is just one example of many frigid-looking maps that were rolling out one after another earlier this week).
Working-rig count rises for 15th straight week
The number of rigs working last week onshore in the Lower 48 States rose for the 15th consecutive week, and is now less than 6% behind the year-ago count, Kallanish Energy calculates. For the week ended Dec. 30, 626 rigs were working onshore, up seven rigs from 619 one week earlier, oilfield services firm Baker Hughes revealed in its weekly working-rig survey. One year ago, 664 rigs were working onshore in the Lower 48, just a 5.7% difference. Looking at individual drilling areas, four reported a week-to-week decrease in working rigs, seven recorded a week-to-week increase in working rigs, while 20 areas saw no movement. The biggest week-to-week increase inn working rigs was in Texas, up three rigs, to 323 from 320 working the week of Dec. 23.
Time for Trump’s EPA pick to rein in the agency
Washington (DC) Examiner
When Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is confirmed as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he will inherit an agency that should be declaring victory in its 46-year battle for a cleaner, healthier environment. The next administrator must focus on reining in an agency that has far exceeded its original mission. Fortunately, Pruitt understands the EPA’s proper role and is the right man for the job. We have come a long way since the days when, as a federal judge once described, “the air in the Los Angeles basin was so thick with smog that a mountain, or even a nearby mountain range, could simply disappear.” That’s what the Clean Air Act was designed to remedy, and it has worked. That’s not the case in every nation. In recent days, Paris’ smog was so thick that French authorities banned cars with even or odd-numbered license plates from the streets on alternating days — the fourth time in 20 years the city has taken such drastic measures to reduce emissions. London and Madrid air quality monitors are also reporting dangerous levels of pollution. Beijing is worse. The United States, by contrast, has the cleanest air and water in the world, due in large part to Republican efforts, from the creation of the EPA during President Nixon’s tenure to the sweeping 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments signed by President George H.W. Bush. We no longer contend with the large-scale environmental crises that still plague the rest of the world. But you’d never know it, judging by the actions of President Obama’s EPA.