PA Court Upholds $1.1M Fine on EQT re Wastewater Impoundment

Yesterday Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court upheld a PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) fine levied on EQT for $1.1 million related to a leaky wastewater impoundment in 2012. The case dates back to 2014 when the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) slapped EQT with a $4.53 million fine for a leaky wastewater impoundment in Tioga County, something that happened two years earlier (see PA DEP Levies Biggest Fine Ever, $4.5M Against EQT). EQT never said there wasn’t a problem with leaks at the site, but they did say the way the DEP calculated the fine was unreasonable and arbitrary. EQT appealed the fine and the case all the way to the PA Supreme Court, and in April of this year, the Supremes ruled in favor of EQT, saying that the DEP’s levied fine was excessive and that the DEP misinterpreted language in the 1937 Clean Streams Law (see PA Supreme Court Axes DEP $4.5M Fine in EQT Tioga Wastewater Leak). We thought that was the end of the case. But it wasn’t. The Supremes ruled on “water to water” contamination in the case, but not on “ground to water” contamination. PA law allows for companies to be on the hook for each day a contaminant enters the water table. In May the court heard oral arguments over how to prove whether contaminants in the soil have moved into groundwater (see EQT Continues to Fight PA DEP Fine re Wastewater Impoundment). What lawyers argued was whether or not, and how, the DEP can prove contaminants in the ground, there because of EQT’s leak, can be proven to have leached into the water on any given day. DEP claimed to have a formula and calculated a revised $1.1 million fine based on assumptions about how many days the contaminants leaked out of the ground. Yesterday, Commonwealth Court agreed with DEP and upheld the fine…
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3 Counties, 5 Drillers Led OH’s 50% Increase in 2Q Gas Production

The Pareto Principle is alive and well in the Buckeye State. You may know it as the 80/20 rule, or in this case, the 75/25 rule. The rule that states roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Last week MDN brought you the latest update from the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources–their second quarter 2018 report showing all production coming from the Ohio Utica Shale (see Top 25 Producing Gas & Oil Wells in Ohio Utica for 2Q18). While MDN provided you with Top 25 lists showing the best-performing wells (both gas and oil) during 2Q, and while we provided you with a better spreadsheet to view the information than that provided by the ODNR itself, our analysis was basic and high level. Utica natgas production was up a big 42% over the same period last year, and Utica oil production was up 11%–a cumulative 50% increase when you convert it all into equivalents. The experts at S&P Global Platts have done a deep dive into the numbers and have found that three counties represent 75% of all production in 2Q18, and five drillers represent 75% of all production in 2Q18. Which counties and which drillers? Read on…
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EQT People: Who Stays with Mom & Who Goes with Dad After Co Split

It’s an amicable divorce, the split of EQT into upstream (drilling) and midstream (pipelines). But it’s still a divorce, and the parents have to decide which kids will go or stay with which company. The “kids” in this case are the top managers, the executives. And we have the list. After EQT announced its plan to buy/merge in Rice Energy last year, the company got pushback from a couple of so-called activist investors (i.e. corporate raiders). One raider, Jana Partners, tried its best to stop the EQT/Rice deal outright (see Proxy Fight: Jana Partners, Atlas Tries to Stop EQT/Rice Deal). Jana slithered away after the merger happened. However, a second raider, D.E. Shaw, supported the merger but lobbied hard that once the merger is complete, the company should split itself into two companies: upstream (drilling) and midstream (pipelines). Shaw’s pressure made EQT tap dance to their tune (see Under Pressure, EQT Moves Up Timeline to Explore Splitting Co.). True to their word, once Rice was merged in, EQT then added a couple of new board members and set about exploring how to separate the company into two companies. The theory is that by separating, each company can focus on what it does best (drilling or pipelines), meaning each separately will have a higher valuation/stock price than the two combined. That is, “the sum of the parts” is worth more than the whole. In February the company decided it will, indeed, split (see EQT Pulls Trigger to Split Company in Two: Drilling & Pipelines). Yesterday EQT released the list of which top execs will go, and which will stay, with upstream and midstream…
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EQT Searches for Indians Before Building Freshwater Pond in SWPA

EQT signed a lease with a landowner in Washington County, PA back in 2007 that allows the company to drill and/or develop surface property–building things like a freshwater (NOT wastewater) pond that can be used for nearby drilling. The landowner’s daughter, who either doesn’t understand drilling (or more likely does understand but doesn’t like it) claims there is an unmarked, single grave somewhere on the property (presumed to be an Indian), using that claim to stop EQT’s work on building the water pond. EQT is patiently playing along, waiting for–even paying for and assisting with–an archaeological dig to see if the grave and other Indian remains can be located. So far, nothing has been unearthed–except for a lot of hot air…
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FERC Lets MVP Restart Work on 25% of Pipe; MVP Lays off ‘Thousands’

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has had a change of heart–sort of–with respect to their stop-work order issued to Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). We previously told you that on August 3, FERC told MVP to stop all construction prompted by an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacating permits issued for the project as it crosses 3.5 miles of Jefferson National Forest in West Virginia and Virginia (see FERC Shuts Down ALL Work on Mountain Valley Pipeline in WV, VA). In a letter to FERC this past Tuesday, MVP asked FERC to reconsider and allow them to restart construction for at least part of the pipeline. FERC agreed and partially lifted the stop-work order a day later, on Wednesday. The new order allows MVP to work on the project for 77 of its 303 miles–about 25%. However, in a sad announcement, MVP said because so much of the project remains (for now) idled, it is laying off 50% of the workers who had been working on it. It’s estimated that around 6,000 people are employed directly or indirectly on the project, which means “thousands” (perhaps as many as 3,000 people) are now out of work–thanks to the Sierra Club and their lawsuit. Hey, how many jobs has the Sierra Club created? What’s that? NONE?! And how many jobs has the Sierra Club destroyed? We’d estimate it to be in the tens of thousands. MVP also announced that due to the ongoing work stoppage and delays, the project completion and in-service date has now slipped to the end of next year–an additional nine months. It’s a sad day indeed…
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Mountain Valley Pipe Asks FERC to Lift Stop Work Order

EQT Midstream and its partners in the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) project are trying to convince the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to lighten up and reconsider lifting most of a stop-work order for the entire 303-mile pipeline project. In a 7-page letter to FERC yesterday, Matthew Eggerding, EQT Midstream’s top lawyer, outlined his company’s case for allowing them to restart work on most of the pipeline. Two weeks ago FERC ordered MVP to shut down all construction for the entire project following a court case that overturned permits for a tiny, 3.5-mile section of the project as it runs through the Jefferson National Forest (see FERC Shuts Down ALL Work on Mountain Valley Pipeline in WV, VA). In delivering its stop-work order, FERC said while it expects the two federal agencies involved (U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) to quickly rework and reissue the permits overturned by the court, they (FERC) don’t know when that will happen and so in the meantime, just shut it all down. MVP is asking them to reconsider. What happens if FERC doesn’t reconsider and MVP stays shut down until the court gives the OK for reissued permits? According to EQT’s incoming CEO Rob McNally, “that would certainly put the first-quarter [2019] timing in jeopardy.” Meaning all bets are off…
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100+ PA Landowners Sue EQT re Gas Storage Field Payments

According to Washington County, PA landowner Joe Raposky, EQT has been storing natural gas under his property in Finleyville without permission and without compensation since at least 2007. Last year Raposky asked EQT to compensate him and they refused. So Mr. Raposky has organized over 100 of his neighbors along with landowners who sit over top of other similar underground storage fields in the region, and on July 30 they filed a lawsuit against EQT. PA has some 60 gas storage fields spread across 26 counties in the state. The fields are used to temporarily store and then retrieve natural gas. Storage, which is not something we write about very much, is in fact a big deal when it comes to the natural gas market. Not all gas is used as soon as its extracted and sold along a pipeline. There are two main “seasons” in the natural gas industry–injection season, from April 1 through October 31, when a surplus is stored underground, and withdrawal season, from November 1 through March 31, when more gas is used than is produced. Storage fields like the one in Finleyville are an important part of the natgas puzzle. In some cases, landowners are only now becoming aware of the existing fields under their feet and they (rightly) want to be compensated for the use of their property. Is storage the next big bone of contention between landowners and drillers?…
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Robert McNally New EQT CEO; Thomas Karam New EQT Midstream CEO

Robert McNally – EQT’s former CFO and new CEO

EQT finally has a new CEO. And we’re here to pat ourselves on the back as the first media outlet to name him–two weeks ago! MDN previously noted that for both EQT’s annual meeting in June, and then again for EQT’s quarterly update with analysts, “acting” CEO David Porges wasn’t anywhere to be found (see Strange: EQT Interim CEO Porges Skips Quarterly Conference Call). Here were our exact words, two weeks ago today: “Porges also skipped yesterday’s quarterly analyst phone call to update big investors on the company’s performance (equally unheard of). Once again the heavy lifting fell to Robert McNally, EQT CFO, to be “the guy” sent out front and center to talk about the company….EQT is currently conducting a search to find a new CEO. In the meantime, board chairman and former CEO David Porges stepped back into the role of CEO. But judging from his absence at critical events where the CEO always shows up, it’s pretty obvious he isn’t actually running the company. Looks to us like McNally is the guy running the company.” MDN was the *only* media outlet to say what nobody else would say–that McNally is the guy running the show. And my oh my, how right we were! Yesterday EQT issued a statement to say that McNally has been named as the permanent/new CEO. In addition, the company named Thomas Karam to head up (become CEO of) the midstream division that’s about to be spun off into its own standalone company. Karam replaces Jeremiah Ashcroft who was “relieved of all duties with EQT and its subsidiaries, effective August 8, 2018” (i.e. fired)…
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EQT Uses Big Data to Improve Truck Safety

Trucks do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the shale energy business. Water trucks and trucks hauling other materials and equipment make, we’re guessing, hundreds of thousands of trips per year throughout the Marcellus/Utica region. EQT is the largest natural gas producer in the country, following its purchase of Rice Energy last year. Trucks are a big part of what EQT does. This year alone EQT trucks will drive over 24 million miles! Safety on the roads is a “top priority” for EQT. How to accomplish better safety? Upgrades of equipment are one way EQT is tackling the safety issue. But there’s another intriguing way EQT is getting better at safety–with Big Data. EQT is using researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to gather and analyze a mountain of data from its truck operations, to figure out how to improve safety and save money. It’s working. Speeding, hard braking and other safety violations have fallen 44% since 2017…
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EQT Employees in Kentucky Vote to Unionize

A group of 116 EQT production employees who live and work in Kentucky have voted to form a union to protect their jobs and benefits. It is unusual–frankly unheard of–for unions to make inroads with an exploration and production company (E&P) like EQT. Why this group and why now? The fire was lit when EQT announced it is selling its Huron Shale assets to Diversified Gas & Oil (see Diversified Gas & Oil Adds to Conventional Assets in KY, VA, WV). Those assets include transferring 250 workers (including the 116 working in Kentucky) to Diversified. The workers are afraid of what typically happens when such deals occur–“efficiencies” are sought, which usually translates into layoffs and whacking benefits. To get out ahead of that, the group voted to unionize. Here’s the story of a small group unionizing, and the prospects of unionization happening elsewhere in the Marcellus/Utica…
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EQT Retains Shale Rights in Recent Diversified $575M Deal in WV

On June 19 MDN exclusively brought you the news 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). The original announcement didn’t name the seller–that information was available only here on MDN. It wasn’t until June 29 that EQT admitted to the world that they were the seller (see EQT Confirms Sale of Huron Shale to Diversified for $575M). EQT said the sale includes nearly 12,000 wells with 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production and 2.5 million (!) acres of leases and some 6,400 miles of gathering pipelines. The sale also includes 8 field offices and 250 employees. But like an onion, more details about this story keep getting peeled back one layer at a time. Here’s the newest detail that (until now) we were not aware of: The massive $575 million deal for 2.5 million acres does not include or transfer the right to drill in the deeper shale layers that may exist under that 2.5 million acres. Instead, EQT is retaining those rights…
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Strange: EQT Interim CEO Porges Skips Quarterly Conference Call

David Porges – MIA

Something strange is going on at EQT. Not only did interim CEO David Porges skip the company’s recent annual meeting in June (unheard of, see EQT CEO Didn’t Show Up for Annual Mtg – CFO Talks of Wild Ride), Porges also skipped yesterday’s quarterly analyst phone call to update big investors on the company’s performance (equally unheard of). Once again the heavy lifting fell to Robert McNally, EQT CFO, to be “the guy” sent out front and center to talk about the company. EQT, following its purchase of Rice Energy, is now the largest natural gas producer in the U.S. EQT has been without a permanent CEO following the exit of Steve Schlotterbeck in March, who left because the board refused to compensate him at a level commensurate with CEOs at other top producers in the region (see EQT CEO Steve Schlotterbeck Suddenly Quits, Leaves Company). EQT is currently conducting a search to find a new CEO. In the meantime, board chairman and former CEO David Porges stepped back into the role of CEO. But judging from his absence at critical events where the CEO always shows up, it’s pretty obvious he isn’t actually running the company. Looks to us like McNally is the guy running the company. We hope he’s being compensated commensurate with his added responsibilities in running the largest shale gas producer on the planet. At any rate, the news coming from yesterday’s 2Q18 update shows that sales were up, profits were down, and EQT’s Mountain Valley Pipeline has gotten a new (later) in-service date…
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EQT Still Fighting WV Minimum Royalty Law for Flat Rate Leases

Follow the bouncing ball. Earlier this year the West Virginia legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 360, which Gov. Jim Justice subsequently signed into law (see WV Gov Justice Signs Bill to Guarantee 12.5% Minimum Royalty). The new law overturns a ruling by the WV Supreme Court in Leggett v. EQT Production, a case in which the Supremes (in a very unusual move) reversed their own previous decision and allowed EQT to deduct post-production expenses in old flat rate leases. In essence, SB 360 guarantees rights owners/landowners a 12.5% minimum royalty, regardless of post-production deductions–but only in flat rate leases. A flat rate lease is a lease in which a company pays a regular (in EQT’s case, annual) payment, regardless of how much oil/gas is produced. Traditionally drillers don’t deduct post-production expenses because the payments landowners get are piddly anyway. But EQT began to claim deductions, prompting a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The legislature aimed to “fix” what they considered an error in the court’s ruling. EQT claims the new law is unconstitutional and in April filed a lawsuit asking a judge to stop the law from taking effect (see EQT Sues WV for Passing Minimum Royalty Law re Flat Rate Leases). WV responded in June, asking the judge to dismiss EQT’s lawsuit (see WV Files Motion to Dismiss EQT Lawsuit Targeting Royalty Law). And now the ball has bounced again. EQT just filed paperwork asking the judge to deny the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming the new law improperly invokes “police power”…
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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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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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EQT Looks to “Graduate from” (Exit) Huron Shale “Prep School”

Looks like EQT, the largest natural gas-producer in the U.S., is graduating from prep school. That is, EQT is about to sell all of its remaining assets in the Huron Shale play. The Huron is located mainly in West Virginia and Kentucky, also poking up into Ohio and traveling along the edge of Virginia. Most of EQT’s considerable Huron assets (some 12,000 wells) are located in Kentucky. From what we can tell, most of those wells are conventional. That is, not horizontal wells but vertical. The Huron was EQT’s early experiment in shale before shale was “a thing.” EQT played around in the Huron to learn how to drill in shale. According to former CEO Steve Schlotterbeck, “the Huron play was like prep school for us.” Last Thursday EQT filed a Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission advertising the news they have plans to sell their Huron assets–not only the wells but the pipeline system that connects the wells…
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