WV’s Northern Panhandle Sits in the Shale Catbird Seat

The Northern Panhandle of West Virginia is doubly blessed. The Panhandle is four counties: Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall. Some add a fifth–Wetzel County. The first four counties in the list sit in a slice of real estate located between Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Panhandle currently produces 38% of WV’s natural gas production, and nearly 70% of its oil production. That’s the first blessing–good rock sits under those counties. The second blessing is the panhandle’s location between PA and OH. On one side, sitting just a few minutes away, is the mighty Shell ethane cracker plant, currently under construction in Monaca (Beaver County, PA). On the other side, also just a few minutes away, sits the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker site in Dilles Bottom (Belmont County, OH). The second blessing is this: many petrochemical and manufacturing companies will build, even relocate, their operations to take advantage of the raw materials that will come from both cracker plants. And guess where many of them will choose to locate? Yep–right smack in the middle, which is where the Northern Panhandle happens to be–sitting in the catbird seat…
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Wheeling WV Eyes $2M Signing Bonus for M-U Drilling Under City Land

Wheeling, West Virginia–known as “the Friendly City”–is about to get an even bigger smile on its face. Wheeling city leaders are about to sign a lease agreement to allow American Petroleum Partners to drill under several “old city landfills” that have been closed for decades. The up-front signing bonus for 336 acres of Wheeling-owned land will be $2 million–which works out to ~$5,952 per acre. Once gas begins flowing, the city will get an 18.5% royalty. The money will be used for “paving, playgrounds, economic development and other city functions.” Does American Petroleum Partners (APP) sound familiar? In December we brought you the news that APP had leased the 66-acre Wheeling Park High School campus for shale drilling–under (not on) the campus–for $6,000 per acre (see Wheeling, WV High School Leased for Shale Drilling, $6K/Acre). We first wrote about the low-key, avoiding-the-limelight APP in March 2016 (see New Marcellus/Utica Driller Quietly Launches w/$800M Investment). APP is headed by Rice Energy alumnus Varun Mishra, who is the founder and CEO. Apollo Global Management invested $411 million in APP with the option to double it up to $800 million. It’s great to see this relatively young company locking up acreage and beginning to drill. Here’s the details on the latest APP lease deal–with the City of Wheeling…
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Wheeling, WV High School Leased for Shale Drilling, $6K/Acre

Deals to lease land for Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling happen on a regular basis–even today. Perhaps not as much as several years ago when large deals cut by landowner groups were headline news. But lease deals still happen–you just don’t hear about them because they are private deals (deal terms are not recorded at the county clerk’s office). However, every now and again a public entity–a town or school–will lease land for shale drilling. And that IS a matter of public record. When we spot such deals, we like to bring you the details. Such a deal was cut on Monday, by the Ohio County Board of Education. The Board of Ed signed a deal with American Petroleum Partners (from Pittsburgh) to lease the 66 acre Wheeling Park High School campus for shale drilling–under (not on) the campus. Which is so cool for a number of reasons. First of all, the deal includes a $6,000 per acre signing bonus, and if/when the gas begins to flow, an 18% royalty. Second of all, it’s a school! How many times have we read about nutjob anti parents with their knickers in a twist over putting a shale well more than a half mile away from a school, like we heard about endlessly from those in the Mars School District (Butler County). It was a long, hard fight, but we eventually won (see Martian Victory! 2 Wells Near Mars School Nearly Done Drilling). The antis claimed drilling near schools would harm the crumb-crunchers. We see the result of that lie. We’ve pointed out, many times, that a school near MDN HQ, located in northeastern PA (Elk Lake), leased their property for drilling and has reaped enormous financial rewards (see Elk Lake School LOVES Their 2 Marcellus Shale Wells & Gas Heat). We’ve seen the Elk Lake school building and the nearby wellhead. No negative effects on the chil’ren. And now the very smart members of the Ohio County Board of Ed and the kids at Wheeling Park High will enjoy the same financial rewards…
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Tiny Houses: Answer to Affordable Housing in Active M-U Area?

We have to confess this story is purely for amusement purposes–ours and yours. In our daily trawl of the news related to “Marcellus Shale” we spotted this headline: “Group hopes to add tiny houses to Wheeling Island.” We thought, What in the world do tiny houses on Wheeling Island (Wheeling, WV) have to do with the Marcellus? So we read the article to find out. Anyone watching HGTV has, at one point or another, watched a program about “tiny houses.” There’s even an HGTV show called Tiny House Hunters. “Tiny houses” are actual stick-built homes that are under 500 square feet of living space. Think really-small efficiency apartment. Except it’s a real house–sort of. The average American home is 1,780 square feet of living space. (If you’re not familiar with the tiny house movement, read this Wikipedia entry.) So what do tiny houses in Wheeling, WV have to do with the Marcellus? A group in Wheeling believes tiny houses on Wheeling Island is a viable solution for affordable housing. You see, the Marcellus/Utica has successfully employed a lot of people in the region–and a lot of new people have moved in, sopping up available apartments, homes, and trailers. There’s a bit of a housing shortage due to an abundance of Marcellus workers. The group in Wheeling thinks they have the solution: sell a bunch of tiny houses on Wheeling Island…
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Wheeling Park HS Signs Lease with Southwestern for $3500/Acre

It’s not often these days we come across a story that mentions a new lease signed, and the amount of money paid as a signing bonus. Such is the case in Ohio County, WV. The Wheeling Park High School has just signed a lease with Southwestern Energy for $3,500 per acre for 66 acres–giving the school district $231,000 of newly found revenue, thanks to the Marcellus/Utica industry. No drilling equipment will be placed on or near school property. When the drilling eventually happens UNDER the school, and the wells begin to flow, Wheeling Park High School will then get more revenue–18% royalties on all gas produced…
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WV Northern Panhandle Sees Econ Revival with Nearby Cracker Proj

It seems the northern panhandle area of West Virginia is sitting in the catbird seat. The geography of Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties sits in between Shell’s ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, PA on one side, and the proposed PTT Global Chemical cracker plant in Belmont County, OH on the other side. The PTT plant is not yet official, but is certainly looking that way. The next “gold rush” for states including PA, OH and WV are manufacturing plants that use the output from the cracker plants. And the northern panhandle, being between both locations, is getting a lot of interest and attention…
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Southwestern Energy Fighting Ohio County, WV Fire Dept. Fee

Location of Ohio County, WV

Ohio County, WV, like many rural counties, has a string of volunteer fire departments that respond to calls in their respective localities. When an industrial activity like shale drilling shows up, local volunteers need special (ongoing) training to address the unique circumstances involved with a well pad fire. There’s also all of the extra calls local fire departments get from the sheer volume of vehicle traffic related to workers coming and going, and trucks hauling all manner of materials–from pipes to equipment to water. Those vehicles sometimes get into accidents, requiring a fire truck to respond. So Ohio County passed a $5,000 per well pad fee, per year, to help defray those costs. Southwestern Energy is the only driller active in the county, currently, with some 29 well pads. For Southwestern, the fee equals $145,000 per year, year after year, going to the local fire department effort. When Ohio County sent Southwestern the bill, Southwestern didn’t pay it. Instead, they filed a lawsuit claiming the fee is “arbitrary and excessive”…
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Statoil WV Tax Overpayment Court Case – Money “Already Gone”

Statoil, based in Norway, is a big player in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale. Statoil paid property taxes to Brooke, Marshall, Ohio and Wetzel counties (all in WV) in 2015 and later found, during an audit/review, that they had overpaid those counties. They overpaid Brooke by $1.8 million, Ohio by $2.9 million, Wetzel by $1.6 million and Marshall by $342,000 (see Statoil Wants Millions in Refunds from Tax Overpayments in WV). The WV Tax Department argued that Statoil “acted negligently” and exercised “poor judgment” in not finding the mistake sooner. All four counties voted to deny Statoil’s request, so Statoil took them to court, asking the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to hear the case. However, the Appeals court ruled that the cases are not “complex” and don’t require “special treatment,” so back to county court the cases went (see Statoil’s Tax Overpayment Cases Bounced Back to WV County Courts). A hearing was held last Friday in the case. There’s not much in the way of new news to report, other than Statoil wants the cases combined and the counties would prefer to keep the cases separate. The other bit of information is that the overpayments were spent about as quickly as they were received, and the counties are expressing angst over where they will find the money to issue a refund check, should the court case(s) go against them…
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Good Sign: Large Number of Abstractors Return to Wheeling, WV

If you’re in business, you’ve no doubt heard of “leading indicators” and “lagging indicators.” Example: When it comes to employment, a leading indicator would be an increase in work at temporary agencies (a rapid ramp-up in new employees), which means the economy is about to heat up and do better. A lagging indicator would be the official unemployment numbers–higher unemployment means an economy doing worse, lower unemployment means an economy doing better. When it comes to drilling activity, MDN has long used two metrics as leading indicators–that drilling activity is about to pick up. One is new permits issued. Drillers don’t spend big bucks to apply for permits they don’t intend to use–and use soon. However, there’s another, even earlier leading indicator, a predictor that more drilling is on the way in the next 6-12 months. That indicator is packed record halls at the local county clerk’s office. Before lease deals are signed, sealed and delivered, drillers must first ensure there is a clear title–that the person who says he/she owns the mineral rights for a given property, actually does. That’s where abstractors come in. Abstractors research deed records at the county clerk’s office. In the past we’ve noted there are some counties where there is a waiting line to get in to access records (see Tyler WV Courthouse Overrun with Abstractors – Drilling Signal?). When the price of natural gas crashed and drilling slowed, the large number of abstractors disappeared. Guess what? They baaaaack! At least in Wheeling, WV…
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WV Social Worker Claims Marcellus Drilling Causes Homelessness

Lisa Badia, executive director of the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless “can’t be certain how many homeless people dwell in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties,” but she is certain that part (much?) of the homeless problem is caused by Marcellus/Utica Shale drilling. Yep, sinking a hole in the ground causes homelessness. How? According to Badia, when drilling came to town 4-5 years ago, a bunch of out-of-staters showed up to work on drilling rigs (and for pipeline companies, etc.). Those out-of-staters began paying sky-high rental rates for apartments and trailers, driving up the price of rental housing throughout the region. And when that happened, folks on welfare could no longer afford to pay the rent (with our taxpayer money). If it’s a decision between booze and cigs or rent, you know what goes! So those po’ folk ended up sleeping on heating grates–because of that nasty, awful fossil fuel drilling…
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Statoil’s Tax Overpayment Cases Bounced Back to WV County Courts

StatoilStatoil, based in Norway, is a big player in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale. Statoil paid property taxes to Brooke, Marshall, Ohio and Wetzel counties (all in WV) in 2015 and later found, during an audit/review, that they had overpaid those counties. They overpaid Brooke by $1.8 million, Ohio by $2.9 million, Wetzel by $1.6 million and Marshall by $342,000. The WV Tax Department argues that Statoil “acted negligently” and exercised “poor judgment” in not finding the mistake sooner. All four counties voted to deny Statoil’s request, so Statoil took them to court, asking the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to hear the case. However, the Appeals court has just ruled that the cases are not “complex” and don’t require “special treatment,” so back to county court the cases will go…
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4 WV Counties Refuse to Grant Statoil $6.6 Million in Tax Refunds

lawsuitBrooke County, WV makes it four for four in denying Statoil’s request to refund tax overpayments made by the company. Statoil, based in Norway, is a big player in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale. Statoil paid property taxes to Brooke, Marshall, Ohio and Wetzel counties (all in WV) in 2015 and later found, during an audit/review, that they had overpaid those counties. They overpaid Brooke by $1.8 million, Ohio by $2.9 million, Wetzel by $1.6 million and Marshall by $342,000. We previously reported on Marshall’s refusal to refund the money (see Statoil Wants Millions in Refunds from Tax Overpayments in WV). The WV Tax Department argues that Statoil “acted negligently” and exercised “poor judgment” in not finding the mistake sooner. With Brooke’s refusal, all four counties have now voted to deny Statoil’s request. Statoil is (so far) taking Marshall and Ohio counties to court, suing them for refunds. They are “assessing…options” with respect to suing Wetzel and Brooke. You can bet your bottom dollar they will…
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Statoil Wants Millions in Refunds from Tax Overpayments in WV

StatoilStatoil, based in Norway, is a big player in the West Virginia Marcellus Shale. Statoil paid property taxes to Marshall County, WV in 2015 and later found, during an audit/review, that they had overpaid the county by some $300,000. Ouch. So Statoil politely asked for their money back. Marshall County has said “nei.” The WV Tax Department argues that Statoil “acted negligently” and exercised “poor judgment” in not finding the mistake sooner. At least that’s how we read it. So Marshall and WV intend to keep the overpayment. Apparently Marshall isn’t the only county where Statoil says it overpaid on taxes. The company is also seeking refunds in Wetzel, Ohio and Brooke counties as well…
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New Marcellus/Utica Driller Quietly Launches w/$800M Investment

APP logoDetails are just now coming to light of a new E&P (exploration and production, or drilling) company headquartered in Pittsburgh and focused totally on the Marcellus and Utica region. Until now the company has flown under our radar. The company is American Petroleum Partners (APP)–not to be confused with Aubrey McClendon’s American Energy Partners (AEP)–and is headed by Rice Energy alumnus Varun Mishra, who is the founder and CEO. The big news is that last September Mishra’s new company, founded in 2014, received a major injection of investment capital. Apollo Global Management invested $411 million in APP with the option to double it up to $800 million. MDN has it on very good authority that although APP quietly issued a press release about this last September (see it below), the company has intentionally kept the news quiet. Not any more! Big mouth MDN is blabbing it to the world. Below are the bits and pieces we’ve been able to put together about this newest Utica/Marcellus driller…
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Southwestern Energy Renewing Leases in WV, PA

Tick tock tick tock. Every day that passes brings landowners and drillers closer to the end of an initial five-year lease contract. In October 2014, Southwestern Energy purchased a humongous 413,000 acres of leases from Chesapeake Energy, most of that land in West Virginia (see Chesapeake Sells Close to 25% of Marcellus/Utica Operation). Southwestern paid over $5 billion for the deal. That leased acreage came with an expiration–which is happening now, at least for some (most?) of the acreage. Every lease is different. Some leases allow the driller to pay the same (or a different) renewal payment to keep the lease going for another period of time, typically another five years. The $5 billion question is, what will Southwestern do? Everyone is scaling back right now. Companies just can’t afford to do much drilling. Will Southwestern opt to renew those leases that they paid big bucks for? It seems we have an answer to that question. A WV newspaper is reporting that Southwestern has begun extending leases in Ohio and Marshall counties…
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Wheeling Area 5th Fastest Growing Economy in US – Thanks to Shale

tell me againHey anti-drillers who like to lie about the benefits of fracking: Tell us again how there’s no positive economic impact from the shale industry. It’s all just smoke and mirrors and the only ones who make money are Big Oil & Gas. Tell us how the jobs are “temporary” and the money from the industry illusory. Then we’ll tell you about the Wheeling Metropolitan Statistical Area, comprised of Belmont County, OH along with Marshall and Ohio counties in WV. The Wheeling MSA’s gross domestic product grew by 9.5% from 2013 to 2014, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s the fifth fastest growing MSA in the country–out of 381 MSAs. Oh, and the reason it’s growing so fast? Yep–the Marcellus and Utica Shale boom happening in the region…
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