Monthly Archives: June 2012

Republican Freshmen Protect Big Government

The Community Development Block Grant program is a perfect example of the blurring of responsibility between the federal government and the states. The program’s roots go back to the Great Society and the wishful belief that the problems of urban Americans could be solved with handouts from Washington. Instead, the program “has degenerated into a federal slush fund for pet projects of local politicians and politically connected businesses.”

That quote comes from Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) who introduced an amendment this week to terminate CDBGs. As McClintock explained to his House colleagues, it is not the federal government’s responsibility to fund purely parochial activities:

Even in the best of circumstances, these are all projects that exclusively benefit local communities or private interests and ought to be paid for exclusively by those local communities or private interests. They are of such questionable merit that no city council is willing to face its constituents and say, this is how we’ve spent your local taxes.  But they are more than happy to spend somebody else’s federal taxes.

Unfortunately, McClintock’s words fell upon deaf ears as his amendment was voted down 80 to 342.  Not a single Democrat supported the amendment. But it was the 156 Republicans who voted against the amendment that doomed it. Among those Republicans voting “no” was House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). Worse, only 33 percent of the GOP “Tea Party Freshmen” voted to terminate a program that is completely at odds with the principles of limited government.

As I noted back in May, many of the GOP freshmen have switched from tea to Beltway Kool-Aid. Take, for example, tea party favorite Allen West of Florida. On West’s congressional website, he states that “As your Congressman, I will curb out of control Government spending.” He also says that “we need to challenge the status quo in Washington and stop the floodgates of government spending” and that he will “carry the torch of conservative, small government principles with me to Washington.” West, however, voted to save the CDBG program and he also voted back in May to save the Economic Development Administration, which is another parochial slush fund. In April, he accused Democrats of being communists. That’s pretty rich given that he proceeded to vote to protect programs that engage in central planning.

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Connect The Dots: Bailouts, Bankruptcy And Gold

Simon Black, Sovereign Man

June 29, 2012
Tel Aviv, Israel

This week may very well go down as ‘connect the dots’ week. Things have been moving so quickly, so let’s step back briefly and review the big picture from the week’s events:

1) After weeks… months… even years of posturing and denial, Spain and Cyprus became the fourth and fifth countries to formally request aid from Europe’s bailout funds on Monday.

In doing so, these governments have officially confessed to their own insolvency and the insolvency of their respective banking systems.

Meanwhile, Slovenia’s prime minister said that his country may soon ask for a bailout. (Humorously, Slovenia’s Finance Minister denied any such plans.)

Spain’s 10-year bond yield jumped to over 7% again in response, and many Spanish banks were downgraded to junk status by Moodys.

2) Over in the US, the city of Stockton, California filed for bankruptcy this week… the largest so far, but certainly a mere drop in the proverbial bucket.

3) JP Morgan, considered to be among the few ‘good’ banks remaining in the US, conceded that the $2 billion loss they announced several weeks ago might actually be more like $9 billion.

4) The Federal Reserve reported yesterday that foreigners are reducing their holdings of US Treasuries.

5) Countries from Ukraine to Kazakhstan to Turkey announced that they have purchased gold in recent months to bolster their growing reserves.

6) Chile has joined a growing list of countries that has agreed to bypass the US dollar and settle all of its trade with China in renminbi.

7) China has further announced plans to create a special zone in Shenzhen, one of its wealthiest cities, to allow full exchange and convertibility of the renminbi.

8) World banking regulators from the Bank of International Settlements to the FDIC are proposing that gold bullion be treated as a risk-free cash equivalent by commercial banks.

So… what we can see from this week’s events is:

– European governments are insolvent
– European banks are insolvent
– US governments are heading in that direction
– Even the best US banks are not as strong as believed
– Foreigners are abandoning the US dollar and seeking alternatives
– Gold is money

These events are all connected, and the trend is becoming so clear that even the most casual observers are starting to wake up.

When you connect the dots, the next steps lead to what may soon be regarded as an obvious conclusion: the system, as it exists right now, is crumbling.

No amount of self-delusion can make this go away.

Rational thinking and measured action, on the other hand, can make the consequences go away… turning people from victims into spectators of the greatest bubble burst in modern times.

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Banker to the Bankers Knows the Numbers Are Lying

By Jonathan Weil
 Jun 28, 2012 5:30 PM CT

The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks, should know fudged numbers when it sees them. What may come as a surprise is how openly it has been discussing the problem of bogus balance sheets at large financial companies.

“The financial sector needs to recognize losses and recapitalize,” the Basel, Switzerland-based institution said in its latest annual report, released this week. “As we have urged in previous reports, banks must adjust balance sheets to accurately reflect the value of assets.” The implication is that many banks are showing inaccurate numbers now.

Unfortunately the BIS’s suggested approach is almost all carrot and no stick. “The challenge is to provide incentives for banks and other credit suppliers to recognize losses fully and write down debt,” the report said. “Supporting this process may well call for the use of public sector balance sheets.”

So there you have it. More than four years after the financial crisis began, it’s so widely accepted that many of the world’s banks are burying losses and overstating their asset values, even the Bank for International Settlements is saying so — in writing. (The BIS’s board includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.) It fully expects taxpayers to pick up the tab should the need arise, too.

No Change

In this respect, little has changed since the near-meltdown of 2008, especially in Europe. Spain has requested 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to rescue its ailing banks. Italy, perhaps the next in line for a European Union bailout, is weighing plans to boost capital at some of the country’s lenders through sales of their bonds to the government.

Those bank rescues almost certainly won’t be the last. All but four of the 28 companies in the Euro Stoxx Banks Index (SX7E) trade for less than half of their common shareholder equity, which tells you investors don’t believe the companies’ asset values. While it may be true that the accounting standards are weak, the bigger problem is they are often not followed or enforced.

Government bailouts might be easier for the world’s taxpayers to swallow if banks were required to be truthful about their finances, as part of their standard operating procedure. Nowhere in its report did the BIS discuss the role of law enforcement, although the last time I checked it’s against the law in most developed countries to knowingly publish false financial statements. There have been few fraud prosecutions against executives from large financial institutions in recent years, in the U.S. or elsewhere, much to citizens’ outrage.

In the BIS’s eyes, it seems that it’s enough to merely encourage or incentivize banks to come clean about their losses, by dangling the prospect of additional taxpayer support before them. For example, on the subject of how to deal with overvalued mortgage loans: “One frequently used option is to set up an asset management company to buy up loans at attractive prices, i.e., slightly above current market valuations,” the BIS report said. “Alternatively, authorities can subsidize lenders or guarantee the restructured debt when lenders renegotiate loans.”

The BIS report got this much right: The lack of transparency and credibility in banks’ balance sheets fuels a vicious cycle. When investors can’t trust the books, lenders can’t raise capital and may have to fall back on their home countries’ governments for help. This further pressures sovereign finances, which in turn weakens the banks even more. The contagion spreads across borders. There is no clear end in sight.

Propping Up

To date, the task of propping up the economies in Europe and the U.S. has fallen largely to central banks. As the BIS wrote, easy-money policies also can make balance-sheet repairs harder to accomplish.

“Prolonged unusually accommodative monetary conditions mask underlying balance sheet problems and reduce incentives to address them head-on,” the report said. “Similarly, large- scale asset purchases and unconditional liquidity support together with very low interest rates can undermine the perceived need to deal with banks’ impaired assets.”

At some point, the cycle will break, only nobody knows when. This you can count on: It will take more than subtle inducements to make banks fess up to all their losses. Prosecutors must have a role. There’s nothing like the threat of a courtroom trial to focus a bank executive’s mind. The risk just has to be real.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil in New York at jweil6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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Recap: Worldwide Field Development News (Jun 22 – Jun 28, 2012)

Maersk-Bags-Gulf-of-Mexico-Contract-for-its-Under-Construction-Drillship

This week the SubseaIQ team added 4 new projects and updated 29 projects. You can see all the updates made over any time period via the Project Update History search. The latest offshore field develoment news and activities are listed below for your convenience.

Europe – North Sea

BP Sells Alba Stake to Mitsui

Jun 27, 2012 – BP is selling its interests in the Alba and Britannia fields in the UK sector of the North Sea to Mitsui & Co. for $280 million. Net BP production from the two fields averages some 7,000 barrels of oil per day. The sale comprises BP’s 13.3-percent stake in Alba and 8.97-percent stake in Britannia. Completion of the deal is anticipated by the end of 3Q 2012, subject to regulatory and other licensee approvals.

Project Details: Alba

Statoil Explores Brugdan Prospect

Jun 27, 2012 – Statoil has commenced exploratory drilling at its Brugdan prospect in License 006, Block 6104/21, in the Faroe Islands. The operator is using the COSLPioneer (mid-water semisub) to drill the well. Statoil expects drilling operations to take four to five months.

Project Details: Brugdan

Agora O&G Farms-In to Geite Prospect

Jun 27, 2012 – Bridge Energy has executed an agreement with Agora Oil & Gas for the farm-down of a 15-percent working interest in Production Licenses 497 and 497B. After the transaction Bridge Energy will hold a 15-percent working interest in the two licenses. Cairn will, as a consideration for the transaction, carry a substantial share of Bridge Energy’s well cost. Geite, the main prospect in the licenses is scheduled for drilling in 3Q 2012.

Project Details: Geite

Noreco Increases its Interest in Maja License

Jun 27, 2012 – Noreco has increased its interest in the Maja License (9/95) on the Danish Continental Shelf from 12 to 16.4 percent, and the license period has been extended for two years. The license contains part of the Gita discovery which was made in 2009. A new exploration well is now being planned in the license. The increase in ownership takes place at no charge, following a partner’s withdrawal from the license. Operator for the Maja license is Maersk Oil with 42.6 percent interest. Other partners are DONG Energy with 27.3 percent interest and Danoil with 13.7 percent interest.

Project Details: Gita

Aker Solutions Awarded Frame Agreement Contract for Norwegian Fields

Jun 27, 2012 – ExxonMobil awarded Aker Solutions a frame agreement for fields located on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The frame agreement covers engineering, procurement, construction and installation of several fields, including Balder, Jotun A, Jotun B and Ringhorne. The fixed contract duration is five years from 2012 to 2017, with options for two additional five year periods. The frame agreement will be managed from Stavanger.

Project Details: Jette (Jetta)

Technip to Install Subsea Equipment for Alma/Galia Development

Jun 25, 2012 – EnQuest Britain awarded Technip a contract for the development of the Alma and Galia fields in the UK sector of the North Sea. The scope of work includes installation of two 10-inch production flexible flowlines, one 8-inch water injection flexible flowline and one further 8-inch production flexible flowline; installation of three 8-inch flexible risers; installation of two production control umbilicals/risers; installation of four power cables and associated dynamic risers; procurement, fabrication and installation of a 175-ton manifold structure; and associated trenching operations, tie-ins, testing and commissioning. The fields will be tied-back to the EnQuest Producer FPSO, which are located in a water depth of about 262 feet (80 meters).

Project Details: Alma/Galia

Premier to P&A Coaster Prospect

Jun 25, 2012 – Premier Oil will plug and abandon the Coaster exploration well at UK Block 28/10 as a dry hole. The operator commenced exploratory drilling in the beginning of June.

Project Details: Coaster

PA Resources Wins Contract Extension

Jun 25, 2012 – The Danish Energy Agency has extended PA Resources Licenses 12/06 and 9/06 by two years. License 12/06 is operated by the company with a 64% interest; and license 9/06 is operated by Maersk, wherein the company has a 26.8% stake. The 12/06 permit contains last year’s Broder Tuck gas/condensate and Lille John oil discoveries. PAR plans to drill an appraisal well at Lille John and is negotiating a drilling management contract. In 2009, the Gita 1X-well in license 9/06 encountered indications of hydrocarbons in the Middle Jurassic high-pressure/high-temperature (HP/HT) secondary target, but with low permeability. Subsequent studies have not lowered the producibility risk. There is no well commitment but a decision regarding drilling must be made by October 2013. In the meantime, further subsurface studies will be performed to evaluate prospectivity at Upper Jurassic and shallower Cretaceous and Tertiary levels.

Project Details: Lille John

Apache Reports Tryfan is Sub-Commercial

Jun 25, 2012 – Valiant Petroleum has completed drilling at the Tryfan prospect in UK Block 3/17. The well encountered both Frigg and Dornoch sandstones on prognosis with a small gas column present at the top of the Frigg formation interpreted to be sub-commercial. The well will now be plugged and abandoned.

Project Details: Tryfan

Hertel Offshore Signs EPC Contract for Draugen Platform

Jun 22, 2012 – Hertel Offshore has signed a contract for the EPC delivery of the Shell Draugen Additional Living Quarter, which will accommodate 44 people and will be designed according to the Norsok standards. Work has commenced and delivery of the module is scheduled for May 2013. Construction will be done at the Hertel Offshore premises in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Project Details: Draugen

S. America – Brazil

InterMoor Completes Conductor Fabrication, Installation Proj. for Shell

Jun 27, 2012 – InterMoor has completed the installation of the electrical submersible pump conductors for the artificial lift manifold as part of the Shell BC-10 phase two project. InterMoor was responsible for the fabrication and installation of four conductors in addition to one spare conductor for the project. Weighing in at more than 70 metric tons, the conductors measured 48 inches in diameter and 197 feet (60 meters) long with a 1.5-inch wall. The conductors were installed in water depths up to 5,600 feet (1,707 meters) off the coast of Brazil in the northern Campos Basin.

Project Details: Parque das Conchas (BC-10)

Australia

BHP Billiton Encounters Water at Banambu Deep Prospect

Jun 28, 2012 – BHP Billiton will plug and abandon the Banambu Deep-1 well as wire-line logs show that the well is water-bearing. The well, located in permit WA-389-P, lies in waters 1,050 feet (320 meters) deep. The well was drilled to 15,470 feet (4,696 meters) measured depth (mMD) on June 26, 2012, within the Mungaroo Formation.

Project Details: Banambu Deep

ConocoPhillips Set to Spud Boreas-1

Jun 28, 2012 – ConocoPhillips is moving forward with drilling of the Boreas-1 exploratory well in WA-314-P following the final function testing of the blowout preventers for the semisub Transocean Legend (mid-water semisub). The BOPs and marine riser were run to the sea floor, and after function testing, were pulled from the hole for further repair and maintenance. After passing all checks on the surface, they have been re-run to the seafloor for final subsea function testing. The company will drill the second well in the program, Zephyros-1, in permit WA-398-P approximately 4.9 miles (8 kilometers) southwest of the Kronos-1 discovery location. The third well, Proteus-1, will be drilled in WA-398-P approximately 8.6 miles (14 kilometers) southeast of the Poseidon-1 discovery location.

Project Details: Boreas

Apache Ready to Drill Balnaves Deep-2 Prospect

Jun 27, 2012 – Apache is ready to spud its Balnaves Deep-2 prospect offshore Australia, but is waiting on approval from the Australian government to move forward. The operator will use the Atwood Falcon (DW semisub) for drilling operations.

Project Details: Balnaves

Technip Pens Ichthys FPSO Services Contract

Jun 22, 2012 – Technip received a contract to provide services to the Ichthys FPSO, which will be located in the Browse Basin, Western Australia, at a water depth of 820 feet (250 meters). Under the agreement, Technip will provide engineering and procurement assistance for the topside facilities of the 1.2 million barrels storage capacity FPSO to South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. The Ichthys LNG project is expected to produce 8.4 million tonnes of LNG, 1.6 million tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas and 100,000 barrels of condensate.

Project Details: Ichthys

Nexus Energy Eradicating Longtom Producton Problem

Jun 22, 2012 – Nexus Energy Limited announced that the vessel to inspect and potentially rectify the electrical fault that caused the suspension of production on the Longtom field has arrived. Initial inspections have identified the fault to be contained within a specific section of the offshore system, which has enabled an engineering solution to be developed with implementation and associated production expected by month end. Given the mobilization of the specialized vessel, the opportunity is being taken to expand the inspection program to include additional sections of the offshore system, stated the company.

Project Details: Longtom

S. America – Other & Carib.

Edison Farms-In to Falkland Acreage

Jun 27, 2012 – Falkland Oil and Gas has executed a farm-out agreement with Edison International in relation to its licenses in the Falkland Islands. Edison will farm-in and earn a 25 percent interest in FOGL’s northern area license, which contains the Loligo prospect, in return for which it will contribute a pro-rate share of the costs of the 2012 drilling program – comprising two exploration wells. Edison will also farm-in and earn a 12.5 percent interest in FOGL’s southern area license, containing the Undine prospect, and will contribute to the 2012 work program. Meanwhile, Edison has agreed to pay its pro-rate share of certain historical costs incurred by FOGL during 2011 related to the 2012 drilling program. Edison’s share of these costs is expected to be around $50 million. FOGL expects to receive the Leiv Eiriksson (UDW semisub) in July to commence the drilling program.

Mediterranean

Eni Turns on Taps at Seth Field

Jun 28, 2012 – Eni has commenced gas production from the Seth field off the coast of Egypt. The field is expected to produce about 4.8 MMcm/d. The Seth project consists of a platform placed at a water depth of 262 feet (80 meters), two production wells and a pipeline of 6.8 miles (11 kilometers). The pipeline links the platform to the onshore processing facility in El Gamil.

Noa North Comes Online

Jun 27, 2012 – Noble Energy has begun gas flow from the Noa North field in the Mediterranean. The field was completed as a subsea tie-back to the Mari-B platform. Mari-B is the first offshore natural gas production facility in the State of Israel. Noble Energy is the operator of the project with a 47.059 percent working interest.

KBR to Execute Pre-FEED Study for Tamar Field

Jun 27, 2012 – KBR will execute a pre-FEED study for a project located off the coast of Israel. KBR will provide the pre-FEED study for the King liquefied natural gas-floating production storage and offloading (LNG-FPSO) facility currently being evaluated for Noble Energy’s Tamar gas field off the coast of Israel.

Project Details: Tamar

Africa – West

Rialto Awards FEED Contract to Petrofrac

Jun 27, 2012 – Rialto Energy has awarded Petrofrac a Front End Engineering Design (FEED) contract for Block CI-202, containing the Gazelle field, offshore Cote d’Ivoire. Work is scheduled for completion in October. Rialto is working to fast track first hydrocarbons. It expects to award further contracts before the end of this year. The field development plan and gas agreement has been approved by the Cote d’Ivoire authorities and the production facilities will consist of a fixed production platform at the Gazelle field with separate oil and gas pipelines from the platform to shore.

Project Details: Gazelle

BP Gets Govt Nod to Namibia Farm-In

Jun 25, 2012 – Namibia’s Minister of Mines and Energy has approved BP’s farm-in of 30 percent to Serica Energy’s offshore Luderitz basin license 0047. The agreement was first announced in March. BP will cover the entire cost of a 3D seismic survey over an area of up to 1.025 million acres (4,150 square kilometers) across the concession. Participants in the block are now Serica Energy (55%); BP (30%); National Petroleum Corp. of Namibia (10%); and Indigenous Energy (5%).

Asia – SouthEast

Otto Granted Extension to Explore Offshore Philippines Block

Jun 27, 2012 – Otto Energy reported that the Philippines Department of Energy has granted a nine-month extension to the third exploration sub-phase of Service Contract 69 in the offshore Visayan Basin. The extension will give the consortium additional time to evaluate three potential targets on the block – Lampos, Lampos South and Managau East. Otto said it will use the extension period to start planning for an exploration well.

Salamander to Conduct DST on Far East Prospect

Jun 27, 2012 – Salamander Energy reported that the Far East prospect on the Bualuang field in License B8/38 in the Gulf of Thailand has reached a total vertical depth of 4,580 feet (1,396 meters) and is currently being prepared for a Drill Stem test. The well encountered an 82 foot (25 meter) section of excellent quality T5 Miocene sandstones, the primary target on depth prognosis. However, following the acquisition of a full suite of wireline logs, these sandstones are interpreted to be water-wet, with no evidence of hydrocarbon saturation. The well was then deepened to test the secondary objective. The well penetrated a conglomeratic section overlying the Ratburi carbonates from 4,423 feet (1,348 meters) TVDSS to current total depth (“TD”). Oil shows were observed at 4,482 feet (1,366 meters) TVDSS and severe mud losses were experienced from 4,495 feet (1,370 meters) TVDSS. Interpretation of logging while drilling data shows zones of potential oil pay in highly porous section from 4,478 feet (1,365 meters) to current TD.

Project Details: Bualuang

Shale Gas Boom: Hydraulic Fracturing and Potential Legal Claims

Joshua W. Mermis
Friday, June 22, 2012

A “gas rush” is revitalizing the domestic petroleum exploration industry, and the legal ramifications could be felt for decades. Through hydraulic fracturing (fracking), petroleum companies access once cost prohibitive shale gas formations by creating fractures in underground rock formations, thereby facilitating oil or gas production by providing pathways for oil or gas to flow to the well. These pathways are commonly referred to as the “fractures.” The legal consequences of fracking could impact more than half of the Lower 48 states.

Background of Hydraulic Fracturing

The basic technique of fracking is not new. In fact, fracking has been used in wells since the late 1940s. The first commercial fracking job took place in 1949 in Velma, Oklahoma, however, sequestered layers of shale gas were inaccessible until 1985, when pioneers such as Mitchell Energy and Development Corporation combined fracking with a newer technology called directional, or horizontal drilling in the Austin Chalk. Directional drilling gave producers access to the shale gas because it allowed them to turn a downward- plodding drill bit as much as 90 degrees and continue drilling within the layer for thousands of additional feet. The positive results were soon transferred to the Barnett Shale in North Texas. To date, more than one million wells have been fractured.
The “hottest” shale plays are as follows:

  • Bakken (Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota)
  • Barnett Shale (Texas)
  • Eagle Ford (Texas)
  • Haynesville (Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas)
  • Marcellus Shale (New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia)
  • Utica (Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia)

Confirmed and/or prospective shale plays are also found in Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming. Shale plays have been confirmed in countries around the world, but the US is the leader in shale gas exploration.

More Money, More Problems

The new application of an old technology made it possible to profitably produce oil and gas from shale formations. Domestic and international companies quickly rushed to capitalize on the large reservoirs of shale gas. But unlike the preceding decades, where new oil and gas exploration had occurred offshore and in deepwater, oil and gas drilling started to occur in areas that were not accustomed to oil and gas activity. Overnight ranchers became millionaires as landmen leased large swaths of property to drill. The media started reporting about enormous domestic supplies of oil and gas that could be profitably produced from shale formations and politicians touted energy independence that could alleviate the country’s demand for foreign reserves. But with the increased attention came increased scrutiny.

Environmental groups have criticized the industry for fracking. The chief concern is that fracking will contamination of drinking water. Movies such as “Gasland” and “Gasland 2” fueled the public’s concerns that the drilling caused polluted water wells and flammable kitchen faucets. Additionally, the industry received criticism for the engineering process that involved high-rate, high-pressure injections of large volumes of water and some chemicals into a well to facilitate the fracking. The EPA and state regulatory bodies have become involved in the discussion and new regulations are likely to follow. In the meantime, some lawsuits have already been filed.

Pending Hydraulic Fracturing Litigation

Plaintiffs have filed approximately forty shale-related lawsuits across the country. These lawsuits include: (1) tort lawsuits; (2) environmental lawsuits; or (3) industry lawsuits. As the shale boom accelerates more suits are anticipated.

1. Tort Lawsuits

Tort lawsuits have been brought by individuals and as class actions. Typically the claimants assert claims for trespass, nuisance, negligence and strict liability. Their complaints involve excessive noise, increased seismic activity, environmental contamination (air, soil and groundwater), diminution in property value, death of livestock/animals, mental anguish and emotional distress. The plaintiffs seek actual damages and, in some instances, injunctive relief. A few parties have even sought the establishment of a medical monitoring fund. The majority of these lawsuits have been filed in Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. The first wave of lawsuits has established new law in the respective jurisdictions as the appellate courts weigh in with published opinions on issues that range from oil and gas lease forfeiture, consequences of forged contracts and contract formation.

2. Environmental Lawsuits

Environmental organizations and some citizen groups are seeking to enforce environmental laws and regulations in an effort to protect the environment and the public from what the litigants perceive to be negative consequences of fracking. In some instances they are even seeking to restrict the use of hydraulic fracking until it is proven to be environmentally safe. A popular target among these litigants is federal and state regulatory bodies, such as the EPA, and federal statutes, such as the Clean Air Act.

3. Industry Lawsuits

The final category of lawsuits includes those brought by the industry against the government. Claimants have sought to challenge federal, state and local government actions that have impeded the industry’s ability to drill.

Fracking Lawsuits 2.0 – Transportation, Construction, Personal Injury and Beyond

The survey of current fracking lawsuits does not take into account the claims that will spin out of the new shale plays. In fact, the engineering and logistical side of the fracking process – not fracking itself – will lead to many more attendant claims.

  • Transportation: The survey of current fracking lawsuits does not take into account the claims that will spin out of the new shale plays. In fact, the engineering and logistical side of the fracking process – not fracking itself – will lead to many more attendant claims.
  • Commercial: Lessor involved in mineral disputes will lead to commercial claims. Many lessors will feel they were shorted, or want a better deal as those now positioned to lease their rights sign a more lucrative mineral-rights lease. Company-to-company disputes will also rise as the price of natural gas fluctuates.
  • Construction: The contractors and design professionals building the midstream facilities, among others, will lead to construction-defect and delay claims. Many states have recently adopted anti-indemnity statutes that will impact claims that arise during construction of midstream facilities, pipelines and other infrastructure-related construction projects.
  • Insurance: Coverage issues will arise as parties file first- and third-party claims for myriad reasons. Issues including comparative indemnity agreements, flow-through indemnity and additional insured endorsements, among others, will need to be analyzed.
  • Personal Injury: Additional workers drilling and working the wells will lead to an increase in personal injury and work-place accident claims. Many of the shale plays are located in what have traditionally been considered “plaintiff friendly” venues. A claim in Pennsylvania will have a different value than one located in Webb County, Texas.
  • Product Liability: The products and chemicals used to drill and extract the oil and gas will lead to product liability claims involving both personal and property damage. The BP Deep Water Horizon well-blowout in the Gulf of Mexico will not be lost on those involved in domestic oil and gas exploration.

How To Reduce Future Fracking Litigation Risk?

Parties can act now to discourage litigation or better position themselves in the event they are named in a suit.

1. Institute electronic records protocol

The proliferation of email and increased retention and archival capabilities means that emails never die. A potential defendant would be well served with a protocol in place that outlines to its employees what are acceptable electronic communications.

2. Strictly comply with fracking fluid disclosures

For those parties who could be exposed to claims regarding the fluids used during drilling, it is important that they minimize the public’s suspicion that they are withholding information about the fluids. The best way to neutralize that misconception is to strictly comply with the state-mandated disclosure rules where applicable. It may even behoove them to voluntarily disclose the fluids’ contents through the
companies’ websites.

3. Be prepared for a fire-drill

A party must be ready to quickly assert its position when a claim is brought. The best way to do so is to track current litigation. Following the cases will provide the company a preview as to what claims it may be subject to, and it also allows them to evaluate defenses. It may also enable the company to insulate itself from suit by avoiding certain actions. Along those same lines, knowing the facts, documents, emails, fact witnesses and expert witnesses will work to a party’s advantage. Some industry leaders have proactively retained experts even though they have not been sued.

4. Know your neighbors

Parties should view their neighbors as allies and potential jurors. To that end, it makes sense to open a dialogue about fracking with the regulators on a local, state and federal level. It would also benefit the parties to engage the community and publicize information about the benefits associated with fracking, e.g., jobs, lower energy prices, cleaner energy, energy independence, etc. Certain midstream players have rolled out a public education campaigns aimed at that very goal.

Conclusion

Articles on shale gas and fracking adorn the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. 60 Minutes runs stories on shale-gas drilling and the faux pundit Stephen Colbert discusses fracking’s impact on his tongue-and-cheek news show. The promise of profits, domestic jobs and energy independence has the country talking about the gas shale plays that dot the landscape. Fracking and all that it encompasses will serve as the backdrop for a variety of legal issues during the foreseeable future.

Joshua W. Mermis is a partner at Johnson, Trent, West & Taylor in Houston, Texas, where he primarily practices in construction and energy litigation. He received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law. This article previously appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of USLAW magazine.

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