Articles Posted in OIl and Gas News

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WoodMackenzie has recently come out with its 2013 ranking of the world’s twenty largest oil companies, and their change in production over the last ten years:

Twenty Biggest Oil Companies3.JPG

(BOE is barrels of oil equivalent.)  As you can see, most are state-owned companies. Russia re-acquired its privately-owned companies. Saudi Arabia has increased its production 28% in the last 10 years.  Iran, despite the embargo, has increased its production by 24%, in part because of increased export of natural gas. Venezuela’s production has suffered from politicization of its national oil company. Shell’s efforts to increase production by acquiring a position in U.S. shale plays has not been successful. BP has sold off a substantial part of its production. China has invested big-time to fuel its economy. And the world economy has managed to survive $100 oil.  For comparison, the total world production in 2010 was about 137 BOE/day. These top twenty companies together produced about 60% of that total.

For a good article on these numbers, see Forbes’ article, The World’s Biggest Oil Companies – 2013, here.

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Last week I attended the State Bar Annual Advanced Oil, Gas and Energy Law Conference in Houston. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Oil, Gas and Energy Section of the Texas Bar (older than the State Bar itself), and there was a special dinner to honor the occasion, at which Daniel Yergin spoke.  He is the author of the Pulitzer-prize-winning book The Prize, a history of the global prusuit of oil, money and power — a great read. More recently Yergin published his follow-up, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World, updating the history of global energy production and demand from the first Gulf War to the present.

Some tidbits from Yergin’s talk:  politically, the biggest risk to the industry is the opposition to hydraulic fracturing — not a big issue in Texas, but a huge issue in eastern states and California — and the pressure for increased federal regulation of drilling.  The biggest practical challenges to the industry in the US are dealing safely with wastewater from oil and gas operations, and, in some parts of the US, the industry demand for fresh water for fracing. Once again, peak-oil predictors have been proven wrong, by the triumph of technology.  Texas has long been a leader in the industry not only because of its abundance of natural resources but also because of private ownership of oil and gas and the development of the legal theories and framework for the industry by the Texas bar and courts in the 20th century. 

To see Yergin’s “world energy timeline, click here.

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Range Resources

Range Resources’ battle with the Lipskys and Alisa Rich continues, now in a confusing appeal of the trial court’s order denying the Lipskys’ and Rich’s motion to throw out Range’s counterclaim under the Texas law prohibiting so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs.

Earthquakes and Disposal Wells

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News items of interest:

The University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excllence in Environmental Toxicology has organized a group of researchers from UPa, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina to study whether the drilling in the Marcellus Shale play is hazardous to human health. 

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The University of Texas withdrew a study published earlier this year by UT Austin’s Energy Institute, “Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development,” after review by an independent commission appointed by the University. That review was prompted by a report of the Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit watchdog group, which revealed that Dr. Charles Groat, professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT and director of the study, sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company and received cash and stock compensation from Plains of more than $1.5 million since 2007, but did not reveal that relationship in connection with the report. Dr. Groat has since retired, and the Head of the Energy Institute, Dr. Raymond Orbach, has resigned as head of the institute.

The independent review commission found that Dr. Groat’s failure to disclose his ties with Plains was “very poor judgment,” and that UT’s conflict of interest policy should be strengthened (UT has done so). The commission also found several other faults with the report:

  • The report was presented as having scientific findings, but most of it was based on “literature surveys, incident reports and conjecture,” and was not in fact “fact-based”.
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Recent news of interest:

Keystone Pipeline in East Texas – Fuelfix has published a series of articles on construction of the Keystone Pipeline in East Texas, providing some great photos, including this one:


Not a small operation. And this one, of protesters who camped in trees, causing the company to re-route a segment of the line:

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Three interesting stories:

Guar, a bean grown mostly in India, has become a hot commodity because of its use as an additive in frac fluid. See this CNBC Report. Indian farmers are getting rich, American farmers are looking into growing the bean, and Halliburton’s income is down “due to increased costs, particularly for guar gum.”

Protests are popping up all along the XL pipeline being built by Transcanada to transport heavy oil from Canada. Eight demonstrators were arrested in Wood County for chaining themselves to heavy equipment. Seven platforms have been built in trees and occupied by protestors within the pipeline right-of-way. Protestors appeared at the Texas Capitol. Actress Daryl Hannah has joined demonstrations along the pipeline route. See Austin Statesman article here.

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Reuters published a new story on Chesapeake recently, continuing its series critical of the company and its CEO Aubrey McClendon. In this article Reuters reports on its research of Rule 37 cases filed by Chesapeake. Incredibly, Reuters researchers identified all Chesapeake Rule 37 requests back to January 2005 – all 1,628 of them, more than twice the number filed by the next most-frequent filer, XTO (now owned by Exxon). Reuters also got hold of “hundreds of internal Chesapeake emails and thousands of pages of documents” showing how Chesapeake deals with landmen and landowners in lease plays, and the article cites some of those documents relating in particular to Chesapeake’s lease acquisitions in Michigan.

A “Rule 37” exception is a permit to drill a well that would otherwise violate the applicable spacing rules for the well because it is closer than those rules allow to an adjacent tract. In the last few years Chesapeake has made extensive use of Rule 37 exceptions, particularly in the urban portions of the Barnett Shale play in Tarrant County, where most lot owners own the minerals under their homes. Some lot owners refuse to lease on any terms. These unleased owners create “holes” in the pooled units Chesapeake puts together for drilling horizontal shale wells, and sometimes there are so many unleased tracts in the units that it is impossible to drill a horizontal well without coming too close to the unleased tracts. So, Chesapeake asks the Railroad Commission to let it put its well closer to those unleased tracts than Barnett Shale field rules would otherwise allow. Chesapeake is required to give the unleased homeowner notice of its application for the Rule 37 exception, but most homeowners don’t have the resources to contest the application, and if no objections are filed the Commission typically grants the exception. As a result, the Chesapeake well, when completed, is likely to drain hydrocarbons from under the unleased tract, and the owner of the unleased tract receives no compensation. Reuters characterizes Chesapeake’s tactic as “exploit[ing] little-known laws to force owners to hand over drilling rights and sometimes forfeit profits.”

In April of this year, Reuters reported on Aubrey McClendon’s loans of some $1.5 billion to finance his share of drilling costs on his 1% interest in Chesapeake wells, alleging a conflict of interest. In June, Reuters issued a story questioning whether Chesapeake and Encana had colluded to avoid competition in their rush to acquire oil and gas leases in Michigan, resulting in a Department of Justice investigation of possible anti-trust violations. At least partly as a result of Reuters’ stories, McClendon resigned as chairman of the board, and a new set of directors was elected.

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A new industry has sprung up in the metropolis of Carrizo Springs, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale Play: lodging for oil field workers — and lodging in style. In an attempt to keep workers in the field, companies are putting up their workers in plush hotel-like “lodges.” Amenities include three meals a day, laundry and dining facilities, media and recreation rooms, 24-hour business centers, free Wi-Fi, Blu-ray players and flat-screen TVs in all rooms, microwaves and movie rentals. Operators of these facilities rent out blocks of rooms to operators and their vendors, sometimes keeping different companies’ employees together and away from their competition, to lessen the risk of raiding competitors. One facility has a 2,000-seat cafeteria, broken up into four separated dining areas with the kitchen in the middle, allowing one company to have a dining room all to itself, to keep out rival companies’ employees. Check out these new examples of “remote workforce housing”:

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The fall of Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, has been meteoric. He was forced to step down as Chairman of its board, and yesterday he was replaced as board chair by Archie Dunham, the 73-year-old former CEO of Conoco. Aubrey’s fall from grace started only a few months ago with articles in the business press about his deal with Chesapeake to own a small interest in every well Chesapeake drilled. Aubrey was borrowing heavily against his personal interests, to the tune of $1 billion, to keep his ship afloat. Then there were allegations about McClendon’s personal trading in futures that “could have been” opposed to the company’s interests, for which the he and the company are now under an SEC investigation. Chesapeake’s shares started falling, and shareholders began complaining about him and his board. At the company’s recent shareholder meeting four board members were forced out, and two who stood for election were soundly defeated. Carl Icahn smelled blood, bought 7.6% of the company, and installed one of his own as a board member. For now, McClendon remains CEO. Archie Dunham’s job is to sell some $7.4 billion of Chesapeake’s properties to get it out of its hole.

McClendon co-founded Chesapeake with Tom Ward in 1989, with $50,000 and 10 employees. He made the company into the nation’s largest domestic gas producer by investing heavily in shale gas plays across the country. In my opinion, he is responsible for the huge resurgence in domestic exploration, and in the rapid increase in gas production — and the precipitous decline in natural gas prices — over the past few years. McClendon and Boone Pickens were the promoters of natural gas, touted as the fuel of the future and the solution to global warming. McClendon is hated by other independents for sweeping into new shale plays with his pocketbook open and offering $25,000 per acre for leases.  

I’m no financial expert. But it seems clear to me that Chesapeake’s problems arise from the huge decline in oil and gas prices, and not from any sculduggery by McClendon. In all the press coverage, I have not read anything to indicate that McClendon actually did anything for his personal benefit and against the interests of his company. He may have had bad judgment in betting so big on natural gas, but that is his nature. He is a landman, a speculator, and a wildcatter.

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