Peters Twp Votes to Allow Fracking Under Town Property, Again

Peters Township, the most populous township in Washington County, PA, is one of the seven selfish towns that sued the state in 2012 over the zoning provisions in the then-new Act 13 law, eventually winning at the PA Supreme Court level (see PA Supreme Court Rules Against State/Drillers in Act 13 Case). The Act 13 victory gave townships like Peters the right to pass local zoning ordinances that restrict, but don’t outright ban, Marcellus/Utica drilling. In September 2016, Peters decided to officially screw Marcellus drillers. Town council passed a drilling ordinance that says drilling is ONLY allowed in areas zoned for industrial uses, which rules out areas zoned for agricultural uses, where most drilling happens (see Peters Twp Gives the Middle Finger to Drillers One Final Time). Even the theoretical drilling that would happen in industrial areas, a grand total of 138 acres in the township, would have to be a “conditional use” with loads of permits and reviews. In other words–don’t bother drilling in Peters. So we found it quite ironic that in May 2017 Peters Township Council threw their lordly “principles” right out the window by signing a five-year lease with EQT allowing drilling under (not on) some of the township’s own land, something they’ve denied every other landowner in the township (see Peters Township Votes to Allow Fracking Under Town Property). They’ve just done it again. Peters Township Council voted Monday to approve a lease with Range Resources for the very same terms as they agreed to with EQT. This time the land is located under Peters Lake Park. That’s right, drilling and fracking under a lake, in Peters Township, where the town can get away with it, but not private citizens. How much will Peters get this time? Keep reading for the answer, available only on MDN…
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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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Chesapeake Settles NEPA Royalty Lawsuit for Pennies on the Dollar

Chesapeake Energy has, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “reached a $7.75 million settlement agreement with about two-thirds of its Pennsylvania natural gas royalty owners.” At the end of last year Chesapeake Energy offered a $30 million deal 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 proposed deal last year would have given 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. This new deal, for 10,000 of the same leaseholders, offers $7.75 million–an average of $775 per landowner. Which is piddly. It’s nothing. An insult. Last year Chesapeake’s deal with leaseholders required the state Attorney General’s office, which has an ongoing, separate lawsuit filed against Chesapeake over the same issue, to settle as well. The AG’s office refused (see PA AG Not Backing Down re Chesapeake Energy Royalty Lawsuit). In fact, the AG’s office is still refusing to settle, with this new deal. Yet now Chesapeake is willing to move forward without the AG as part of the settlement. Heck yeah! Convince these desperate folks to take, literally, pennies on the dollar. What company wouldn’t go for that deal? Any way you slice this, northeast PA landowners are getting screwed if they agree to Chesapeake’s deal. They get a maximum of 8% back of the inflated “costs” Chesapeake originally deducted from royalty checks. We suppose some will say 8% now is better than maybe nothing or very little years from now. We don’t see it. We see these good landowners getting shafted in this deal…
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Cabot’s Lease Terms for Ohio Landowners + Antis Stage Tiny Rally

We spotted an article covering a “rally” of maybe 20 people (judging by the pictures) who gathered on the bank of the Clear Fork of the Mohican River in Ashland County, OH this past Sunday. The group was there to protest Cabot Oil & Gas drilling a few test wells in the area to see if there’s anything in the region worth drilling for. Out of state radicals calling themselves “pipeline fighters” who had engaged in illegal activities against the Dakota Access Pipeline where there to whip up the locals–maybe convince them to do something illegal too. That’s how this kind of insanity spreads–by human contact. Anywho, the most interesting part of the article for us was not about the machinations of antis and their big boasts of how they’ll stop fracking. Instead, the most interesting part was an explanation of how Cabot came by the acreage they’ve leased in central Ohio, and how much money Cabot is offering landowners to amend existing lease agreements…
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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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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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School Near Pittsburgh Considers EQT Deal: $2,500/Ac, 15% Royalty

Last week MDN told you about the ongoing vendetta by a few anti parents in the Mars School District (half hour from Pittsburgh, in Butler County) and their Big Green accomplices. They suffered a major court defeat (see Dela. Riverkeeper Suffers Major Defeat in Martian Well Case). Rex Energy has drilled two wells about 3/4 of a mile from one of the Mars schools, and wants to drill another four. The Martians bleat and blat that faraway drilling activity will somehow hurt “the children.” Compare that attitude with the parents (and school district officials) in the Kiski Area School District in Westmoreland County (about 40 minutes from Pittsburgh). The Kiski Area School will vote tonight on a lease deal with EQT to allow shale drilling UNDER SCHOOL PROPERTY! The district will get $2,500 per acre in a signing bonus, and 15% royalties on any gas produced. If signed, the school’s bonus check could be as high as $310,300–for “the children.” The difference in attitude (and aptitude) between the parents in Mars and the parents in Kiski could not be more striking…
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EQT Pays PA DCNR $874,200 to Lease Under Ten Mile Creek

This is a story that continues to bug us. The state of Pennsylvania, specifically the Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), is grabbing money that we think belongs to private landowners. The DCNR has been, for years, claimed that under a centuries-old law that the state of PA “owns” the property under “navigable” waterways–including rivers and streams (see PA DCNR Publishes Lease Agreements for Deals Under Rivers/Creeks). We understand the state claiming the Delaware River, and maybe the Susquehanna River, is a “navigable” body of water. The DCNR uses the “navigable waterway” excuse to sign leases with drillers under much smaller waterways than the Delaware and Susquehanna–siphoning money that would have gone to landowners. A landowner might own the land on both sides of, say, Ten Mile Creek, as we’re sure happens. However, the land under Ten Mile Creek does not technically belong to them. In fact, certain long portions of the land under Ten Mile Creek are now leased to EQT, and EQT paid handsomely for it. The company leased 218.55 acres under Ten Mile Creek in Greene and Washington counties (southwestern PA) for $874,200, which works out to be exactly $4,000 per acre! Not to mention a whopping 20% royalty! That’s money that (in our opinion) should go to the landowners who own the land along the creek, not to the state. Until landowners sue or the legislature acts, the state will continue to pick the pockets of landowners who own land along PA’s waterways…
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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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EQT Sues WV for Passing Minimum Royalty Law re Flat Rate Leases

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). SB 360 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 an old flat rate lease. 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 they make aren’t all that much anyway. But then 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 last week filed a lawsuit (copy below) asking a judge to block implementation of the law, set to take effect on May 31…
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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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Did StateImpact Forum on PA Gas Royalty Issue Resolve Anything?

Perhaps our headline for this article is a tad misleading. Maybe the better question is, Was a meeting held yesterday in Towanda, PA on the topic of gas royalties *meant* to resolve anything? The answer of which is, “Probably not.” PBS StateImpact Pennsylvania organized and hosted a forum yesterday on the topic of PA landowners getting screwed over by energy companies with respect to royalty payments. Both sides were well represented at the forum. We think it’s a cool concept, to get both sides talking about a very important issue. However, StateImpact, funded and controlled by Big Green backers including the William Penn Foundation and Heinz Endowments, is not an impartial, unbiased news organization that wants to honestly explore this important issue. StateImpact is NOT an impartial broker. Their purpose is to play both sides against each other and enjoy the chaos that ensues. Whip up more animosity between both sides. Make no mistake: StateImpact abhors shale drilling and prefers it not happen at all in PA. With that as the proper context to understand the event, some good points did emerge from the discussion, despite StateImpact’s bad intentions…
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Latest OH Wayne Natl Forest Auction a Bust – Leases Go for $3/Acre

The fifth auction by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of federally-owned acreage in Wayne National Forest (WNF) to allow shale drilling was, in a word, a bust. The first four auctions offered up a total of 2,396 acres in total, and sold for over $8 million (average of $3,354 signing bonus per acre). The fifth auction of two smaller parcels–39.6 acres in Monroe County, and 305.8 acres in Noble County–sold for a piddly $2 and $3 signing bonuses per acre, respectively. What in the world happened? MDN reader and friend Charles Winslow, owner of The Wells Inn in Sistersville, WV, writes the INNformer publication. Charles recently published an excellent article about the recent auction and its lackluster results in the INNformer. He offered MDN the opportunity to reprint it (below). Charles finds there are a number of factors for the low auction price–but primarily the blame can be laid at the foot of regulatory uncertainty…
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WV Royalty Transparency Law Sheds New Light Beginning June

Back in January MDN told you about West Virginia House Bill (HB) 4270, a bill that provides more transparency for landowners on their royalty statements (see WV Co-Tenancy, Royalty Transparency Bills Make Progress). The good news is that the bill passed and was signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice on March 27th. For far too long royalty statements have been loosey-goosey. Landowners (technically royalty owners) get no specifics on how much gas (or other hydrocarbons) were produced, what deductions were made, and why those deductions were made. HB 4270, which goes into effect on June 8, will fix all that. Here’s more details on what is being called the “Check Stub Bill”…
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A (Very) Rough Method for Calculating Royalties on Cabot Wells

Cabot Oil & Gas, one of our favorite Marcellus drillers, has just published a new PowerPoint slide deck presentation as part of an investor’s conference they attended earlier this week (the Scotia Howard Weil Energy Conference). Normally a new slide deck isn’t all that big a deal. However, thanks to MDN friend Chris Acker who pointed it out to us, there is some new information in the deck worthy of note. Back in December MDN brought you the news that Cabot had signed a deal to sell off their Texas Eagle Ford Shale assets in order to concentrate solely on the Marcellus (see Cabot O&G Sells Texas Eagle Ford Assets for $765M, Focus on Marc.). The slide deck notes that the Eagle Ford divestiture closed on Feb. 28th (slide #3). Also in the slide deck is a mention that Cabot plans to experiment with drilling “upper Marcellus” wells in the second half of 2018 (slide #11). Most (all?) of the wells they’ve drilled to date are “lower Marcellus.” A successful program of drilling upper Marcellus certainly bodes well for existing landowners with existing lower Marcellus wells–perhaps Cabot will revisit those pads to drill new wells? Slide #11 has some great information on it. We’ve used it to create a (very) rough royalty estimation calculator for Cabot landowners…
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EQT Pulls a Chesapeake, New Deductions from PA Leases

Last Friday MDN editor Jim Willis had the pleasure of speaking at the National Association of Royalty Owners (NARO) Pennsylvania Chapter annual convention in State College, PA. Jim was humbled to present alongside a cast of terrific speakers, including Scott Perry, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Oil and Gas Management at the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection, Tom Murphy, Director of Penn State’s Marcellus Center of Outreach and Research (MCOR), and Scott Kurkoski, a top lawyer and head of the energy practice for Levene, Gouldin & Thompson (thanks for the ride home Scott!). One of the first attendees at the event to stop by the MDN table for a chat asked if we had heard about a letter recently sent by EQT to PA landowners. We had not. He gave us a copy (below). In the letter, EQT claims they have been “subsidizing a portion of the cost to gather the gas” produced by their PA wells, and they intend to begin claiming new deductions from royalty checks beginning this year. The way they position it in the letter is that landowners will begin “sharing” in these post-production costs. Who doesn’t like to share, right? We can tell you, not a single attendee at the event was impressed with EQT’s “sharing” letter. It smacks of the road Chesapeake Energy has gone down in robbing landowners of their royalties…
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