PA Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Briggs “Rule of Capture” Case

This is big news that will impact nearly every landowner and shale driller in Pennsylvania. 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 a PA Superior Court decision disallows using the age-old principle called the “rule of capture” when it comes to shale drilling and fracking in PA. Southwestern Energy successfully argued in a lower court that the odd crack here and there that may slip under a neighbor’s property from fracking is permissible. The neighboring landowner, not signed with Southwestern, appealed that decision to Superior Court and won. Southwestern then appealed the case to the PA Supreme Court and the court has just announced it will hear the case. How will this affect nearly every landowner, signed or not, in shale regions of the state?
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Southwestern Energy 3Q18: Production 2.8 Bcf/d, $29M Loss

Southwestern Energy’s third quarter 2018 update on Friday showed the company hitting a new record-high for production. While Cabot Oil & Gas’ production is 100% natural gas (dry gas at that), Southwestern has a mix. The jump in production–to an average of 2.77 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (Bcfe/d)–is largely due to an increase in wet gas (NGL) production. CEO Bill Way said he expects “liquids production” will represent one-third of the revenue the company receives in 2018. Although Way says the company experienced an “outstanding quarter both financially and operationally,” we do have to point out they lost $29 million during 3Q18.
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By the Numbers – Revenue & Profitability for M-U Drillers

The expert analysts at RBN Energy have just published their “fourth and final” in a series of posts looking in detail at E&Ps (exploration & production companies, or “drillers”). One of the groups of E&Ps they examine are “gas-weighted” E&Ps–or drillers who mostly extract natural gas. In looking through the list, you immediately realize every one of them has operations in the Marcellus and/or Utica Shale region. Yes, a few also have operations in other plays, but they all have at least some operations here. The real value in the article is an accompanying spreadsheet comparing various financial metrics (apples to apples)–things like total revenue, lifting costs, production costs, and “pre-tax income,” meaning profitability. How do our drillers compare with each other?
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Is Certification Needed for Shale Producers? IES Says it Helps

Last week MDN told you that Southwestern Energy is participating in a program to get their gas “certified” (see Southwestern Sells 1st Certified “Responsible Gas” to NJ Resources). What is certified gas? Is that like “certified organic” fruits and vegetables? Actually, it is kind of like that. The Independent Energy Standards Corporation (IES) has launched what they call their TrustWell™ Responsible Gas Program certification program to certify that natural gas bearing that label is “responsibly developed.” Such a designation is meant to imply the company doing the extracting (Southwestern in this case) has followed certain guidelines and procedures to safeguard the environment. Certification is a marketing/public relations tactic to be sure. The question is, is it worth it? How much does it cost to become certified? What do you have to do to become certified? And ultimately, will such certification actually help you sell more of your gas? One thing is for certain, nutty antis won’t care–so if you’re trying to appease them with certification, you can forget it. Won’t work. But, there are others (more reasonable people) who may put stock in such a certification. Is it a trend? The next “big thing?” We don’t know. What we do know (or have) is an interview with Jory Caulkins, CEO of IES, talking about his organization’s new certification and what it can mean for drillers…
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Southwestern Sells 1st Certified “Responsible Gas” to NJ Resources

Bet you didn’t know that natural gas can be certified as “premium” and “responsible,” did you? No, we didn’t either. It was quite a surprise when we read that Southwestern Energy has, for the first time anywhere, sold natural gas to a customer (utility company New Jersey Resources) that has been certified as “responsible gas.” The certification comes from Independent Energy Standards Corporation (IES) and they call it their TrustWell™ Responsible Gas Program certification. And what does such a prestigious label certify? It certifies the gas was “responsibly developed.” As opposed to irresponsibly developed gas, which is what everybody sells. “Responsible” gas, according to IES, is gas that doesn’t leak as much methane during the extraction and transportation process, doesn’t spill as much water and chemicals on the ground, sources water from places that are, well, responsible (we suppose), and engages the community–to make them feel good about all this responsible-ness going around. Yes, you may detect a little bit of snark in our comments on this news–because we happen to think the industry at large is already doing a great job of being responsible–without having a label put on it. This is just marketing. Hey, if it floats your boat to have a “responsible” label on your gas (paying to do so), go for it. Such a designation will never impress the eco-nuts. IES says they think “in time” that some 25-50% of all gas sold in the U.S. will have such a certification/label as green-friendly. We think that’s an ambitious number, given the fact there are still only five Marcellus/Utica drillers who have gone through the rigors of receiving a certification from the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, an organization that’s been around since early 2013 and offers something similar to IES’ cert…
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Southwestern Sells Fayetteville Shale, Now Focused 100% on M-U

Some exciting news to share. Southwestern Energy, headquartered in Texas, has cut a deal to sell all of their Fayetteville Shale (Arkansas) assets to Flywheel Energy for $1.865 billion in cash. The sale makes Southwestern a pure play, 100% focused driller on the Marcellus/Utica region (i.e. Appalachia). What will Southwestern do with an extra $1.865 billion? According to their announcement: (1) Spend $900 million of it on retiring IOUs (“notes”) previously issued. That is, debt retirement. (2) Buy back up to $200 million in outstanding shares of stock. (3) Spend $600 million of it over the next two years (2019 & 2020) on more Marcellus/Utica drilling. But not just any M-U drilling. Southwestern owns acreage in both northeastern PA and the northern panhandle of WV (with a some acreage in Washington County, PA). According to Southwestern’s announcement, the extra $600 million will go to drilling in the company’s “liquids-rich Appalachia assets.” Northeastern PA is dry dry dry–no liquids. WV landowners brace yourselves–Southwestern will soon bring an extra $600 million (over half a billion dollars) worth of drilling to your area. If you’re signed with Southwestern and haven’t yet seen drilling, you now stand a much better chance! Here’s the exciting news, along with extra resources we’ve located to better help you understand the news…
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Southwestern Energy 2Q18: Marcellus Production Booming

Last week Southwestern Energy, one of the biggest drillers in the Marcellus (4th largest natgas producer in the country), issued its second quarter 2018 update. Southwestern drills in two plays: The Marcellus (i.e. Appalachia), and the Fayetteville (in Arkansas). Production in the Marcellus/Utica was 1.8 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (Bcfe/d) of natural gas in 2Q18, up from 1.4 Bcfe/d in 2Q17. Largely because of the increase in production in the Marcellus region, Southwestern is raising its full-year production “guidance” (best guess) to 955-970 Bcfe, up from the previous range of 930-965 Bcfe. During 2Q Southwestern drilled 37 new wells, completed 55 wells, and brought 43 wells online–all in the Marcellus region. No mention was made of the Briggs “rule of capture” lawsuit Southwestern appealed to the PA Supreme Court in July. Here’s the full 2Q18 update…
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PA Briggs “Rule of Capture” Case Turns on Concept of Drainage

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 that 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 then appealed the case to the PA Supreme Court in early July (see Southwestern Appeals “Briggs” Trespass Case to PA Supreme Court). No word yet on whether or not the Supremes will take the case. In the meantime, this case and its ultimate effect on drilling in PA and beyond is still a hot topic of discussion throughout the industry. We spotted two recent articles tackling it–one from a lawyer who does a great job of crystallizing the important elements in the case–that this case turns on the concept of drainage, and the other article which tackles the broader topic of how energy law in PA is charting its own path separate from Texas and other big oil/gas states…
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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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PA Superior Court Rejects Southwestern “Briggs” Trespass Appeal

An unwelcome and troubling development in the Southwestern Energy “Briggs” court case. MDN brought you important news in April that the 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 (see Southwestern Appeals “Trespass” Case to Entire PA Superior Court). Sadly, on Friday, the Superiors declined to rehear the case. The next step? Southwestern has appealed the case directly to the PA Supreme Court…
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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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Another Look at “Rule of Capture” Case that Threatens PA Marcellus

MDN brought you important news in April that the 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. Southwestern, following the decision, petitioned the Superior Court to have all of the sitting justices (called en banc) hear the case (see Southwestern Appeals “Trespass” Case to Entire PA Superior Court). No word yet on whether the Superiors will do it. In the meantime, we spotted an article by the ace lawyers at the Blank Rome law firm discussing the case and its implications. We can’t stress enough just how critical this case is to the future of drilling in Pennsylvania, which is why we bring you the following…
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Southwestern 1Q18: New $3.5B Line of Credit, Fayetteville Not Sold

Last Friday Southwestern Energy, one of the biggest drillers in the Marcellus (4th largest natgas producer in the country), issued its first quarter 2018 update. Southwestern drills in two plays: The Marcellus (i.e. Appalachia), and the Fayetteville (in Arkansas). In March the company signaled it wants to sell its Fayetteville Shale assets (see Southwestern 2017: $3.5B Turnaround, Shopping Fayetteville Assets). A sale hasn’t happened yet, according to Friday’s update. In fact, Southwestern CEO Bill Way gave an elaborate “no comment” (our words) on the Fayetteville “process” currently under way with the help of JPMorgan. Southwestern reported earning $205 million in 1Q18, down 27% from the $281 million they earned in 1Q17. The company has just reorganized its debt, paying off a $1.2 billion term loan and arranging a $3.5 billion line of credit. Production in the Marcellus/Utica was 2.4 billion cubic feet equivalent per day (Bcfe/d) of natural gas gross, 159 million cubic feet equivalent per day (MMcfe/d) net. Production was up 42% in southwest Appalachia and up 24% in northeast Appalachia. Across both the M-U and Fayetteville, Southwestern drilled 32 wells, completed 29 wells, and placed 33 wells online into sales. Here’s the full 1Q18 update from Southwestern Energy…
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Some PA Drillers Threaten to Spoil it for All via Royalty Shenanigans

We’ve written a number of posts over the years about the ongoing, sometimes quiet sometimes not, civil war between Pennsylvania landowners and some (not all) drillers who use inflated post-production deductions to pad their own bottom lines, leaving landowners with peanuts–sometimes with no royalties at all (see Deep Dive: PA Royalties Civil War Between Landowners & Drillers). If we can oversimplify and summarize this complex issue, landowners maintain that a 1979 PA law guarantees landowners a 12.5% royalty regardless of expenses involved in extracting the gas, and drillers say no, landowners must abide by the contracts they’ve signed and if those contracts allow post-production costs to be deducted before calculating a royalty, the rate may go lower than 12.5%–sometimes to zero and below. PA landowners have, for the past six plus years, lobbied for legislation to clarify and protect a 12.5% minimum royalty. Today we have a guest post from the landowner point-of-view. Thad Stevens is a Gaines, PA resident and real estate developer. Thad has negotiated more than 50 oil and gas leases. He sits on the Dept. of Environmental Protection Citizen Advisory Council and is a director with the National Association of Royalty Owners PA chapter. We consider Thad a friend. He’s smart and he’s passionate about the the ongoing issue that some companies take inflated post-production deductions leaving PA landowners with little or nothing. Thad writes that some of PA’s gas drillers are displaying real arrogance in their attitudes toward the very people they need the most–landowners…
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Southwestern Appeals “Trespass” Case to Entire PA Superior Court

Southwestern Energy has just taken the next very important step in a process that frankly has us holding our breath. Two weeks ago MDN brought you the news that the Pennsylvania Superior Court handed down a decision 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 the case to Superior Court and three judges heard the case. One of the Superior judges authored a decision overturning the lower court, with a second judge “joining” (agreeing with) the decision. The third judge was AWOL (“not participating”). Frankly, the stakes could not be higher for the future of Marcellus drilling in PA. Southwestern has just filed a request with the Superior Court asking that all 20 judges who sit on that court hear and consider the case, which makes sense given the gravity of the case and PA’s economic future…
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