CNX Resources Fined $250K for PA Pipe Construction Violation

CNX Resources was installing a pipeline in Indiana County, PA and apparently didn’t, according to the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), properly construct erosion barriers for the project. It rained, hard, and sediment-laden water went over the erosion barriers and got into an unnamed stream, which empties into Mudlick Run, a “high quality water” creek. In other words, a tiny creek got muddy, and some of that muddy water *may have* entered a slightly bigger creek. And for that violation, CNX is going to pay a whopping $250,000 fine. The DEP says following an inspection in March, the DEP ordered CNX to fix the problem by April 3, but as of May 16 the problem had still not been fixed. CNX disputes that they violated their permits and has told the DEP they’ve quit building that particular pipeline. In order to make it all go away, CNX is paying the DEP a $250K negotiated shakedown, PLUS pay to fix the “problem”…
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“Strong” Well Results in Northern Utica During 1Q18

As MDN reports in today’s lead story, Ohio has just achieved a new milestone by producing more natural gas than the state has ever produced during the first three months of this year (see Top 25 Producing Gas & Oil Wells in Ohio Utica for 1Q18). The best performing individual wells are located in the southern part of the Utica play–in Belmont, Jefferson, Monroe, and Guernsey counties. However, don’t overlook the wells and overall performance of counties in the northern part of the play–places like Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Particularly Columbiana County. The Youngstown Business Journal does a deep dive into the numbers for the northern tier counties and finds that wells drilled by Hilcorp in Columbiana produced “strong results” in 1Q18. Here’s a closer look at the northern Utica counties and the drillers who work there…
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Rex Energy Settled Butler County Water Lawsuits for $159K

Beginning in 2012, MDN reported on the story of a community in western Pennsylvania (in Butler County) whose residents said that nearby drilling by Rex Energy led to contamination of their water wells (see PA Residents Weary of Fight with Rex over Water Contamination and Rex Energy Water Contamination Case Shifts Focus to Water Pipeline). Several of the families sued Rex. The PA Dept. of Environmental Protection, after an extensive investigation, said that Rex’s drilling did not cause the situation. Apparently water quality in the area was never the greatest to begin with. Rex had built a water line in the area to supply water for fracking and had expected to turn over control/ownership of that line in 2013. That water line could be used to supply fresh water to the affected homes. The debate has been: Who will pay to hook up the homes and to maintain the pipes and infrastructure required? Since Rex, according to the DEP, is not to blame for the poor water quality in the area, the company understandably doesn’t want to pay big bucks to connect and maintain the line to residences in the area. As far as we can tell, the water line never got hooked up. However, there has been a resolution of the situation, of sorts. What had been sealed court documents (unsealed because of Rex’s bankruptcy proceedings) show that in April of this year Rex settled with the suing families, paying them between $16,250 and $27,125 each–a cumulative $159,000. Rex maintains the settlement is not an indication of guilt…
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Shell Cracker to the Rescue – Saving the Erie, PA Plastics Industry

The benefits of the mighty Shell ethane cracker now under construction in Beaver County, PA just keep multiplying. In April MDN brought you news that Penn State Behrend (in Erie County) had been tapped by the PA Dept. of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to be the “lead partner” with a $250,000 grant for developing business and market opportunities for the state related to the cracker (see Penn State to Help Create New Biz Opportunities from Shell Cracker). Erie County, where Behrend is located, is certainly not next door to the cracker. It’s two hours away! There are several other Penn State campuses closer to the cracker. So why was Behrend selected? In a word, plastics. “The strength of Erie’s plastics industry and the success of Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering, which offers one of only six accredited U.S. plastics undergraduate programs, makes Erie of particular interest to DCED.” A new article says that the cracker will not only preserve the 4,300 plastics-related jobs in and around Erie, there’s reason to believe the plastics industry in Erie will “grow larger and stronger” because of the two-hours-away cracker. Again we ask the question, Why? Answer: Because buying plastics pellets from the Shell cracker two hours away is a whole lot cheaper (due to shipping costs) than buying plastics pellets from the Gulf Coast, as happens now. One would be justified in saying, Shell cracker to the rescue!…
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Activist Investor Pressures Range to Change Board, Mgmt Structure

What constitutes an “activist investor” and what constitutes a “corporate raider?” Depends on whom you ask. We address the semantics issue below in more detail. The reason we raise it is because of some big, breaking news: Activist investor SailingStone Capital Partners is forcing Range Resources to do some things Range may not prefer to do. Nearly two years ago, in August 2016, MDN told you that investment firm SailingStone Capital had purchased 11% of Range Resources stock (see SailingStone Capital Buys 11% of Range Stock, Gets Board Seat). They got a board seat out of their investment, and the right to nudge Range in a certain direction, to some degree. Although we were suspicious, at the time it appeared SailingStone was more of a partner assisting Range rather than what we call a corporate raider. SailingStone now owns 17% of Range’s outstanding shares, and they are throwing their weight around. In an announcement made yesterday, we learn that SailingStone has pressured Range into granting them two more seats on the board–for a total of three (out of ten). Is it fair that SailingStone controls 30% of the board but only owns 17% of the company? SailingStone has also forced Range CEO Jeff Ventura to relinquish his title (and power) as Chairman of the Board, appointing a new “independent” Chairman. SailingStone is also forcing Range to hire a new outsider as executive VP, to “supplement and strengthen the management team.” Is SailingStone “helping” Range make changes that Range truly needs to make to benefit shareholders? Or is there something more nefarious going on?…
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Southwestern Appeals “Briggs” Trespass Case to PA Supreme Court

Southwestern Energy has taken the next step of appealing the “Briggs” trespass case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court–a case of tremendous importance. In April, MDN brought you the news that Pennsylvania Superior Court had handed down a decision (known as the “Briggs” case) that has the power to greatly restrict, perhaps even stop, Marcellus drilling in PA (see PA Superior Court Overturns “Rule of Capture” for Marcellus Well and PA “Rule of Capture” Case has Power to Limit Marcellus Drilling). The issue, in brief, is that the Superior Court decision disallows using an age-old principle called the “rule of capture” when it comes to shale drilling and fracking. It opens the door to a myriad of frivolous lawsuits claiming that a fracture, a crack created during fracking, is draining gas from a neighbor’s property without justly compensating the neighbor for the gas. Southwestern successfully argued in a lower court that the odd crack here and there that may slip under a neighbor’s property is permissible. The landowner appealed to Superior Court and three judges heard the case. Two of the three overturned the lower court and sided with the landowner. Southwestern, following the decision, petitioned the Superior Court to have all of the sitting justices (called en banc) hear the case. Sadly, in June the Superiors proved they aren’t so superior after all, declining to rehear the case (see PA Superior Court Rejects Southwestern “Briggs” Trespass Appeal). Southwestern promised to appeal this critically important case to the PA Supreme Court, and yesterday they did just that. We have a comment from Southwestern below, along with a copy of the brief they filed, and our own thoughts on where this may go after the Supreme Court…
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PennFuture Tries to Bully Pittsburgh Airport re Gas Royalties

As is so often the case, radical Big Green groups, like PennFuture, attempt to intimidate (i.e. bully) by using threats of legal action, those who dare to use and (gasp) enjoy the monetary benefits of shale drilling. In early 2013 the Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County, PA signed a deal with CONSOL Energy (now CNX Resources) to lease 9,000 acres surrounding the airport for natural gas drilling (see $50M Check in the Mail: Pittsburgh Airport Lease a Done Deal). The airport received a $50 million signing bonus and the promise of 18% royalties on anything produced and sold. The first wells began to flow natural gas for the first time exactly two years ago, in July 2016 (see CONSOL’s First Pittsburgh Airport Wells Begin to Flow NatGas). So far, for 2016 and 2017, the airport has received a grand total of just over $16 million in royalty payments and another $857,000 from other fees. Yikes! The airport uses the revenue “to reduce airline rates and charges and for capital expenditures…at the Airport.” So along comes the Big Green bullies from PennFuture, threatening to sue the airport if it doesn’t use the money for what PennFuture wants it used for. Yeah, the money does not belong to PennFuture, but that doesn’t stop this rogue “nonprofit” from throwing its weight around and making demands. PennFuture is telling the airport the money MUST be used to “further the interests of citizens under the environmental rights amendment.” Whatever that means. PennFuture told the airport, in a nasty letter, that the airport is in violation of Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Our advice to the airport: Tell PennFuture to take a hike in the vast PA outdoors…
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BP’s 67th Statistical Review – Fossil Fuels Still Going Strong

Oil and gas giant BP recently released its annual Statistical Review of World Energy–the 67th edition! (Full copy below.) A number of big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, as well as government agencies, publish similar reports that characterize current and future world energy trends. However, one analyst we read says BP’s report is the best: “I have relied upon the BP World Energy report for years. It is not a report to be viewed with a partisan eye, but as merely one of the best, if not the best, energy trend device available anywhere. In comparison to government agencies like the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) the global International Energy Association (IEA) or OPEC’s own World Oil Outlook, the BP report has proven itself to be far more valuable in finding investable trends. I would never recommend any oil sector without having the statistical evidence of the BP World Energy Report behind me.” This year’s report finds that oil and natural gas consumption increased significantly in 2017. It also finds the U.S. best-positioned to meet that increasing demand, thanks to the shale miracle. Below we have some of the key highlights from the report, followed by a full copy…
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Ascent Resources Spends $1.5 Billion to Buy OH Utica Acreage, Wells

Last Thursday, Ascent Resources, a company founded by Aubrey McClendon after he left Chesapeake Energy, announced it is buying 113,400 Utica Shale acres along with 93 operating wells located in eastern Ohio for $1.5 billion. The new acreage tips Ascent over the 300,000 Utica acre line and catapults the company into one of the largest privately owned drillers (exploration and production) in the U.S. The companies doing the selling are CNX Resources and Hess (selling a joint venture they co-owned, each selling their share for $400 million each, for a total of $800 million), Utica Minerals Development (a subsidiary of First Reserve, a private equity firm headquartered in Greenwich, CT, and EMG), and a fourth, unnamed mystery seller. The CNX/Hess acreage (78,000 net acres of the 113,400 acres) is located in the wet gas window of Belmont, Guernsey, Harrison and Noble counties. We’re not sure about the location of the other acreage. The CNX/Hess jv sale marks Hess’ total exit from the Utica Shale. So how will Ascent pay for all of their new shiny new assets? After all, they only just emerged from bankruptcy in April (see Ascent Resources Marcellus Exits Chapter 11 Bankruptcy). [Correction: Ascent Resources Marcellus was the part of the Ascent business that filed for bankruptcy and is not related to Ascent Resources Utica and this new transaction.] Ascent will pay for it by issuing $965 million in new shares of equity (private stock), and borrowing $535 million under their existing line of credit…
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EQT Confirms Sale of Huron Shale to Diversified for $575M

MDN exclusively brought you the news, on June 19, that Diversified Gas & Oil had purchased EQT’s Huron Shale assets in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia for $575 million (see Diversified Gas & Oil Adds to Conventional Assets in KY, VA, WV). At that time, Diversified did not disclose who it had purchased the assets from. MDN provided a guess, but that guess proved wrong. Within an hour of posting about the sale, an MDN tipster confirmed for us the seller was EQT, which we subsequently updated, providing the MDN audience with the inside skinny. On Friday, June 29, EQT issued a press release (below) confirming that yes, it was they who had sold the acreage/assets, including nearly 12,000 wells with 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production, to Diversified. The deal also includes 2.5 million acres of leases and some 6,400 miles of gathering pipelines. What we didn’t know about the deal (until now) is that it includes 8 field offices and 250 employees. Here’s the EQT announcement with full details of the deal…
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Epsilon Energy Becoming “Domesticated” – Moving from Canada to U.S.

domesticated cattle in the ancient world

One definition for the word “domestication” means to tame a wild animal, turning it into a farm animal. Another definition means “to bring into use in one’s own country : to bring into domestic use” (Merriam-Webster). It is that later definition Epsilon Energy had in mind when using the term “domestication” to describe a vote by the company’s shareholders to move Epsilon’s base of operations/HQ from Canada to the United States. From time to time we check in Epsilon, both a driller and midstream/pipeline company. Epsilon, largely focused on the Marcellus, had a shareholder rebellion in 2013 and threw out the sitting board of directors (see Shareholder Rebellion at Epsilon Energy – New Board as of Today). Epsilon CEO Michael Raleigh announced at the time that the company had embarked on a turnaround strategy of focusing on the Marcellus Shale–less than a year after saying they would scale back in the Marcellus (see Epsilon Energy Makes “About-Face” on Marcellus Drilling). Epsilon has been and remains a relatively small player in the Marcellus. Last year they bought leases in the Anadarko Basin in Oklahoma (see Epsilon Energy: “Focused” on Marcellus, Buying Land in Anadarko). In a recent vote, shareholders voted 99.99% in favor of moving the company from Canada to Houston, TX. Epsilon, in their own press release, called the move “domestication”–which we found amusing. The wild beast of Canada will be tamed and domiciled in Texas–in order to drill in the Marcellus and Oklahoma. Too bad Pittsburgh couldn’t tame this wild beast. There’s plenty of empty office space in Southpointe…
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EQT & Range Recent Cutbacks Won’t Affect Production

Sources talking to the Pittsburgh Business Times have tipped the paper that EQT recently idled something like five fracking crews, and that Range Resources recently idled a top hole drilling rig. Oh oh. Is this an early sign that the gas patch is slowing down again? Are we heading into a downturn? Don’t panic. Although there has been some scaling back, both companies say activity levels and most importantly, production levels, are not jeopardized by their actions. Instead, the moves are about “saving money” and “increasing efficiencies.” The truth is, as technology and strategies continue to improve over time, drillers don’t have to drill as many holes in order to produce the same or more than they produce now. The companies in the Marcellus/Utica patch are getting leaner–more efficient at what they do, and how they do it. Yeah, it sucks when local jobs get whacked due to “efficiencies,” but ultimately it’s a good sign. It means the companies are getting stronger and will stick around for the long term–providing jobs and economic benefits in the communities where they work for years to come…
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PA DEP Notifies Shell of “Technical Deficiencies” with Ethane Pipe

Shell delivered some good news at last week’s Northeast U.S. Petrochemical conference in Pittsburgh: The Falcon ethane pipeline will get built next year (see Shell Says Falcon Ethane Pipeline to Get Built in 2019). The pipeline won’t actually flow ethane to the Shell cracker in Monaca until 2020 at the earliest, because the cracker plant itself won’t go online until 2020 at the earliest. The 97-mile consists of “two legs,” with about half of the pipeline located in PA, the other half in OH. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted three public hearings on the project earlier this year, in preparation for issuing permits. Antis came out in force and behaved badly, as they typically do (see More of the Same at Final DEP Hearing for Shell Ethane Pipeline). No matter. The pipeline will get built. But not without jumping some hurdles first. On June 1, the DEP issued three letters identifying what it calls “serious technical deficiencies” in Shell’s pipeline plan, for townships in three different counties along the pipeline’s PA route. Shell maintains this type of notification is “common” in the permitting process, and is committed to working with the DEP to address any issues of concern…
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Cabot Files Permit #3 for Knox Formation Test Well in Ashland, OH

As we have reported since late last year, Cabot Oil & Gas, long-known for the incredible amount of Marcellus natural gas they produce from Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania, is eyeing north central Ohio as a potential spot for “what’s next” after the Marcellus (see Cabot O&G Considers Drilling in Ashland County, OH). Cabot locked up leases with plans to drill a number of test wells in not only Ashland, but also Holmes, Knox, Richland and Wayne counties in the Buckeye State (see New Details Emerge on Cabot’s Shale Plans in Central Ohio). Cabot began to push dirt around on its first wellpad (in Ashland) in April, and last week began to drill a hole on that pad (see Cabot O&G to Begin Drilling in Ashland County, OH This Week). They also began pushing dirt around on a second wellpad site. And now, Cabot has filed for a third permit to drill–in Vermillion Township in Ashland County. Cabot plans to drill into the Knox formation vertically, and if they find anything worthwhile, they will then drill horizontally…
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EQT CEO Didn’t Show Up for Annual Mtg – CFO Talks of Wild Ride

Last Thursday EQT held its annual shareholder’s meeting. By all accounts it was a sleepy affair with few people attending–inside at least. Even the current interim CEO, David Porges, didn’t bother to show up, sending along CFO Rob McNally to be the official face of the company. McNally spoke about the past few years as hectic, going from “one transaction to the next.” McNally said “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” for things to now settle down–once the company splits in two later this year (into upstream and midstream). However, a handful of Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) protesters showed up to mouth off–marching outside EQT HQ where the annual meeting was held. McNally said, in so many words, protests of MVP are no big deal. The company thought there would be protesters, and they even planned for illegal protests in the construction timeline (people chaining themselves to bulldozers, etc.). Just one more day in the life of a fossil fuel company that deals with nutters all the time…
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PUC Says PA Strippers Reduced 2017 Impact Fee by $6.1 Million

Once again we’re talking about strippers. Uh, stripper *wells* that is. In 2012 Pennsylvania passed the Act 13 drilling law that includes an impact fee on wells targeting shale layers, including the Marcellus. Snyder Brothers, headquartered in PA, drills mostly conventional (vertical only) wells in southwestern PA. In 2011-2012 they drilled 45 vertical-only wells targeting the Marcellus. All 45 of the vertical-only wells were fracked. Initially those wells produced more than 90 thousand cubic feet per day (Mcf/day), but by December of the year in which they were drilled, the wells produced less than 90 Mcf/day. The way the 2012 Act 13 law is written, if a well produces less than 90 Mcf/day during “any” month it is considered a stripper well and exempt from paying the impact fee. The state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) assessed the fee anyway because for 11 months the wells produced more than 90 Mcf/day, arguing the word “any” is not a get-out-tax-jail-free card. Snyder Bros. sued and after an appeal of the case, Snyder Bros. won the case in March 2017, exempting those wells from paying impact fees (see PA Court Says Snyder Bros Wells are Strippers, No Impact Fees Due). That sent the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) into a tizzy with claims the Act 13 impact fees are now in jeopardy. So the PUC appealed the case to the PA Supreme Court. The Supremes heard arguments in the case in April (see PA Supreme Court Takes a Close Look at Strippers…as in Wells). The PUC released its full impact fee revenue generated and disbursed report yesterday (see today’s lead story). The PUC reports that not only are the fees from the Snyder wells missing from the total, but fees for some wells from other drillers as well–some 318 wells in all. Those other drillers cite the Snyder Bros. case as evidence they don’t owe money on what they consider to be stripper wells. In fact, when you total it all up, the PUC says the impact fee revenue for 2017 would have been ~$6.1 million higher if the “missing” fees from those 318 wells were part of the mix…
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