(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.”
- 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)
Having finished his “damage control” PR campaign (for now) Ben Bernanke decided to discuss… Europe, urging the Big Banks to help prop up the system over there.
Exclusive: Bernanke breaks bread with top bankers
After completing a series of public lectures in Washington, D.C. last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke quietly slipped into New York City for a private luncheon on Friday with Wall Street executives.
Fortune has learned that attendees included Jamie Dimon (J.P. Morgan), Bob Diamond (Barclays), Brady Dougan (Credit Suisse), Larry Fink (Blackrock), Gerald Hassell (Bank of New York Mellon), Glenn Hutchins (Silver Lake), Colm Kelleher (Morgan Stanley), Brian Moynihan (Bank of America), Steve Schwarzman (Blackstone Group) and David Vinar (Goldman Sachs).
Sources say Bernanke spoke at length about monetary policy, in an apparent effort to persuade attendees that they needed to take a more active role in helping to deal with the European debt crisis. He spent virtually no time discussing regulation, although that mantle got taken up by both Dimon (domestic regulation) and Schwarzman (global regulation).
The lunch was held at the New York Fed, and hosted by NY Fed president William Dudley. Before leaving New York, Bernanke separately addressed NY Fed staffers.
This is an interesting progression from the last time Fed officials went to New York:
Fed met with major financial firms to discuss Volcker Rule impact
Documents released by the Federal Reserve on Monday show that its officials met with some of Wall Street’s major financial firms earlier this month to discuss Volcker Rule implications.
The Fed met with representatives from Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley on Nov. 8, according to Bloomberg.com. Bank lawyers H. Rodgin Cohen and Michael Wiseman from Sullivan & Cromwell were also present during the meeting.
According to the documents, the meeting entailed a discussion on “possible unintended consequences of the rule.”
Notice that during discussions of regulations, it was “Fed officials” who attended these meetings, NOT Bernanke himself (at least he’s not mentioned anywhere). So why is Bernanke, the head of the Fed wanting to meet with bankers to discuss Europe instead of Regulation?
You guessed it: Bernanke realizes Europe is totally and completely bust… and that the coming fall-out will be disastrous for the global banking system.
After all, the ECB spent over $1 trillion trying to prop up the system over there. And already the effects of LTRO 2 (which was worth $712 billion) have been wiped out. If you don’t think this sent a chill up Bernanke’s spine, you’re not thinking clearly.
Consider the following facts which I guarantee you Bernanke is well aware of:
- 1) According to the IMF, European banks as a whole are leveraged at 26 to 1 (this data point is based on reported loans… the real leverage levels are likely much, much higher.) These are a Lehman Brothers leverage levels.
- 2) The European Banking system is over $46 trillion in size (nearly 3X total EU GDP).
- 3) The European Central Bank’s (ECB) balance sheet is now nearly $4 trillion in size (larger than Germany’s economy and roughly 1/3 the size of the ENTIRE EU’s GDP). Aside from the inflationary and systemic risks this poses (the ECB is now leveraged at over 36 to 1).
- 4) Over a quarter of the ECB’s balance sheet is PIIGS debt which the ECB will dump any and all losses from onto national Central Banks (read: Germany)
So we’re talking about a banking system that is nearly four times that of the US ($46 trillion vs. $12 trillion) with at least twice the amount of leverage (26 to 1 for the EU vs. 13 to 1 for the US), and a Central Bank (the ECB) that has stuffed its balance sheet with loads of garbage debts, giving it a leverage level of 36 to 1.
I guarantee you Bernanke knows about all of the above. He also knows the ECB’s used up all of its ammunition fighting the Crisis over there. And lastly, he knows that the Fed cannot move to help Europe without risking his job. After all, even the Dollar swap move the Fed made in November 2011 saw severe public outrage and that didn’t even include actual money printing or more QE!
Moreover, Bernanke knows that the IMF can’t step up to help Europe. The IMF is, after all, a US-backed entity. How many times has it requested more money to help Europe? Maybe a dozen? And the answer from the US has always been the same: “No.”
Finally, the G20 countries have made it clear they don’t want to spend more money on Europe either. They keep dangling a bailout carrot in front of the EU claiming they’ll cough up more dough if the EU can get its monetary house in order… knowing full well that they actually cannot provide more funds (otherwise they’d have already done it).
This leaves the private banks as Bernanke’s last resort for a “backdoor” prop for Europe. If private meeting with the TBTFs that focuses on Europe doesn’t scream of desperation, I don’t know what does.
And do you think the big banks, which have all depleted their capital to make their earnings look better, actually have the money to help Europe? No chance.
Which means that Europe is going to collapse. Literally no one has the firepower or the political support to stop it.
Remember, we’re talking about banking system that’s a $46 trillion sewer of toxic PIIGS debt that is leveraged at more than 26 to 1 (Lehman was leveraged at 30 to 1 when it went under).
Again, NO ONE has the capital to prop the EU up much longer. And the collapse is coming.
If you’re not already taking steps to prepare for the coming collapse, you need to do so now.
- Bernanke Just Admitted the Fed Failed… Not That More QE Is Coming (zerohedge.com)
- Exclusive: Bernanke breaks bread with top bankers (finance.fortune.cnn.com)
- Revisited: Three Data Points That Prove Europe Cannot Be Saved (zerohedge.com)
- We Are Nearing the End Game For Central Bank Intervention (zerohedge.com)
March 08, 2012 09:00 AM Eastern Time
NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) plans to invest approximately $185 billion over the next five years to develop new supplies of energy to meet expected growth in demand, Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson said today in a presentation at the New York Stock Exchange.
“During challenging times for the global economy, ExxonMobil continues to invest to deliver the energy needed to underpin economic recovery and growth,” Tillerson said in a presentation to investment analysts.
Tillerson said that even with significant efficiency gains, ExxonMobil expects global energy demand to increase by 30 percent by 2040, compared to 2010 levels. Demand for electricity will make natural gas the fastest growing major energy source and oil and natural gas are expected to meet 60 percent of energy needs over the next three decades.
To help meet that demand, ExxonMobil is anticipating an investment profile of approximately $37 billion per year through the year 2016.
“An unprecedented level of investment will be needed to develop new energy technologies to expand supply of traditional fuels and advance new energy sources,” said Tillerson. “We are developing a diverse portfolio of high-quality opportunities across all resource types and geographies.”
A total of 21 major oil and gas projects will begin production between 2012 and 2014. In 2012 and 2013, the company expects to start up nine major projects and anticipates adding over 1 million net oil-equivalent barrels per day by 2016.
At the meeting the company outlined its major achievements in 2011 and plans for the future. Highlights include:
- ExxonMobil replaced 107 percent of its 2011 production (116 percent excluding asset sales), increasing proved reserves to 24.9 billion oil equivalent barrels. It was the 18th consecutive year the company replaced more than 100 percent of its production, with proved reserve additions of 1.8 billion oil-equivalent barrels.
- Nine major upstream projects are expected to start-up in the next two years including four in West Africa, Kashagan Phase 1 in Kazakhstan and the Kearl Oil Sands project in Canada.
- In the downstream, the company completed a large project at the Thailand refinery, which is expected to increase the supply of lower sulfur motor fuels by more than 50 thousand barrels per day. Additional projects are under way, including new facilities at ExxonMobil’s Singapore refinery and at a joint-venture refinery in Saudi Arabia.
- A major expansion at the Singapore chemicals facilities is nearing completion. Commissioning and startup activities are expected to continue through 2012 and will provide a world-scale integrated platform with unparalleled feedstock flexibility. The expansion will add 2.6 million tonnes per year of additional capacity and will help meet demand growth in Asia Pacific.
This is the 10th year that ExxonMobil has made an annual presentation to analysts at the New York Stock Exchange.
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT: Projections, expectations, business plans, and other statements of future events or conditions in this release are forward-looking statements. Actual future results, including demand growth and mix; capital expenditures; resource recoveries; production rates and growth; and project plans, schedules, and outcomes could differ materially due to changes in market conditions affecting the oil and gas industry, including long-term oil and gas price levels; the occurrence and duration of economic recessions; future technological developments; political or regulatory developments; reservoir performance; timely completion of development projects; the outcome of commercial negotiations; unexpected technical or operating events; and other factors discussed in Item 1A of ExxonMobil’s most recent Form 10-K and posted in the Investors section of our website. (www.exxonmobil.com)
Proved reserves in this release, for 2009 and later years, are based on current SEC definitions, but for prior years the referenced proved reserve volumes are determined on bases that differ from SEC definitions in effect at the time. Specifically, for years prior to 2009 included in our statement of 18 straight years of at least 100 percent replacement, reserves are determined using the price and cost assumptions we use in managing the business, not the historic prices used in SEC definitions. Reserves determined on ExxonMobil’s pricing basis also include oil sands and equity company reserves for all periods. Prior to 2009, these volumes were excluded from SEC reserves.
“Resources” and “resource base” include quantities of discovered oil and gas that are not yet classified as proved reserves, but that are expected ultimately to be recovered in the future. The term “resource base” is not intended to correspond to SEC definitions such as “probable” or “possible” reserves.
See the “Frequently Used Terms” posted in the Investors section of our website for more information on proved reserves and resources.
ExxonMobil, the largest publicly traded international oil and gas company, uses technology and innovation to help meet the world’s growing energy needs. ExxonMobil holds an industry-leading inventory of resources, is the largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products, and its chemical company is one of the largest in the world. For more information, visit www.exxonmobil.com.
Media Relations, 972-444-1107
- ExxonMobil, OMV Petrom Strike Gas Offshore Romania (mb50.wordpress.com)
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- Go Big or Go Home…ExxonMobil Announces Massive Spending Plan (gcaptain.com)
By Kate Dailey BBC News Magazine
Tucked inside the Swiss Embassy, the cocktail area celebrates the writer who made his home in CubaCuban and American politicians have celebrated together at the opening of Hemingway’s, an invitation-only bar located in a Washington, DC embassy.
It started like a typical Washington DC function. Men and women in dark suits milled around a formal room in the Swiss Embassy, crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. Waiters carried around glasses of red and white wine while guests made polite small-talk.
But after a series of speeches, guests were led to the back of the room, and into an entirely different experience.
They had entered Hemingway’s, a bar celebrating the American writer who made his home in Cuba. There, the floors were covered in terracotta tile, while wooden fans whirred above. Bartenders poured cocktails under a brass replica of Hemingway’s signature.
Aside from the fact that it serves liquor, Hemingway’s isn’t a bar in the traditional sense. Tucked inside the embassy, where the Cuban Interests Section resides, the bar has a strict invitation-only list.
It will be used for entertaining guests of the Interest Section, so tourists hoping to catch happy hour are out of luck.
The bar’s brass sign replicates Hemingway’s signature
It’s illegal for the bar to conduct any commerce, but the embassy is free from the trade embargo that forbids importing products from the communist country. So drinks were on the house, made with Cuban rum that’s normally impossible to find in the US.
Terry McAullife, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, ordered the first drink – Havana Club Rum, straight.
Mr McAullife, who travelled to Cuba last year as part of a trade mission, thinks that doing more business with Cuba could be a key to creating American jobs.
“It’s a huge market, and every other country in the world is already there,” he says. “And Cubans love American products.”
From Versailles to Havana
But the opening of the bar wasn’t simply about facilitating Cuban-American commerce.
Instead, the night was more about celebrating Ernest Hemingway, described as a “cultural bridge” by Jennifer Phillips, the grand-daughter of Hemingway’s editor. Ms Phillips is co-founder of the Finca Vigia foundation, devoted to preserving Hemingway’s Cuban home.
She spoke before the opening of the bar, reminding the audience that Hemingway is treasured by both nations.
The chief of the Cuban Interests Section told of a fishing contest between Castro and Hemingway
Neither the US nor Cuba have official embassies in the other’s country; instead both have Interests Sections located in the Swiss embassies.
Neither group has a history of being particularly friendly towards the host nation, though Cuba-watchers hope that Hemingway’s signals a positive change.
When the Interest Section in DC was due for a renovation, the Cuban diplomats decided to reclaim a bit of the space as their own.
“The room was like the palace of Versailles,” says Juan Leon Lamigueiro, deputy chief of the diplomatic mission. “There was very little Cuban.”
“So we decided to convert the warehouse annex into a bar dedicated to Hemingway.”
While mojitos and Cuba Libras were being poured in the small back room that houses the bar, a 12-piece band played Latin music in the front of the hall.
A mural promoting Fidel Castro displayed prominently at the entrance of the embassy.
Sandra Levinson, resplendent in a sparkling black and blue blouse, spun and twirled with her partner. MS Levinson, executive director of the Center for Cuban Studies in New York City and director of the centre’s Cuban Art Space, learned to dance during her many trips to Cuba, and had travelled down to Washington specifically to attend the opening.
As the crowd subsided, the hosts brought out cigars – the famous commodity that is forbidden in the US.
Reporters, bureaucrats, and Cuban emigrants happily puffed away – but more than one skittish politico declined to have their pictures taken enjoying Cuban contraband.
“You can write this,” one conceded. “An anonymous Hill staffer said the mojitos were fantastic.”
- U.S. & Cuba work together to preserve Hemingway’s Havana home (repeatingislands.com)
- Hemingway’s Bar: Propaganda Genius? (toinformistoinfluence.com)