WV Rights/Pooling Case May have Big Impact on Shale Industry

A court case from Marshall County, WV decided in April 2016 is heading to the WV Supreme Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court). The stakes in Contraguerro v Gastar Exploration could not be higher for the Marcellus industry in the Mountain State. In brief, 70 years ago a 106-acre track of property was sold. The sellers retained a one-quarter “non-participating interest” in the oil and gas rights. That means the buyer got to decide when/if to lease the property for drilling, and if so, has the right to negotiate the price, etc. The remaining one-quarter non-participating interest holders would get royalties, but nothing else. Fast forward several generations and the heirs of the original sellers didn’t even know they owned an interest in the land until contacted by Gastar, which needed a signature in order to send them checks for royalties. The heirs decided to sue to stop the deal, either in a bid to negotiate a better deal or perhaps because they don’t like fossil fuels. Who knows? The case went to the Circuit Court of Marshall County and a judge there found in favor of the heirs–giving them, and by extension any minority rights owner, the power to stop lease deals. An unmitigated mess that threatens many lease deals because divided rights ownership is common in WV. Perhaps this case was part of the motivation to pass a new law this year addressing “co-tenancy” (see Analysis of New WV Bill SB 576 re Co-Tenancy & Joint Development). The co-tenancy law, if passed, means if there are multiple owners for the mineral rights under a property, you would only need a simple majority of those owners to approve a drilling lease. Currently, if one person with a teeny tiny share objects, it stops the process. In the Contraguerro case, although the heirs are owners, they are “non-participating”–so they should not have had a say anyway. However, a lower court judge found otherwise. So the case was appealed and is now before to the WV Supreme Court…Continue reading

Rover Pipeline Says Part of Phase 1 Will be Delayed Nearly a Month

Rover is Energy Transfer’s $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. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), charged with overseeing interstate pipeline projects, granted final approval for the project in early February (see ET Rover Pipeline Gets Final Approval by FERC). Since then, the company has aggressively moved forward with construction. Energy Transfer has maintained, from the beginning, it will complete Phase 1 of the project in “July 2017” (usually quoted by Rover ET officials as July 1st), and the rest of the pipeline will be done in “November 2017” (Nov. 1st). Phase 1 will build the pipeline as far west as Defiance, OH. Phase 2 finishes the pipeline–all the way to the Dawn Hub in Canada. Some say the company has moved too quickly, resulting in accidents (see Rover Pipeline Accident Spills ~2M Gal. Drilling Mud in OH Swamp). Rover has put new procedures in place to prevent more accidents like the 2 million gallon drilling mud spill, asking FERC for permission to drill underground in two locations key to completing Phase 1 (see Rover Gets Serious About Mud Spills, Asks FERC for OK to Drill). Yesterday MDN brought you the news that FERC denied permission to begin new underground horizontal drilling (see FERC Responds to Rover Request to Begin Drilling in 2 Locations: NO). So that begs the question: Can Rover keep to its schedule? ET officials are now modifying the date for completion of Phase 1…
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Sunoco LP CEO Mike Hennigan Defects to MPLX/MarkWest Energy

Michael Hennigan

Mike Hennigan was, until late last year, president and CEO of Sunoco Logistics Partners–builder of the Mariner East pipeline projects and operator of the Marcus Hook refinery near Philadelphia. Sunoco LP has (for years) been a subsidiary of Energy Transfer (ET). Last November, ET announced it was combining two subsidiaries together into one operation–Sunoco LP and Energy Transfer Partners (see ETE Merging Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners). Although on paper Sunoco LP swallowed ETP, the new entity retained the ETP name and ETP’s top management. Exactly how Mike fit into the new arrangement we’re not sure. We know his title became president for crude, liquids and refined products. We’re guessing Mike’s new role wasn’t as satisfying as the old role, because he’s jumping ship. Mike is leaving ET and moving to Marathon Petroleum, to become president of subsidiary MPLX. You may recall that MPLX is Marathon’s pipeline subsidiary which, in late 2015, bought out and merged in MarkWest Energy–a huge Marcellus/Utica player in the midstream space (see MarkWest Energy Investors/Unitholders Approve Merger with Marathon). So, in a nutshell, Mike Hennigan is leaving Sunoco LP to become the new head of MarkWest Energy…
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Antis Score Small Victory Against ME2 Pipeline re Eminent Domain

The radical Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council (CAC) has scored a very small, but notable, victory in it’s battle to block Sunoco Logistic Partners’ from building the Mariner East 2 Pipeline project. Last Thursday a judge with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas allowed a case filed by CAC to proceed. The case claims that Sunoco cannot use eminent domain powers granted by the State of Pennsylvania to force its way through properties where the landowner refuses to cooperate, because (CAC claims) the pipeline is technically not an intrastate pipeline (only located in PA), but is instead an interstate pipeline (crossing the border into Ohio). The judge said the case has enough merit that it can go to trial. We call it a small victory because Common Pleas court is the lowest trial court in the state. There are several layers higher where appealed cases are decided. This is more of a statement than a serious threat. But let’s play “what if.” What if CAC wins, and on appeal, wins again?…
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WV Supreme Court Justice: EQT Royalty Ruling “Legal Sophistry”

Last December the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in a case to disallow Marcellus driller EQT from deducting post-production expenses from royalty checks, even with signed contracts in place (see WV Supreme Court Rules EQT Can’t Deduct P-P Costs from Royalties). The justices, in their ruling, said that drillers can “not deduct from that (royalty) amount any expenses that have been incurred in gathering, transporting or treating the oil or gas after it has been initially extracted, any sums attributable to a loss or beneficial use of volume beyond that initially measured or any other costs that may be characterized as post-production.” Last week, just five months later, four of five justices (including a newly elected judge) reversed their December decision (see WV Supreme Court Reverses Itself, Post-Production Deductions OK). The lone judge voting against the decision was Robin Jean Davis. Yesterday she released her dissenting opinion. In very strong language, Judge Davis said the court’s other four members “used legal sophistry” to prop up their decision, and that “the majority opinion is simply wrong.” Here’s what else Judge Davis had to say…Continue reading

Vermont Gas Pipeline Fined $58K for Killing 77 Sunflower Plants

How long does it take to lay 43 miles of natural gas pipeline? If you live and work in the socialist paradise of Vermont, it takes at least two years. In May 2015, MDN reported the following: “The fossil fuel hating nutjobs are out in force in Vermont. Anti-drillers who hate fracking because they hate natural gas because natural gas is an evil, nasty ‘fossil fuel’ are trying to stall progress on a 43-mile natural gas pipeline Vermont Gas Systems is laying between Chittenden and Addison counties to deliver clean burning natural gas to Vermonters. Those opposing the pipeline include the wackos from a group called Rising Tide Vermont. But unfortunately, the pipeline is also being opposed by the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association (companies that deliver fuel oil) and opposed by even the socialist Vermont AARP.” (see Vermont Wackos (Including AARP) Oppose 43-Mile Natgas Pipeline). Two years later, and Vermont Gas is STILL laying that pipeline. How sad and how tragic. Here’s the latest twist: Vermont’s contractor, hired to help build the pipeline, “accidentally” mowed down 77 sunflower plants that are (supposedly) “rare” and protected. It will cost Vermont Gas $58,687.50 in fines. That’s $762 for each of the sunflowers mowed down that, according to state officials, will grow back anyway. Excuse us while we spit out sunflower seed shells we’ve been munching on as we write this…Continue reading

Study: New England Electric Shortage from Lack of NatGas by 2025

There is a coming shortage of natural gas to fire electric power plants in wintertime in New England. So says an analysis presented last week to the ISO-New England Planning Advisory Committee. ISO New England Inc. is the independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) that manages the electric grid for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The study presented last week shows that there will be enough natgas reaching New England in summer for the foreseeable future, but in the winters of 2025 and 2030, almost every planning scenario shows New England will only have half (50%) of the gas it needs to operate electric generating plants. This is seriously bad news for New Englanders–and something we previously predicted (see Study Finds Dire Consequences if New England Pipelines Not Built). New England’s steadfast opposition to new pipelines will have a real, very tangible effect. They get to choose between no gas for heating, or no gas for electricity…Continue reading

Watch Out Marcellus/Utica, Here Comes Gas from the Permian

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article appearing in today’s edition that points out the Permian Basin shale play (in West Texas) may, in a few years, “rival new gas output” from the mighty Marcellus Shale. Really? Where did that come from?! It makes a great deal of sense. The Permian is an oil-focused play. Drillers can’t stand enough rigs in the Permian fast enough. Drilling for oil in the Permian at $50/barrel is profitable–for everyone. So where does natural gas come in? Ever read about “associated gas” here on MDN? We’ve talked about it a fair deal over the years. Whenever you drill for one hydrocarbon–like oil–you get other hydrocarbons coming out of the borehole too. Like natural gas, and gas liquids (propane, ethane, butane, etc.). The converse is also true. Drillers targeting natural gas sometimes get oil and NGLs. In the Permian, an “oil play,” there is a LOT of associated gas coming out of the holes drilled, along with the oil. And the massive drilling program under way there means overall output from the Permian may, at some point, rival (or come close to) the output in the Marcellus. What does that mean for Marcellus drillers and landowners?…
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Marcellus & Utica Shale Story Links: Wed, May 31, 2017

The “best of the rest” – stories that caught MDN’s eye that you may be interested in reading. In today’s lineup: PSEG shuts down its last coal plant; Marcellus merry-go-round; PA rig count jumps by 2 in May; Shale Crescent movement a lesson in teamwork; self-driving drilling rigs will arrive sooner than self-driving cars; big rigs pave way for 2nd shale boom; LA Times refuses to tell the truth re anti-Exxon campaign; “shaken” OPEC wants to work with shale oil producers; July 1st key date in Mexico natgas market; and more!Continue reading