EnCap Looks to Sell Royalty Stake in “Core” of Ohio Utica

EnCap Investments is a venture capital investor that funds independent companies in the U.S. oil and gas industry. EnCap has its fingers in a number of pies in the Marcellus/Utica. EnCap is the major investor behind Eclipse Resources and was instrumental in Eclipse selling itself to and merging with Blue Ridge Mountain Resources (see Eclipse Resources Merging with Former Magnum Hunter). EnCap is also a major investor in (i.e. owner of) PennEnergy Resources, which recently cut a deal to buy Rex Energy (see Rex Energy Sells Itself to PennEnergy Resources for $600M). Another way EnCap invests in our region is by funding drilling programs in return for royalty payments (or more properly, for a thin slice of the royalties). EnCap has put their royalty interests in several “core” Utica Shale counties up for sale.
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EQT Tries to Gut WV 1982 Minimum Royalty Law for Flat Rate Leases

EQT certainly isn’t following Dale Carnegie’s advice on How to Win Friends and Influence People. Just the opposite, as the company continues to squeeze every last penny it can out of landowners’ pockets who hold old “flat rate” leases in West Virginia. We’ve reported on EQT’s efforts to overturn WV’s Senate Bill (SB) 360, passed earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice (see EQT Still Fighting WV Minimum Royalty Law for Flat Rate Leases). That law disallows post-production deductions for flat rate leases, ensuring landowners receive a minimum 12.5% royalty. In April, EQT sued to overturn the original law, from 1982, on which SB 360 rests–the law that guarantees a 12.5% royalty. Get rid of the original law, and the later law (disallowing deductions) disappears too.
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WV Class Action Against EQT re Royalty Deductions Heads to Court

It’s been five years in the making, but finally a class action lawsuit that began in 2013, on behalf of 10,000 West Virginia landowners and royalty rights owners against EQT’s practice of deducting post-production expenses from royalty payments, will finally get its day in court in two weeks. That’s what we learn from an extended article published by ProPublica and the Charleston Gazette-Mail on the topic of WV drillers and their practice of “whittling away payments” from rights owners. Just over a month ago MDN told you about an elderly WV couple who won their private lawsuit against EQT on the same matter (see EQT Loses Post-Production Deduction Lawsuit to WV Couple). Based on the outcome of that lawsuit, EQT should be a tad nervous about this class action proceeding to trial.
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Pipelines are Dumping MLP Structure but Royalty Firms Aren’t

For some time we’ve covered the story of MLPs–master limited partnerships–and how they are being phased out. An MLP is an alternative form of organizing a company (or subsidiary company), different from a corporation. The primary purpose of an MLP is for investors, who buy “units” in the MLP instead of shares of stock, so the investor can pay less in taxes. Trump’s tax cut, while benefiting the little guy (yeah!), disadvantages MLPs (boo!). Which has caused many pipeline companies organized as an MLP to give up that form of structure. Meanwhile, new companies are being formed to buy royalty rights–using the MLP structure! So while pipeline companies are dumping the MLP structure, royalty companies are embracing it.
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Range Resources Sued by PA Landowner re Post-Production Deductions

In the absence of a guaranteed minimum royalty in Pennsylvania–an issue which continues to divide landowners and drillers–individual landowners are left to litigate in order to get what they are fairly due. Such litigation is time consuming and expensive, and without a certain outcome, which is why most landowners don’t do it. In Washington County, PA a couple who signed a lease with Range Resources have just filed a lawsuit against Range in county court alleging Range violated the terms of the lease by deducting post-production expenses.
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EQT Loses Post-Production Deduction Lawsuit to WV Couple

It’s this kind of story that makes our blood boil–we won’t lie. EQT tried to shaft an elderly couple in Ritchie County, West Virginia out of royalty money by slipping in not only post-production deductions never agreed to in the contract, but also by slipping in a deduction for WV severance taxes owed by EQT itself. Maddening!
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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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