What is the Future for Marcellus Natural Gas?

by admin on November 30, 2018

Seven Marcellus natural gas myths, or, you’re playing with fire, America

From an Article by Terry Etam, The BOE Report, November 26, 2018

Sometimes a phenomenon comes along that captures the public’s attention in near totality, and we find ourselves losing our minds and joining the parade. The dot com boom was one example, a time when random new websites became worth billions despite the presence of any revenue. The US housing boom was another example. When people with no income, no jobs, and no assets suddenly started buying homes, a few fringe weirdos thought that that wasn’t right, but the mainstream line of thought was so captivated by the booming housing market that it paid no attention. Nothing seemed absurd at the time because almost everyone read the future the same way.

The energy business is not exempted from this phenomenon. In the natural gas world, an onslaught of publicity from shale gas producers, brokerage houses, trading firms, government agencies, and you name it have chimed in with one voice to declare that the US is now at the dawn of a century of cheap natural gas. Some commentators have heralded the rise of “just in time” natural gas, where storage is of decreasing value because of the inventory of thousands of drilled and uncompleted wells that can flood the market at any time that prices rise. The forward curves for natural gas prices reflect this mentality, and the viewpoint is as nearly universal as it can get. This view has been built largely on the massive reserves of the Marcellus and Utica region.

Courageous contrarians have however noticed a few attention-grabbing cracks in that wall of beliefs. Second hand analysis is one thing, but here is a startling admission from the horse’s mouth. On October 24th 2018, Range Resources Ltd held its third quarter conference call. Reading a 15-page conference call transcript may not sound thrilling, but they can be invaluable. Recall that Range is one of the largest Marcellus shale producers with, according to their IR presentations, “thousands of top quality locations.” During the conference call, an analyst asked Jeff Ventura, Range’s CEO, about sweet spot exhaustion in the Marcellus, and whether it would occur in a 1-5 year time frame or a 6-10 year time frame. Here was Ventura’s response:

‘…you can take state-of-the-art technology and pump that in Centre County or you can pick the county of your choice and the wells still aren’t very good. So in fact they aren’t good at all. So it’s important where you are drilling…So the cores are limited, the cores are known, people have drilled a lot of wells in them. And I think within, you said in the, is it in the first 5 or years 6 through 10, I think it’s clearly within the first five you’ll see that core exhaustion and you’ll start seeing it with deteriorating capital efficiency.”

The importance of these comments should not be understated.

Consider them in the context of a few widely-held Marcellus gas beliefs upon which the US has staked its energy future:

1. The US has a hundred years of gas supply – this statement arrived early in the Marcellus’ development, when every new well and area was getting better than the previous. We now know that there are sweet spots, and a lot of not-so-sweet spots. The map below illustrates this perfectly, and it also corroborates Mr. Ventura’s comments:

2. Marcellus growth is limited by lack of pipelines – this was once the case several years ago. These days, there doesn’t appear to be anywhere near enough gas to meet takeaway capacity, as shown in the chart below:

3. Marcellus producers make adequate returns at sub $3 gas – this argument was based on the fact that Marcellus/Utica production kept rising through a low-price environment. What is missed by observers is that producers had to drill and increase production to meet upcoming take-or-pay requirements. In fact, Cabot Oil & Gas, another huge shale producer, in its most recent quarterly financials said that fully one-fifth of natural gas revenue was from selling gas acquired in the open market to meet sales obligations. This is a very clear sign that it may be cheaper to buy the gas than to drill for it.

4. Drilled but Uncompleted inventory (DUCs) is like readily available storage – this belief is possibly the one that has exposed the US to the most danger, if winter is colder than normal. If this statement was true, there would have been a huge drawdown in the number of DUCs as winter approached with storage at extremely low levels. However, the DUC inventory hardly budged, and no new rigs came running back either:

5. Longer lateral wells improve productivity- what they really do is simply chew up the reservoir faster. There are productivity gains in that a single well can extract more gas, but it’s not free, and it simply accelerates development of the field. See the above chart that shows drilling activity in the Marcellus. Consider that new horizontal wells are now up to 3 miles in lateral length. The top 5 producing counties are Susquehanna, Bradford, Lycoming, Washington and Greene. Together these 5 have an area of 4,676 square miles, and have a total of 5,609 producing wells (and a total of 7,110 wells drilled). As a gauge of dominance, in 2016 these 5 counties accounted for 82 percent of the value of Marcellus gas as reported in MarcellusGas.org. As Range said, the sweet spots are within sight of exhaustion, and subsequent locations will be of lower quality.

6. The stock market will support production growth – every single third quarter conference call for a major shale producer showed that this is categorically untrue. Analysts almost unanimously asked about capital efficiency, returns to shareholders, share buy backs, etc. No one wanted to hear about growth.

7. Solution gas will save the day – this view arises from the massive rise in natural gas output from the Permian basin in the US, and to a lesser extent Bakken solution gas. However, these gluts are localized, and will bleed off into regions other than the main US consuming areas. Permian gas is destined to head south or west, and won’t be of any help to the regions with real winters.

Almost everyone has been overwhelmed by highly speculative forecasts – ironically, exactly like the fears of climate change itself. People have been hammered with both messages for so long that doubting either is considered foolish to think otherwise.

We now therefore have entered winter with dangerously low inventories. The US is separated from a physical disaster, one that would make a hurricane look like a thunderstorm, by hopes for a mild winter and a bucket of dangerous misconceptions.

If you think that is hyperbole, consider what is happening in lower mainland of British Columbia. One of several pipelines that carries natural gas to the region is operating at 80 percent of capacity for the winter. Even with this relatively minor disruption, residents have been warned of potential gas shortages and to turn down furnaces, etc.

Now consider that Vancouver’s winter is tee shirt weather for a large swath of North America’s population. What do you suppose a natural gas shortage would look like in Chicago or Toronto at severely sub-zero temperatures? What would your neighbourhood look like if gas supplies were shut off in the dead of winter? Or even cut in half?

If the winter turns out warm, everyone can have a good laugh at the naysayers and doomsday fools. Let us hope that holds true. If winter is colder than average or a polar vortex returns, and storage is depleted, it is hard to describe what would happen, because I can’t really picture it. The Vancouver example, of a very minor shortage in a very temperate climate, gives an indication that the problem could be of unprecedented proportions.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Betty Wiley December 8, 2018 at 11:13 pm


IEEFA U.S.: Frackers continue to underperform —

Investor wariness grows on weak third-quarter results

“The inability of fracking-focused companies to generate consistent free cash flows, even with soaring production and higher oil prices, raises a critical question,” said Kathy Hipple, an IEEFA energy finance analyst and lead author of the brief. “Will these companies ever produce enough cash from oil and gas sales to cover their capital outlays? Only when they do that will the industry have any hope of paying back its sizable debts—or of producing robust rewards for equity investors.”

Hipple added, “Until the fracking sector as a whole can reliably produce cash, money managers should view industry as a risky and highly speculative investment.”



Platts News December 10, 2018 at 11:42 pm

EQT faces fight with former Rice Energy leaders over direction of natural gas producer

From an Article by Harry Weber, S & P Global News, December 10, 2018

Houston — Two former Rice Energy executives pushed EQT’s board on Monday to make significant changes in order to fix problems they see with the largest US natural gas producer’s operations since the Northeast drillers’ $6.7 billion combination last year, or face a proxy fight over future corporate oversight.

An open letter sent by brothers Toby and Derek Rice to the company’s board laid bare the friction behind the scenes caused by the about 36% drop in EQT’s stock price since early July despite the dominant position it holds in the Appalachian Basin following the November 2017 acquisition of Rice Energy.

Stuck with a transaction that is a happy marriage no longer, the Rice family members said that over the past few weeks they had private conversations with EQT Chairman Jim Rohr and CEO Rob McNally about their proposed corporate overhaul, but were rebuffed. The plan they discussed included inserting Toby Rice into a position of operational oversight at EQT.

“EQT has the potential to unlock significant value for all its shareholders, but, to deliver the results this asset base deserves, a course correction is needed,” the letter said. “EQT must add proven operational experience to the board and senior management team – in particular, individuals with experience in large-scale operational planning.”

EQT shares rose sharply on news of the letter.

The former Rice chief operating officer and former executive vice president of exploration, who collectively own or are potential beneficiaries of 7 million shares of EQT, said that if they do not reach a “mutually agreeable” outcome that materially benefits all long-term investors, they will nominate their own slate of directors for election to the EQT board at the company’s 2019 annual meeting. Installing some of their own directors would, presumably, give them more power to make changes in the company’s senior leadership.

In an emailed statement, EQT gave no hint of plans to back down.

“EQT is a refreshed company with a new management team, new operating plan and substantially reconstituted board,” the email said. “The company is focused on achieving profitable growth by driving operational efficiency, solid free cash flow, balance sheet strength, disciplined capital allocation and the realization of synergies. We are confident that EQT is taking the right steps to deliver superior value.”


By absorbing a Rice footprint in the Marcellus Shale that it maintained was largely contiguous to its own, EQT promised to stretch drilling laterals to 12,000 feet so it could produce more gas at a lower cost.

In February, in an effort to unlock further shareholder value, EQT announced plans to spin off its midstream operations into a standalone company.

A month after the announcement, Steven Schlotterbeck unexpectedly stepped down as CEO and left the company and its affiliates “for personal reasons.” He had been CEO for only about a year, leading EQT through the acquisition of Rice.

EQT’s stock price has been on a roller-coaster ride since the beginning of the year, falling, on a split-adjusted basis, from $31.70 in early January to $25.25 in early April, before closing at $30.83 on July 9. Shares closed at $19.63 on Monday, up 6.6% from Friday.

Toby and Derek Rice, who formed an investment firm with their brothers Daniel and Ryan after the combination, said in their letter to EQT’s board that the company’s performance in recent months has not been reflective of the underlying value of its assets.


The brothers said they have a plan that would generate an incremental $400-$600 million of pre-tax free cash flow per year above EQT’s current plans, equaling greater than $1 billion of free cash flow per year.

The Rice brothers created a website and posted a presentation that said Rice Energy and its peers demonstrated an ability to achieve much lower well costs per foot than EQT has managed. The brothers proposed EQT streamline its organizational structure and break down silos to facilitate inter-departmental collaboration, as well as increasing operational and logistical efficiency to lower well costs and reduce shut-ins and system constraints.

“With the proper authority and board support, our team is willing to oversee the transformation needed to achieve these results,” the letter said. “We have executed on it before, and we are ready, willing and able to execute on it again.”



Danny Kennedy February 2, 2019 at 2:56 am

The end of natural gas is near

By Danny Kennedy, Green Bizz, January 22, 2018

Amidst the madness of 2017, a bigger shift was missed than probably any other — right at the commanding heights of the economy: Natural gas fizzled out of the plan for the future.

That’s major.

Natural gas is no longer a contender or pretender, just a relic of the past, likely to fall as far and as fast as Old King Coal, and maybe faster. This has repercussions for the economy of many states and nations, and the politics of the transition in terms of what we ask for and what we will get.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

The big signal that got some coverage in the pink pages (FT) and energy-wonk trade press in November was the closure of Siemens and GE’s gas turbine-making capacities. Just to recap for those that missed it, first Siemens, the giant European champion of the electric power revolution, laid off 7,000 workers. It reported that it had a capacity to make 400 100MW gas turbines annually but only had received orders for 110 in 2017. Ouch. Retrain!

And then GE: Two weeks later, it laid off 20,000 workers in its gas-related business, including turbine-making teams around the world. Remember, just about five years ago Siemens and GE battled for the gas business of Alstom, the French descendent of the same companies GE came out of in the early 20th century. GE paid $10 billion for it and declared a coup.

But now, they’re writing it off. Their strategic choices under Jeff Immelt are being questioned by the market: while the Dow is up about 30 percent over the past 12 months, GE’s stock is down about 45 percent. (Indeed, GE won the “honor” of being the Dow Jones Industrials worst-performing stock of 2017.)

If we can build large-scale storage that can do all the functions of a fast-ramping gas turbine in less than six months for less money, there will be no market for gas turbines peaking services.

What’s significant is the timing of these announcements. Is it a coincidence that they happened as South Australia was turning on a 100-megawatt battery that had been built in just 100 days by Tesla and a consortium? If the reality is that we can build large-scale storage that can do all the functions of a fast-ramping gas turbine at, say, 100MW scale, and we can build it in less than six months (gas peakers would take six years) for less money, then I think there will be no market for gas turbines to provide peaking services.

It’s pretty binary. And I think Siemens and GE know it.


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