Sunoco LP Pays PA DEP $12.6M to Resume ME2 Pipeline Construction

In what can only be considered a government shakedown, Sunoco Logistics Partners has agreed to pay a massive (historically high) $12.6 million fine to the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) for “permit violations related to the construction of the Mariner East 2 pipeline project.” The fine, along with a “stringent compliance review” going forward, gives the DEP enough confidence to allow Sunoco to resume construction on the ME2 project, which has been halted since January 3rd (see PA DEP Caves to Big Green Pressure, Stops All Work on ME2 Pipeline). Last Friday Sunoco appealed the DEP’s stop work order to a special court set up to hear appeals of DEP decisions (see Sunoco Appeals DEP’s ME2 Pipe Suspension to Enviro Hearing Board). DEP couldn’t risk having their order overturned–not when there’s a shakedown in progress! With respect to the “deal,” Sunoco said, in so many words, that while they (strongly) disagree with the DEP’s statements in making the deal, Sunoco is willing to pay the fine so they can get back to work and finish the project. A cost of doing business in PA, apparently. Beginning today, thousands of people who had been thrown out of work by the DEP order will resume their jobs. All it took was 12.6 big ones to make it happen…
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Southwestern 2018: Sell Fayetteville Assets, Invest in Marcellus

Yesterday Southwestern Energy issued two announcements: One covers highlights of company activity and performance in 2017 with “guidance” predictions for 2018; the second is about “repositioning” the company’s “portfolio.” We’ll tackle the second one first. Southwestern’s announcement says (in obfuscated language), that they’re putting their considerable Fayetteville Shale assets up for sale, so the company can further concentrate its time, talent and money on developing their Marcellus Shale assets. We consider that big news. Southwestern drills in two shale plays: the Marcellus (in PA and WV), and the Fayetteville (in Arkansas). Acreage-wise, Southwestern owns more acreage in the Fayetteville than in the Marcellus–over 918,000 acres in Arkansas vs. 567,000 in PA/WV. They plan to use the money from a Fayetteville sale (rumored to be on the order of $2 billion) to pay down debt and invest in more Marcellus drilling. It will make Southwestern, headquartered in Houston, TX, a pure play driller in the northeast. As for 2017, Southwestern shared just a few high level numbers (the full report is due out March 1). The stat that caught our eye is Southwestern’s Marcellus production. At the end of 2017, Marcellus production averaged 2.35 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (Bcfe/d). That’s 40% higher than at the end of 2016! What’s ahead in 2018? Southwestern says they will spend $1.15-$1.25 billion this year–and every single penny will come from its own cash flow, no new borrowing or stock sales. Southwestern also said its operations in northeastern PA will, for the first time (ever) turn a true profit, somewhere around $150 million for the year. Here’s the latest on a big, and very important, Marcellus driller…
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Ascent Resources Marcellus Plans to Exit Bankruptcy in Record Time

On Wednesday MDN brought you the news that Ascent Resources Marcellus, a company founded by Aubrey McClendon after he left Chesapeake Energy, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (see Ascent Resources’ Marcellus Unit Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy). Ascent Marcellus is one of several companies using the Ascent name. The Ascent Marcellus piece of the pie owns 43,000 of leases and has drilled some 547 wells in West Virginia. Big operation. The good news is that, according to Ascent, 75% of the shareholders in the company are already on board with a plan to hand over ownership to existing debtholders. Ascent worked hard to put all of their ducks in a row and presented a “prepackaged” bankruptcy plan to the court–a plan that should make things go fast. In fact, Ascent Marcellus expects to exit bankruptcy by March 31st. Below we details about who Ascent owes money to, and how they plan to order “one prepackaged bankruptcy to go” at the bankruptcy court drive-thru window…
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NFG Quarterly Update: Seneca Could Drill More, if Pipeline Gets Built

Last week National Fuel Gas Company (NFG), headquartered in Western New York State which operates drilling subsidiary Seneca Resources and pipeline subsidiary Empire Pipeline, issued its first quarter 2018 (everyone else’s fourth quarter 2017) update. Via Seneca Resources, NFG drills wells in northcentral and northwestern PA. Via Empire Pipeline, they build and maintain hundreds of miles of pipelines. NFG wants to add to their pipeline portfolio by building the Northern Access Pipeline–a $455 million project with 97 miles of new pipeline along a power line corridor from northwestern PA up to Erie County, NY. Northern Access would allow Seneca to drill new wells in an area currently pipeline “constrained.” However, Northern Access construction has been blocked by the corrupt NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (see Cuomo’s Corrupt NY DEC Blocks NFG Northern Access Pipeline Permit). NFG CEO Ronald Tanski gave an update for the Northern Access project on an analyst call. Tanski indicated the company engaged in a two-pronged strategy: one is a pending court case, NFG sued the DEC; the other strategy involves a request with FERC to overturn the DEC’s decision. No definitive word on when either/both will happen. In the meantime, Seneca Resources must “focus on drilling and completing wells where we have adequate take away capacity or the ability to lock in firm sales.” Which means Seneca could be drilling a lot more were it not for Cuomo blocking the Northern Access pipeline. Seneca continues to operate 2 drilling rigs. Below are portions of the analyst phone call and the complete quarterly update for NFG…
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Duke Energy’s 13-Mile Cincinnati NatGas Pipeline Proj Unpauses

Duke Energy needs to replace an aging pipeline, built in the 1950s, near Cincinnati, OH–or some people in Cincy will have to go without natural gas. Duke has proposed a 13-mile, 20-inch pipeline along two potential routes. Both routes are opposed by antis, including a group calling themselves NOPE–Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Extension. We call them DOPEs–Dummies Opposing Pipeline Extensions. Will the DOPEs volunteer to shut off the natural gas to their homes and businesses if the pipeline doesn’t get built? Not on your life! The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) held two public hearings last April, to grant anti-pipeliners the opportunity to vent (see Hearings Scheduled for Proposed Duke Pipeline in Cincinnati). They didn’t disappoint. The DOPEs turned up in force. With just weeks before a final approval by the OPSB, Duke asked the state to push the pause button last August (see Duke Energy’s 13-Mile Cincinnati NatGas Pipeline Put on Hold). At the time, Duke said they had “potential concerns” about building the pipeline on a property close to a Superfund site in Reading. Apparently those concerns have now been addressed. Duke is about to unpause and refile an application for the pipeline. Let the fireworks begin!…
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WV DEP Issues Permit for Mountaineer Gas Pipeline in Eastern WV

In 2017 Mountaineer Gas launched the Eastern Panhandle Expansion pipeline project–a project to deliver natural gas via local distribution channels to a new industrial facility in Berkeley County, WV, and to provide gas to other local businesses and residents in the Tri-State area. There are three phases to the Eastern Panhandle Expansion project: Phase One runs a 22.5-mile, 10-inch-diameter steel pipeline from Morgan County to Martinsburg; Phase Two includes a loop to Charles Town; and Phase Three will build a four mile segment of pipeline into Martinsburg. The West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection held a hearing on Phase One in January, at the Berkeley Springs High School (see Old Hippies Turn Out at WV DEP Hearing to Oppose Mountaineer Pipe). All of the people who spoke at the hearing, some 33 of the 80 people present, spoke against the project. Even though local residents object, on Wednesday the WV DEP issued a permit for the project…
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PA Superior Court Upholds Challenge to “Title Washing”

Ever hear of “title washing?” MDN alerted readers about this funny sounding practice that has to do with mineral rights in Pennsylvania, with possible implications for landowners and drillers, back in 2016 (see PA Supreme Court Decides “Title Washing” OK in Mineral Rights Case). In 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a 5-0 ruling that upholds the practice of title washing in the Keystone State. What is it, and how does it affect landowners and drillers? In the case of Herder Spring Hunting Club v. Keller there had been a tax sale in 1935 for a property in Centre County, PA where the mineral rights had previously been separated. Prior to 1948 if mineral rights that had been separated were not properly recorded (it was incumbent on the owner of the subsurface rights to ensure the sale was recorded at the assessor’s office), and the surface land was later sold, both the mineral rights (subsurface) and the surface land became part of the sale. If the rights owner didn’t record the sale, they lost their ownership rights. That, in essence, is title washing. After 1948 a law prevented this from happening, so such cases only apply to land sold before 1948. The PA Supremes upheld title washing in the 2016 case. Another case, Woodhouse Hunting Club, Inc. v. Hoyt, made a run at challenging title washing–this time in Pennsylvania Superior Court. However, the Superiors have sided with the Supremes in shooting down the challenge…
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Washington PA Prefers Dilapidated Bldg to “Transient” Shale Workers

There’s a real eyesore in downtown Washington, PA–a building that brings down the neighborhood. Even though the building is a blight for the entire area, it remains standing due to prejudice on the part of local residents, including a local Catholic church. There was a plan to renovate a former, run-down convent and turn it into a boarding house for Marcellus Shale workers in Washington, PA. We previously chronicled City Council’s opposition to the project (see Washington, PA Votes to Reject Marcellus Boarding House). We also chronicled the shameful opposition of Rev. William Feeney and the Immaculate Conception church across the street from their denomination’s abandoned convent–opposed to the plan because it might attract “transients” to the neighborhood (see Marcellus Prejudice on Display at Washington, PA Church). We were reminded by a recent letter to the editor in a Washington, PA newspaper that the abandoned convent is still there, still a blight, still an eyesore–bringing down the entire neighborhood. All because of prejudice…
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“Talk About It” Substitutes for Real Science in Marcellus Study

This is one of those zany Friday kind of stories. Yet another so-called study on the Marcellus Shale industry recently caught our attention. We’ve often pointed out the “bought and paid for” research that abounds on shale drilling. This one goes to a whole new metaphysical plane. Instead of researching and drawing conclusions from research data, the recently published study “Engaging over data on fracking and water quality” (University of Pittsburgh and Penn State University) talks about talking about the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. Yeah. How do you *feel* about drilling? Here, lie down on this sofa while we ask you some questions about your childhood and fracking practices. OK, so maybe a study about how people talk about the issues involved with Marcellus Shale drilling isn’t so far-fetched–if such a “study” were to appear in the Journal of Idiosyncratic Sociology. This “study” however, was published in the journal Science. As in hard science–not social science. So now it no longer matters what real science finds–whether or not fracking actually pollutes water and air. Whether or not living near a fracking site will stunt your growth. Whether or not fracking carves up forests or increases automobile accidents or any of a plethora of other issues. What REALLY matters is what you *think* about all that. That’s what now passes for science in Science
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Other Energy Stories of Interest: Fri, Feb 9, 2018

The “best of the rest”–stories that caught MDN’s eye that you may be interested in reading. In today’s lineup: Pipelines have econ benefits for WV; Atlanta energy law firm opens office in Pittsburgh; natgas bills for Massachusetts homeowners on the rise; some locals oppose proposed natgas-fired electric plant in Michigan; Exxon’s reserves jump 19%; analysis of pipeline assets & outlooks; Carl Icahn claims another CEO scalp at SandRidge Energy; and more!
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