OH Landowners with Early Utica Leases Still Get Good Royalties

Some 10 years ago in the “early days” of the Ohio Utica Shale, landowners signed leases not knowing about the Utica and the bonanza it would soon bring. A group of 24 landowners in Columbiana County signed a lease in 2008 with Anshutz–for a few bucks an acre and 12.5% royalties. Seemed like a good deal then. But five years later leases were going for $5,000-$6,000/acre in signing bonuses and 20% royalties. It didn’t seem like such a good deal then. Chesapeake Energy later bought the Anshutz leases. We all know about the shenanigans Chesapeake plays with royalty payments. But these wells produce mainly oil instead of gas. In the early days, a 12.5% royalty, even on properties where post-production deductions “generously” taken, yielded a lot of money. Then the price of oil bottomed out and royalty checks shriveled up. With the price of oil back up, royalty checks, while not as much as they were 4-5 years ago, are still much higher than they were a few years ago. All of which is to say: When the price of oil (or gas) goes up, it covers a multitude of post-production deduction sins. But when the price is down, landowners get the shaft. At least, some landowners. Here’s the story of some of those Ohio landowners who signed early. As we read the story, our impression was this: Yes there’s been some bad (even lawsuits), but there’s been a lot of good too. And in the end, these landowners (like others we’ve spoken to in person at various events), would say if they had to do it all over again, they would. That is, shale drilling is worth it, even with the bad, and the ugly…
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Federal Court Upholds Ohio Forced Pooling Law in Chesapeake Case

In 2015, landowners in Harrison County, OH who own 127 acres (the Kerns) filed a lawsuit alleging their property rights were about to be violated because Chesapeake Energy had filed a pooling request with the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources (ODNR) to pool (combine) the Kerns property with surrounding properties for shale drilling. The Kerns had not signed and do not want drilling under their land. Their neighbors do. Ohio has a law on the books that allows for “forced pooling” in cases when a majority of the surrounding land is leased but landowners with small positions refuse to sign. The Kerns resisted and fought the case all the way to Ohio Supreme Court, which rejected their claims. Chesapeake drilled and fracked three wells (on a neighboring property), which included drilling under the Kerns’ property. So the Kerns filed a new lawsuit in 2016, in federal court, claiming a “taking” of their property had occurred. The federal court has just ruled–against the Kerns. This was the first time a court case dealt directly with the constitutionality of Ohio’s unitization (forced pooling) law. The upshot: Ohio’s forced pooling law remains intact and in force…
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Financial Checkup for Marcellus/Utica Drillers

RBN Energy, headed by founder Rusty Braziel (co-founder of Bentek Energy), is, in our opinion, the premier oil and gas analytics firm out there. Smart people working at RBN. And they offer up some amazing content on their blog site–for free! At least it’s free for a while, then it goes behind a paywall. A few days ago RBN published a blog post on the financial health for the 44 major publicly-traded U.S. exploration and production companies (drillers). RBN groups them into three categories: Oil-Weighted, Diversified, and Gas-Weighted. We found the Gas-Weighted list of 10 companies and the information revealed about them to be fascinating and worth studying. Each of the companies has major operations in the Marcellus/Utica–some of them totally focused on our region. Among the data points shared: revenue, production costs, lifting costs and more. We think of the following as a handy financial health scorecard/checkup for 10 of the biggest drillers in the M-U, including Antero Resources, Cabot Oil & Gas, Chesapeake Energy, CNX Resources, EQT, Gulfport Energy, National Fuel Gas (Seneca Resources), Range Resources, Southwestern Energy, and Ultra Petroleum…
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Average Workers at Top Marcellus Drillers Make $100K+ Salary

The average worker who works for producers (i.e. drillers) in the Pennsylvania Marcellus makes among the highest average salaries of any industry in the state. Looking at six of the state’s top Marcellus drillers, the average worker made $113,610 last year! That’s an average taken from workers at CNX Resources, Range Resources, Chesapeake Energy, Southwestern Energy, EQT and Cabot Oil & Gas. We hasten to add not “all workers” but “average” or “median” workers–meaning there are people who make below that number and people who make well above that number. It also means the majority of Marcellus workers in those companies made at least $100,000 per year. Those working for oilfield services (OFS) companies like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and others didn’t fare quite as well, making an average of $52,000-$80,000 per year. Still, hey, it ain’t bad money! Here’s a look at the average wage for top Marcellus drillers and the OFS companies that serve them…
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Chesapeake Energy 1Q18: M-U Dominates with 45% of Production

Yesterday Chesapeake Energy, now the #2 natural gas producer in the U.S. (after EQT), released its first quarter 2018 financial and operational update. The company reported 1Q18 profits of $268 million, up 257% from the $75 million in profits during 1Q17. The key for increased profits was an increase in production while lowering costs. As we scanned over the numbers, one thing stood out for us: 26% of Chesapeake’s production comes from the Marcellus Shale, and 19% comes from the Utica. Add them together (45%) and no other region comes close. M-U success is Chesapeake’s success. It shows just how key the M-U region is for the mighty Chesapeake. During 1Q18 the company drilled and placed into production 10 wells in the Ohio Utica and 6 wells in the PA Marcellus. 2Q18 plans are to drill and bring online 7 Utica wells and 17 Marcellus wells. However, Chesapeake’s head has been turned. Their primary 2018 focus appears to be the Texas Eagle Ford Shale–an oil play. The company is currently running 5 drilling rigs in the Eagle Ford. They drilled and brought online 23 Eagle Ford wells in 1Q18, with plans to drill and bring online another 50 wells in 2Q18. Chessy has fallen and fallen hard for the siren song of oil. Here’s the latest from the #2 natural-gas producing company in the U.S. that now loves oil…
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EQT Pay Dispute – Comparing CEO Salaries for Top M-U Firms

In mid-March, the country’s #1 producer of natural gas, EQT, suddenly and without previous warning lost it’s President & CEO, Steven Schlotterbeck (see EQT CEO Steve Schlotterbeck Suddenly Quits, Leaves Company). Steve is the man who guided the company through its acquisition of Rice Energy last year (see EQT Buys Rice Energy in $8.2B Deal, Becomes #1 Gas Producer in US). It was a tough battle against multiple corporate raiders who didn’t want to see the deal happen, but Steve held it together and made it happen. The notice from EQT was short and sweet and said Steve had resigned immediately, due to “personal reasons.” MDN was the first to disclose what those “personal reasons” were: a pay dispute. According to Steve, the board wasn’t paying him what similar CEOs at competitors are making. So he quit. Makes you wonder how much Steve was making, and what CEOs at other large Marcellus/Utica drillers make. We spotted an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times that reveals what Steve made last year. We did some digging to find what comparable CEOs make. The numbers we discovered may surprise you…
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FERC Rejects Blue Racer Midstream Plan to Change NGL Pipe Rates

We have to confess this story is a bit complex to understand. We will take a stab at making the complex understandable. Blue Racer Midstream has a subsidiary called Blue Racer NGL Pipelines LLC. The subsidiary operates the G-150 pipeline system, which provides batched propane and butane service. G-150 currently, located in West Virginia, connects a Natrium, WV processing plant to the TE Products Pipeline Co. (TEPPCO). The G-150 pipeline will also have a connection to the Mariner East 2 Pipeline when it goes into service, theoretically in June of this year. Currently the G-150 is flowing about 6,300 barrels per day of product through it–only 20% of its capacity. When the connection with ME2 is up and running, Blue Racer says it can handle 30,000 bbl/d through the G-150. However, Blue Racer itself signed up for most of the capacity (27,000 bbl/d). Blue Racer recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow it to have two different rate structures–a lower rate for “committed” shippers (Blue Racer itself with its 27,000 bbl/d) and a higher rate for uncommitted shippers. FERC rejected the request pointing out that existing shippers with contracts–namely Chesapeake Energy–would be left out in the cold in favor of Blue Racer moving its own volumes at lower prices. Yes, it’s complicated. Bottom line, Blue Racer can’t do what it wants and has to go back to the drawing board…
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Chesapeake Stock Soars w/Update; More Marcellus Wells in 2018

Yesterday the country’s second largest natural gas producer, Chesapeake Energy, issued its fourth quarter and full year 2017 update. Chessy CEO Doug Lawler began his comments during an analyst phone call this way: “2017 was another foundational year for Chesapeake as we continued to transform all aspects of our company.” Even though Chesapeake sold a number of assets and reduced headcount in 2017, production still rose 3% for the year. Lawler said he expects production to rise another 3% in 2018, even with a planned $2-$3 billion in sales of even more assets (what’s left to sell?). Lawler also said the company will reduce spending 12% this year. The news of production increases on the way using less money sent the company’s stock price soaring 22 higher%. But all is not peaches and cream. The company is still saddled with almost $10 billion worth of debt, which tends to remove the oxygen from a company’s lungs. Still, the Chesapeake doggedly soldiers on. Disappointingly, nothing was said during the conference call about either the Marcellus or the Utica. There’s only two brief references to our region in the official update–even though the Marcellus and Utica combined provided the lion’s share of Chesapeake’s production in 4Q17 (50% of all their production came from the M-U). Chessy says they will drill 55 wells in the Marcellus in 2018 (more than the 43 drilled in 2017), and they will drill 40 wells in the Utica in 2018 (less than the 67 wells drilled in 2017). Below is the full update, the latest slide deck, and a good overview of yesterday’s news from Reuters…
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The Great Chesapeake Massacre III: Lawler Fires Another 400 People

2/2/18 Update: Have we been unfair in our characterization of Doug Lawler? Perhaps. We don’t know Doug–have never met him. He started firing masses of people at Chessy before the downturn hit. He arguably inherited a troubled company. We intensely dislike Carl Ichan and other corporate raiders, so we attributed Doug’s actions to Carl’s influence. MDN received a very nice note from a subscriber who personally knows Doug Lawler and has a different perspective to offer, which we’re happy to pass along. He said: “Jim, regarding your article on CHK, Doug Lawler probably learned a lot from Carl Icahn, but knowing Doug the way I do, I can assure you it hurt him to release people at his home office or other areas of operations. He was left with a mess and will take him years to clean it up. Hopefully with oil & gas prices stabilizing and going up, CHK will become profitable.” We thank our subscriber for sending that along!

Just like those 80s slasher movies that did so well at the box office that studios kept making more of them (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.), Doug “the ax” Lawler, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, is back with part III of mass firings at the company. In October 2013 when Lawler was newly appointed as CEO (by Chesapeake’s board, which was under the influence of corporate raider Carl Ichan), he swung his ax and fired 800 people in one gory episode, promising that was the last of it (see The Great Chesapeake Massacre: Lawler Fires 800 People in One Day). It worked so well the first time, Lawler came back with a sequel two years later (see The Great Chesapeake Massacre II: Lawler Fires Another 740 People). It’s now a little over two years since the sequel, and Lawler is back for a third time, firing another round of people–400 this time, 13% of the workforce. The latest victims worked at HQ in Oklahoma City. When corporate raiders take control of a company, as Icahn did at Chesapeake, they pressure management to fire people and sell assets–in a bid to make the stock price jump higher so they can sell their shares of stock at a higher price, pocketing the profit. It’s disgusting to ruin people’s lives and pretend it’s “just business.” At any rate, Icahn is long gone from Chessy, but Lawler learned his lessons well by sitting at the feet of the master. This is rich: Lawler said because the company has sold so many of its assets, it no longer needs the people. Kind of a vicious cycle. Fire people, sell assets. Fire more people, sell more assets. Where does it end? Pretty soon Lawler will be able to cater the company’s office Christmas party with a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut…
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PA AG Not Backing Down re Chesapeake Energy Royalty Lawsuit

At the end of last year Chesapeake Energy offered a $30 million olive branch to Pennsylvania landowners to settle claims the company had screwed them out of royalty money by artificially inflating post-production costs in an elaborate scheme to pocket more money at landowners’ expense (see Chesapeake Agrees to $30M Royalty Settlement for PA Landowners). Chesapeake’s proffered deal would give the average PA leaseholder (some 14,000 of them) a one-time $2,140 payment–adjusted up or down for the size of their acreage. Frankly, it’s chump change. The big concession by Chesapeake in the proposed deal is that it gives landowners the right to reset the terms of their leases going forward. The catch is that Chesapeake won’t pull the trigger on the deal unless/until PA’s Attorney General, who has an ongoing, separate lawsuit filed against Chesapeake over the same issue, settles as well. PA AG Josh Shapiro has fired back saying he will not cave to Chesapeake’s “pressure tactic” and settle. PA landowners are caught in the middle. Some of them want the Chesapeake $30M chump change deal saying a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. That is, the AG may eventually lose his case–and it will take years to play out. Why not take the money and run now, especially if we can reset the lease terms to prevent any more gouging by Chesapeake? But other landowners, including National Association of Royalty Owners (PA Chapter) President Jackie Root say PA landowners “deserve better” than the deal offered by Chesapeake. Here’s the latest in the royalty wars…
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Chesapeake Agrees to $30M Royalty Settlement for PA Landowners

Chesapeake Energy is holding out an olive branch to Pennsylvania landowners–the offer of settling a years-old class action lawsuit for $30 million–as reparations for shafting PA landowners out of royalties. But–and it’s a big but–Chesapeake is also snatching the olive branch away unless/until the PA Attorney General’s office resolves its separate lawsuit against Chesapeake for the same thing. No deal with the AG? No final settlement. Chesapeake’s lawyer calls it “global peace”–which we find amusing. The lawyer said “we need global peace,” meaning both lawsuits must be settled. His comment reminds us of the recent song blaring on the radio over the holidays called, “My Grown-Up Christmas List.” Yeah, don’t we all want “global peace.” Chesapeake’s proffered deal will give the average PA leaseholder (some 14,000 of them) a one-time $2,140 payment–adjusted up or down for the size of their acreage. Frankly, it’s chump change. The big concession by Chesapeake in the proposed deal is that it gives landowners the right to clarify the terms of their leases: “Every Chesapeake lessor will get to pick how their royalties are paid going forward.” Landowners can choose to continue letting Chesapeake market the gas outside of the region (theoretically for a higher price) but requiring the landowner to share in post-production expenses with Chessy as has been the case, OR landowners can rework the lease so there are no post-production expenses deducted. In the second case royalties will be based on the local price of gas in that landowner’s area (typically in the basement). It’s a tough decision. So, landowners got shafted in the past, but the past is the past. Going forward, let’s not get shafted any more. That’s what this proposed deal seems to boil down to. Oh, and throw in a few grand as the cherry on top. The billion dollar question is whether or not the AG’s office will go for it. The AG’s office is signaling it may settle, IF Chesapeake picks a number higher than $30 million as a settlement number…
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PA Fed Judge Rejects Class Action in Chesapeake Royalty Case

Yesterday a Pennsylvania federal judge denied a group of 600+ Marcellus Shale landowners’ request to form a class action in arbitrating a royalty case against Chesapeake Energy. Although the judge’s decision is a disappointment for landowners, his decision should come as a surprise. In April, the same judge, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann for the Middle District of PA, telegraphed that the landowners, under the law (and under the leases they signed) did not have a right to form a class action (see Chesapeake Scores Court Victory to Prevent PA Royalty Class Action). However, the landowners continued to pursue it by appealing the judge’s initial decision. Brann, in rendering yesterday’s decision, begins his written ruling with a quote from the Lord of the Rings: “Short cuts make long delays.” His point: The landowners tried to short circuit the legal process and they can’t. Landowners will need to individually litigate/arbitrate their cases with Chesapeake. The judge lectured landowners that they could have already been well on their way to a resolution of their individual cases had they not stubbornly continued to pursue class action arbitration. Below we have a brief background on the case to better understand the decision, followed by a copy of Judge Brann’s decision from yesterday…Continue reading

Marcellus Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Settled Out of Court

Two African-American Marcellus Shale natural gas workers in the Williamsport, PA area claim they were fired, twice, based in part on their race. The two filed a lawsuit against STI Group (a staffing agency) and Chesapeake Energy. The case was thrown out by U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania Court, but later reinstated on appeal by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Rather than let the case drag out endlessly, STI and Chesapeake have just settled it. The amount of money they had to pay to make it go away was not disclosed. Workers are hired and fired all the time. Ours is a boom/bust industry. Was this really a case of racism? Or just a case of boom and bust? You read the details and decide for yourself…
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Bradford County, PA Judge Keeps Chesapeake Royalty Lawsuit Alive

A Bradford County, PA judge has turned down Chesapeake Energy’s attempt to wiggle out of a royalty lawsuit on a technicality. However, the judge also punted the case to a higher court to settle what he calls “novel questions of law”–rather than spending more time and money on such issues at the county court level. This is good news for landowners in Bradford County who have been shafted by Chesapeake’s royalty scheme to shift the cost of piping and processing to landowners by using inflated values for those services. In December 2015, Pennsylvania’s felony-indicted Attorney General, Kathleen Kane (now gone), brought a lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy, Anadarko and Williams accusing them of, among other things, royalty fraud (see PA Atty General Sues Chesapeake Energy, Williams for Royalty Fraud). In May 2016, Chesapeake and Anadarko filed to dismiss Kane’s complaints against them, accusing Kane of attempting to litigate federal antitrust claims in state court (see Chesapeake, Anadarko Try to Wiggle Out of PA Royalty Lawsuit). In June 2016 Kane’s office fired back by filing a motion to keep the case in state, not federal, court. In August, U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher C. Conner granted Kane’s motion–the case stays in the state court system (see Lawsuit Against Chesapeake, Anadarko Heads Back to PA Court). With a new AG now in place, Chesapeake and Anadarko tried to get the lawsuit tossed yet again–this time by saying the law that the AG’s office claims was violated has to do with consumer protection, for people who buy things. Chessy & Anadarko argue landowners aren’t buying anything, they’re selling (minerals), so the law doesn’t protect them from predatory leasing practices (see Chesapeake Tries to Wiggle Out of PA Royalty Lawsuit on Technicality). The Bradford County judge didn’t buy Chesapeake’s argument…
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NatGas, Oil Industry Partnership to Accelerate Methane Reductions

Yesterday America’s natural gas and oil industry announced “a landmark partnership”–called the Environmental Partnership–to “accelerate improvements to environmental performance in operations across the country.” How will they do that? The first area of focus will be to reduce methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. The Environmental Partnership includes 26 natural gas and oil producers, including several major Marcellus/Utica drillers (Chesapeake Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas, Chevron and Southwestern Energy). The list of 26 produce a “significant portion” of American energy resources–we’d peg it at around 80% of all production. The participating companies (full list below) will begin implementing the voluntary program starting January 1, 2018. Did you get that? It’s VOLUNTARY. Yet they will do it and they will voluntarily hold themselves and each other accountable–because they are good corporate citizens and (gasp) actually care about the environment. They don’t need the jackboot of government to force them to do it. Here’s how profoundly biased mainstream media reports it: Oil Firms Pledge to Plug Methane Leaks in Bid to Burnish Image (Bloomberg News). Yep, according to the anti-everything people, these companies are only doing it to “burnish” their image. They don’t really care about the environment. They’re evil, nasty fossil fuel companies (icky). MDN readers know differently. These companies are respectable, providing jobs and investment in local communities AND protecting the environment in those same communities–where they live. The other side? Groups like the Sierra Club destroy jobs in the name of “protecting” Mom Earth…
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