Category Archives: Shale Gas
Shale gas is natural gas produced from shale. Shale gas has become an increasingly important source of natural gas in the United States over the past decade, and interest has spread to potential gas shales in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. One analyst expects shale gas to supply as much as half the natural gas production in North America by 2020
USGS Releases Survey on Utica Shale Gas Resources, USA
The Utica Shale contains about 38 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas (at the mean estimate) according to the first assessment of this continuous (unconventional) natural gas accumulation by the U. S. Geological Survey.
The Utica Shale has a mean of 940 million barrels of unconventional oil resources and a mean of 9 million barrels of unconventional natural gas liquids.
The Utica Shale lies beneath the Marcellus Shale, and both are part of the Appalachian Basin, which is the longest-producing petroleum province in the United States. The Marcellus Shale, at 84 TCF of natural gas, is the largest unconventional gas basin USGS has assessed. This is followed closely by the Greater Green River Basin in southwestern Wyoming, which has 84 TCF of undiscovered natural gas, of which 82 TCF is continuous (tight gas).
“Understanding our domestic oil and gas resource potential is important, which is why we assess emerging plays like the Utica, as well as areas that have been in production for some time” said Brenda Pierce, USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator. “Publicly available information about undiscovered oil and gas resources can aid policy makers and resource managers, and inform the debate about resource development.”
The Utica Shale assessment covered areas in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Some shale rock formations, like the Utica and Marcellus, can be source rocks – those formations from which hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, originate. Conventional oil and gas resources gradually migrate away from the source rock into other formations and traps, whereas continuous resources, such as shale oil and shale gas, remain trapped within the original source rock.
These new estimates are for technically recoverable oil and gas resources, which are those quantities of oil and gas producible using currently available technology and industry practices, regardless of economic or accessibility considerations.
This USGS assessment is an estimate of continuous oil, gas, and natural gas liquid accumulations in the Upper Ordovician Utica Shale of the Appalachian Basin. The estimate of undiscovered oil ranges from 590 million barrels to 1.39 billion barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), natural gas ranges from 21 to 61 TCF (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively), and the estimate of natural gas liquids ranges from 4 to 16 million barrels (95 percent to 5 percent probability, respectively).
USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of onshore lands and offshore state waters. The USGS Utica Shale assessment was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol.
USGS Releases Survey on Utica Shale Gas Resources, USA LNG World News.
Zetas gang threatens Mexico’s shale gas near border
NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — The brutal Zetas gang poses one of the most daunting challenges to the development of Mexico’s abundant shale gas reserves near the Texas border.
The gas fields extend from the booming Eagle Ford play of South Texas deep into the ranch and coal country stretching inland from this violent border city. This is Zetas country, among the most fearsome of Mexico’s criminal badlands.
U.S. and Mexican energy companies long have been besieged by the gangsters here – their workers assaulted, extorted or murdered – despite a heavy military and federal police presence. Now, with feuding Zetas factions bloodying one another and fending off outside rivals, what has been a bad situation threatens to get much worse.
Northern Mexico’s gas production has suffered for years as gangland threats or attacks have kept workers from servicing the wellheads, pipelines and drilling rigs in the Burgos Basin, the territory between the Rio Grande and the city of Monterrey, which now provides up to 20 percent of Mexico’s natural gas.
“Petroleos Mexicanos has problems with security … principally in Burgos,” Guillermo Dominguez, a senior member of the National Hydrocarbons Commission, told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.
And now the surging Zetas bloodletting pits the gang’s top bosses – Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño – against Ivan Velazquez, a former underling known as “El Taliban.” From his base in the western state of Zacatecas, Velazquez reportedly has allied with the remnants of other gangs to launch a challenge for control of Coahuila state, which holds most of the shale gas reserves.
Challenge to control
Banners recently hung by both Zetas factions have accused one another of treason and other transgressions that will be avenged with death. Fighting has rattled Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas stronghold that also is the busiest land port for U.S.-Mexico trade, killing scores this month alone.
Still more banners appeared in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday, reputedly written by beleaguered civilians, promising all the gangster factions further bloody vengeance.
“Zetas are pretty much in control, but they have been challenged,” said a U.S. official in Mexico who monitors the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You have all these groups fighting one another, shifting alliances and internal fights … It’s a wilderness of mirrors.”
The Zetas’ spats with rivals already have turned Coahuila’s other large cities – Torreon in the west, Monclova in the center and Saltillo in the east – into fierce gangland battlegrounds. State officials are blaming the Sept. 17 escape of 131 prisoners from a Piedras Negras prison on the Zetas seeking to replenish their ranks for new battles.
The insecurity in Mexico’s gas fields contrasts sharply with the drilling and production frenzy seizing the ranchlands just north of the border. Oil field pickups and semi-trailer fuel tankers choke Highway 83, the once-desolate ranch-country highway that cuts northwest from Laredo though the lower reaches of the Eagle Ford.
Some 6,000 drilling permits have been issued for Eagle Ford shale in Texas, and 550 wells are producing there. By comparison, Pemex so far has drilled five exploratory shale gas wells, but hopes to drill 170 more in the next four years. The company plans to spend $200 million on exploration in the short term.
Those first exploratory wells have been drilled to the west of Nuevo Laredo and below the border at Piedras Negras, ranch and coal country that remains relatively violence free for now. But that tranquility may owe more to the now-threatened dominance of the Zetas bosses than to rule of law.
“They are in control,” said a U.S. official. “They are pretty much just doing their thing.”
At least eight Pemex and contract employees vanished in May 2010 near a gas facility near Falcon Lake, territory under the Zetas’ firm control. Last March, two men working for a Mexican company doing contract work for Houston-based Halliburton disappeared outside Piedras Negras.
Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee-Agard said employees get regular security briefings, but the company declined to comment on the contractors’ disappearance.
“Many companies that were active in the areas have stopped until Pemex or the government can provide security,” said an employee of one Reynosa-based company. “In places where there have been incidents we don’t operate anymore. When darkness falls, we stop wherever we are.
- Zetas crimping gas industry in northern Mexico (mysanantonio.com)
- Banners claim an alliance has been formed against the Zetas (mysanantonio.com)
- Mexico: State Officials Killed in Nuevo Laredo (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Piedras Negras “megafuga” just the latest massive prison break (mysanantonio.com)
- 132 inmates escape from Mexican prison near U.S. border (theprovince.com)
India: GAIL to Finalize USD 12 Billion Gas Deal
State-run gas company GAIL is just steps away from signing a 20-year contract for shipping two million tonnes of LNG a year from US east coast, The Times of India said, citing sources close to the development.
Value of this contract would be approximately $12 billion.
GAIL executives were in the US last week in order to give final touches to the deal, the newspaper said.
In December 2011, GAIL inked a $20 billion contract with Sabine Pass Liquefaction for 3.5 million tonnes of LNG annually.
- India in talks with US for LNG imports (shippingtribune.com)
- India’s Biggest LNG Buyer Seeks $1 Billion in Debt to Expand (bloomberg.com)
Chesapeake retreat ends American energy land grab
(Reuters) – About six years ago, an army of agents hired by energy companies started desperately courting landowners across the United States whose farms and ranches happened to sit atop some of the richest oil and gas deposits in the world. And so began one of the biggest land grabs in recent memory.
Those days are over.
U.S. energy titan Chesapeake Energy is quickly cutting back on an aggressive land-leasing program that in recent years has made it one of America’s largest leaseholders, putting an end to half a decade of frenzied energy wildcatting.
Beset by growing governance and financial problems, and a sharp slump in natural gas prices, the No. 2 U.S. gas driller is reducing by half the ranks of its agents, known in the industry as landmen.
With little evidence that its competitors are taking on the role of leading industry lease-buyer, Chesapeake’s new found frugality is expected to usher in a more sedate period of U.S. land buying, and a sizeable cultural shift for an industry that has been acquiring new acreage at almost any cost.
A surge in drilling into rich shale-gas seams from Pennsylvania to Texas has pushed natural gas prices to 10-year lows, forcing producers, including Chesapeake, to cut output and put the brakes on new wells.
Drilling simply to hold on to leases represents about half of U.S. natural gas output, analysts say, which has helped keep production at record highs despite plummeting prices. Leases held by energy companies tend to last about three years, but will typically remain valid indefinitely if an energy company drills wells and produces fuel on the leased acreage.
It should be fairly easy for drillers to re-hire agents and secure more land when prices recover, according to landmen sources, and production is not expected to be affected immediately. But a lull in leasing could briefly affect production longer term, given that it takes up to six months to secure large tracts of land.
“Chesapeake has always been a bellwether for where the next big play is. It would come, lease large blocks and send a signal to the market,” said Adam Bedard, senior director at Bentek Energy in Colorado. “Without them, the pace of land acquisition might slow.”
In a move to mollify disgruntled shareholders, Chesapeake plans to reduce its use of contracted landmen from 1,300 now to 650 by the end of the year, said Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon, who was stripped of his chairmanship last month after Reuters reported a series of governance missteps.
The reduction, which is expected to help reduce towering debt levels, marks an 80 percent decrease from its peak of 3,400 landmen, McClendon said.
The cull has begun. Over the past month, 225 contracted landmen were cut from Chesapeake jobs, said one Ohio-based landman, who, like most in the close-knit industry, would only speak off the record.
“Chesapeake’s activity level in the Appalachian region is minimal now. It has devastated the (landman) industry,” the source said. “The Chesapeake debacle is one thing, but the rest of the industry shortfall is because a lot of the projects are intertwined with Chesapeake,” he added.
The Oklahoma-based company has become one of the largest leaseholders in the United States, amassing more than 15 million acres of land for drilling or an area about the size of West Virginia.
One mid-sized U.S. brokerage that does lease work for Chesapeake has experienced a 15 percent to 20 percent fall in business over the last 90 days due to a slowdown not just in Chesapeake activity but across the board, a manager for operations at its eastern division told Reuters. About 15 percent of that company’s business comes from Chesapeake, he said.
“We are getting to the point where companies are becoming more cautious – that is what we are seeing,” he said, asking that he not be named.
Other major producers, including Encana Corp, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, said they are not planning to materially change their strategy of land acquisition or staffing numbers, suggesting a gap might be left as Chesapeake, long the pioneer in drill leasing, retreats.
“We have not reduced our land staff nor have we made any changes in the way we conduct land operations,” said a spokesman for Encana, one of Chesapeake’s main land-leasing rivals. Encana employs an in-house staff of about 170 workers in its land department. Shell also said it was “not planning any major staffing level changes in our land function for leasing activity.”
Landmen in the field reckon companies are now well-placed to increase leasing again when they need to, but it could take up to six months between a decision to lease the land and the drilling, potentially creating a lull in activity, sources said.
While a fall in leasing will affect the landmen, it is unlikely to affect gas output for quite some time given the amount of land already leased and the hundreds of wells drilled that have yet to begin producing.
“The huge land grabs in the gas plays are coming to an end,” said one energy hedge fund manager. “Even without more leasing, however, these companies have backlogged a huge inventory of drilling locations.”
The backlog of 3,500 oil and gas wells in the United States is about 1,000 more than usual, according to Randall Collum, a natural gas analyst at Genscape in Houston.
It could take more than a year to exhaust the natural gas portion of that supply as pipelines come online to connect new producing regions, such as in Ohio, to areas of higher demand, he said. Moreover, the reserves accumulated over the last decade are expected to take longer to dwindle away.
That scenario is likely to put a cap on prices in the near term, with or without Chesapeake.
AFTER THE BOOM
When U.S. drillers employed new technologies during the last decade to economically tap oil and gas from shale rock, results showed the potential for a massive revival in waning domestic production.
In 2006 and 2007, companies began rushing to acquire new leases. Geologists pored over maps, in search of the sweetest acreage. Landmen were hired like never before, court houses in energy-rich regions filled with workers quickly securing leases. Rural and depressed areas in Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and Ohio became, by geological coincidence, new target areas for energy companies.
Teams of between 50 and 100 landmen were charged with securing hundreds of thousands of acres in a matter of weeks. Some would knock on landowners’ doors, while others specializing in title work would make the lease legally secure and determine, among other things, who receives royalties on the production.
Chesapeake led the charge, spending billions of dollars a year on speculative leasing, helping to push land prices higher in energy-rich regions. In 2011, it became the lead acreage holder in the Utica formation shale in Ohio with 1.5 million acres, and was the first to publish production figures from new wells there.
After Chesapeake arrived, other majors such as Anadarko and Exxon Mobil quickly followed. Much of the best drilling areas have already been swept up in what is now thought – though not fully proven – to be one of the most promising oil and gas plays in the country.
Now, five years after the boom began, natural gas output is at an all time high. The success has, in many ways, backfired. Prices have dropped so far that companies can barely afford to drill in pure natural gas plays. Chesapeake, the self-proclaimed ‘champion’ of U.S. natural gas, is facing a $10 billion cash-flow shortfall this year, forcing it to rein in spending.
“It will slow down the overall aggressiveness if Chesapeake isn’t out there leading the charge,” said Genscape’s Collum. “But it is all about prices. If prices rise then companies will come back in.”
(Additional reporting by Joshua Schneyer in New York and Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)
- Chespeake Energy Seeks to Void Order to Buy Energy Rights – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Land owner caught between energy giants (business.financialpost.com)
- Report: Chesapeake engaged in price fixing on land (bizjournals.com)
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
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.
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.
Eagle Ford banks challenged as deposits skyrocket
San Antonio Express-News
South Texas landowners getting fat checks from oil companies for drilling on their land have been a boon to banks based in the Eagle Ford Shale.
Deposits at most of those banks have surged. The Karnes County National Bank’s deposits rocketed 110 percent to almost $168 million from the end of 2009 through the first quarter of this year.
Eleven other institutions registered jumps in deposits that ranged from 46.8 percent to 82.7 percent. By comparison, domestic deposits at U.S. banks increased 14.7 percent during the same period.
But the influx of deposits has left the Eagle Ford-area banks with something of a challenge: how to deploy that money at a time when loan demand isn’t nearly as strong.
“It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem,” said H.B. “Trip” Ruckman III, president and chairman of The Karnes County National Bank in Karnes City. Its deposits rose by $88 million from the end of 2009 to March 31, while its loans rose by $19 million.
“We have had depositors come in with more than a million dollars at a whack,” he added. “So it is a challenge to keep the money invested.”
The San Antonio Express-News tracked deposits and loans from the end of 2009, when activity started picking up in the Eagle Ford Shale, through the first quarter of this year at 20 banks based in the 14 counties directly affected by the oil and gas activity. Most of the banks tracked are small community banks with assets of less than $220 million.
Eighteen of the 20 banks had deposit growth above the national average of 14.7 percent over the 27 months ending March 31.
Deposits at Security State Bank in Pearsall, for example, climbed by $150 million from 2009 through March 31, mostly as a result of the oil and gas activity, said Mike Wilson, president and CEO.
“Where we used to hunt for money, we don’t have to hunt anymore,” he said.
Curtis Carpenter, who follows banks as managing director of Sheshunoff & Co. Investment Banking in Austin, likened the situation to having “more than you can say grace over.”
Still, the deposit windfall has yet to translate to the same growth in loans.
“You can only loan money where it makes sense,” Carpenter said. “And the fact that all of these deposits are coming in doesn’t necessarily translate into lending opportunities.”
Those lending opportunities will pick up as the Eagle Ford area prospers from all the oil and gas activity, Carpenter said. Bankers agreed, saying they are eager to loan on both multifamily and single-family residential projects. There is some reticence to loan on RV parks and motels because of concerns that they’ve saturated the area.
Bankers offered other reasons why loan growth hasn’t corresponded with deposit growth. Banks have to comply with lending standards — set by banking regulators — that are designed to prevent bank failures. Many existing bank customers are paying off loans with their newfound wealth rather than borrowing money. In addition, many of the oil services companies operating in the Eagle Ford Shale have pre-existing relationships with banks outside the area, so they are not turning to South Texas banks for loans.
Lagging loan growth
All but six of the 20 banks studied reported loan growth over the period. That growth ranged from as little as 6.5 percent at Texas Community Bank in Laredo to 62.2 percent at The Karnes County National Bank.
The increase for those 14 banks was well above the 1.8 percent increase for all U.S. banks combined. Nevertheless, the pace of growth significantly lagged the rise in deposit growth that Eagle Ford-area banks experienced.
“Nobody’s been able to keep up with that,” said Fred Hilscher, executive vice president of the First National Bank of Shiner. Its deposits are up $78 million, or 78.5 percent, versus $7.7 million for loans. The bank borders two counties directly affected by the Eagle Ford Shale. He attributed most of the increase in deposits to the shale.
“We would hope that we could have a larger loan growth, more investments, but … we’re very conservative in what we do,” he added.
Security State Bank’s lending is up about $46 million, or 29 percent since the end of 2009, though its deposits were up $150 million. Wilson, the bank’s president and CEO, has been assessing loans for new oil field buildings and yards in the area to ensure that the bank doesn’t concentrate too heavily on these types of investments.
“If this oil play was to quit or really slow down, there’s going to be an oversupply of that type of thing,” he said. “Just like RV parks and motels. The whole Eagle Ford Shale, every major community in it, is inundated with motels.”
Every week, the bank turns down at least one loan application for motel construction, Wilson said. He’d prefer to provide construction financing for apartments or duplexes because there is such a shortage of permanent housing in the area, but developers aren’t interested.
“Everybody wants the immediate huge payback,” he said.
At Dilley State Bank, with nearly $100 million in assets, deposits increased by $33 million, or 70 percent, to $80.4 million. Loans, meanwhile, increased $3.4 million, or 36.2 percent, to almost $12.8 million.
“Our loans are higher now,” said Jeff W. Avant, the bank’s president and CEO. “But they are still relatively low (versus assets) for most banks our size. It’s not that we’re not (looking to lend) — we’re looking. We look at all the loans and possible loans that come in.”
Like most other banks, Dilley State Bank isn’t willing to ease its lending standards to make a loan. And while oil services companies have come into the area, the bank hasn’t had a bump in lending to them.
“A lot of oil companies, they are banking wherever they come from,” Avant said.
Straining capital ratios
The flood of deposits has led to one serious issue for some of these small banks: having enough capital.
Banking regulators require that banks maintain a minimal level of capital. Deposits are listed on a bank’s balance sheet as liabilities, so as deposits swell, the institutions’ owners might have to put up more of their own money — capital — as a hedge against potential losses to satisfy regulators’ requirements.
It’s an issue banks will have to grapple with as long as landowners continue to deposit big checks from royalties and leases. The solution is either to turn away customers or to raise more capital, Sheshunoff’s Carpenter said. Selling stock or retaining earnings are ways to boost capital.
Security State Bank has chosen the latter. The bank has been retaining about half its profits — rather than paying them out to shareholders — to increase its capital so its capital ratios remain stable.
Meanwhile, The Karnes County National Bank is seeking authority from federal banking regulators to sell $5 million in stock to boost its capital, Ruckman said.
“You’ve got to be proactive in these situations, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Picky about customers
Dilley State Bank hasn’t gone to the extreme of turning away new customers to limit new deposits, but it’s particular about who it wants banking there.
“We’re not trying to grow deposits. We’re not short on cash,” president and CEO Avant said.
One of Avant’s lieutenants refused to share the bank’s CD rates with a reporter out of fear that it they were published it would generate a slew of phone calls from prospective customers wanting to park their money there for just a short time.
“We are looking for long-term-relation-type customers,” Avant said.
All the activity in the Eagle Ford Shale has created exciting times, Security State Bank’s Wilson said. Yet he can’t quit worrying that it won’t last as long as many predict.
“Everything tells us that this is going to be a long-term play, but we’ve all been through some of these before and nobody saw the end coming until the day after it happened,” he said.
- Eagle Ford tied to global economy (mysanantonio.com)
- New drilling, production in Eagle Ford surges (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Eagle Ford Shale’s has had profound impact on Texas (fuelfix.com)
- Eagle Ford: Enterprise opens crude-gathering system (fuelfix.com)
Pennsylvania County’s Dreams of Wealth Didn’t Work Out
Four years ago, as the economy was entering a devastating recession, swaths of rural Pennsylvania were booming.
Energy companies were using hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to tap the vast natural gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale underlying much of the Keystone State. In Wayne County, these corporations offered struggling farmers lucrative leases for mineral rights.
“Land here became a whole different asset class,” says Tim Meagher, a real-estate broker whose family settled in the area in the 1840s.
Today there is no drilling in Wayne County, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its June 11 issue. The Delaware River Basin Commission, a regional regulatory agency, has declared a moratorium while it studies the environmental impact. Gas companies have invoked force majeure clauses to put their contracts with property owners on hold.
Investors who bought farmland are stuck, and farmers who expected to retire on gas royalties are back to eking out a living from agriculture.
Meanwhile, fracking opponents are brandishing the example of Wayne County as they fight shale energy exploration across the country.
The number of drilling permits issued in Pennsylvania soared from 122 in 2007 to 3,337 in 2011, according to the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research at Penn State University. Much of the activity was concentrated in the western and central parts of the state, which have a history of energy exploration and geology conducive to gas production.
As the price of gas climbed, drillers looking for fresh land started eyeing the verdant, rolling pastures of Wayne County in (26452MF) the northeastern part of the state.
Companies such as Hess, Chesapeake Energy (CHK) (CHK), and Cabot Oil & Gas (COG) (COG) dispatched “land men” to go door to door to persuade homeowners to sign mineral leases. Farmers were getting $250 to more than $3,000 an acre to allow drilling on their property, says Meagher. Land that sold for $2,000 to $3,000 an acre in 2004 was going for as much as $10,000 an acre by 2009. Meagher says he often got calls from prospective investors in Manhattan, Boston, and beyond. To encourage more, he put property ads in the New York Post, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
“I wanted to get my clients here the highest possible bid,” he says.
By the summer of 2009, a joint venture of Hess and Newfield Exploration (NFX) (NFX) had secured leases for 80,000 acres with the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, a group of 1,500 landowners formed to negotiate with the gas companies.
’People Here Struggle’
“It’s the biggest thing ever happened around here, in my lifetime at least,” says Alliance member Bob Rutledge, a dairy and beef farmer whose family has been in Wayne for 170 years. “People here struggle. The economy here sucks when it’s good. The farms are dying.” Spokesmen for Hess, Chesapeake, Cabot, and Newfield declined to comment.
Honesdale, the county seat, last saw a boom like this in the 1820s, when it was the starting point for the new Delaware & Hudson Canal. In March 2009, Leonard Schwartz, recently retired as chief executive officer of chemical company Aceto, reopened Honesdale’s 182-year-old Hotel Wayne. He gutted and redecorated its rooms and upgraded its restaurant and bar to accommodate out-of-town speculators and energy company officials with expense accounts.
“The gas companies were giving out money,” says Schwartz. “People were buying tractors, eating out. You felt it.”
As fracking fever spread, opposition to gas exploitation was building. In the spring of 2008, a gas company offered Josh Fox’s family almost $100,000 to drill on its Wayne County property, inspiring Fox, a filmmaker, to make the anti-fracking documentary “Gasland.”
The Oscar-nominated film, which shows water from a faucet catching fire, was shown on HBO and helped foment broader opposition to fracking. Fox and an alliance of conservation groups called on the Delaware River Basin Commission to ban the practice in Wayne County. They argued that the drilling technology, which involves injecting high-pressure jets of water and chemicals into underground rock formations, would pollute the river’s 14,000-square-mile basin, a source of drinking water for 15 million people.
In May 2009 the commission, which includes the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York as well as a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, declared that gas companies wanting to drill in Wayne County would need a permit from the DRBC as well as from the state of Pennsylvania.
Land men started pulling out of Wayne, according to local townspeople. A year later the commission announced that it would not issue permits and would study the impact of fracking.
The decision caught farmers and investors off guard.
“I had never even heard of this out-of-state commission,” says Jim Stracka, a contractor from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who joined with two New Jersey businessmen to form a company called Gasaholics to invest in Wayne County.
In 2008, Gasaholics paid $900,000 in cash for a 96-acre farm in northeastern Wayne. Stracka says he expected to lease his mineral rights for at least $3,000 an acre and hoped a producing well might generate as much as $50,000 a day in royalties.
“We went on that premise,” he says. “Then, the moratorium comes out of left field and the leases stop. Now we’re just sitting on it.”
The property remains vacant. A local farmer stops by on occasion to cut the land’s overgrowth for hay.
Rutledge fared better. Hess-Newbridge paid him $300,000 for the right to drill on his farm. Even so, he’s bitter at the prospect of not receiving royalties. He says his farm can’t compete with corporate operations, and that he’s been selling timber from his land, as well as portions of a century-old stone wall.
“The DRBC,” he says, “isn’t writing me a check. They’re just basically saying ‘screw you.’”
Drilling is not officially dead in Wayne County. In February 2011 the DRBC held 18 hours of public hearings at three locations to take testimony on draft regulations and received 69,000 submissions during a two-month public comment period, according to spokesmen Clarke Rupert and Kate O’Hara.
The commission scheduled a hearing for Nov. 21, 2011. Fox showed up with 2,000 protesters, but the meeting was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled.
A statement on the commission’s website says that as of May the commissioners are “convening meetings with their respective technical staff” as they consider rules for drilling.
As fracking continues in most of Pennsylvania, Wayne County residents are recognizing that public-works improvements tied to a gas boom aren’t going to happen.
“We expected better roads,” says Myron Uretsky, a retired New York University professor who owns a house in the town of Damascus, Pennsylvania. “We have no fire hydrants -— the gas companies were going to put them in.”
While many residents blame Fox for their troubles, he says they were naive to think drilling would ever be allowed in such an environmentally critical area. He faults the gas companies for dangling money in front of farmers without warning them of the potential problems.
“It was all sweetness and light,” he says. “‘You’ll make so much money.’ That’s exploitation, not prosperity. This was a bubble.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Roben Farzad in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Josh Tyrangiel at email@example.com
- Cabot Oil and Gas Recycles Fracking Water (wbng.com)