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Chesapeake Energy Finally Succumbs With Chapter 11 Filing

One of the longest-running dramas in corporate oil and gas history finally came to a climax on Sunday when management for Chesapeake Energy announced it would seek Chapter 11 protection under the U.S. bankruptcy code. The company has traveled a long and winding road to reach this point.

Rumors about the company’s pending bankruptcy have run rampant over the past year as it teetered on the financial brink. But in reality, Chesapeake’s financial troubles go back much further, to the early years of this century, when founder and former CEO Aubrey McClendon famously made a bet on natural gas continuing to be a scarce resource in high demand whose price would remain strong for decades. Based on that market view, the company then went on a buying spree for the next several years, buying up natural gas assets and companies at very high prices. In one acquisition in which the company I worked for – Burlington Resources – was the second high bidder, Chesapeake’s winning bid was $3 per MMBTU equivalent higher. That’s a lot of excess capital deployment.

None of his assumptions about the future for natural gas turned out to be accurate, of course, but it must be pointed out that McClendon certainly was not alone in making them. For example, I personally played a leadership role in a 2003 National Petroleum Council study which attempted to project natural gas supply, demand and prices through the year 2025. The study was led by ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum (acquired last year by Oxy), and included participants from many other industry companies, the Energy Department, the Department of Interior and environmental NGOs.

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The fundamental conclusions and projections of that study basically supported McClendon’s view of natural gas remaining a scarce resource with pretty high commodity prices as far as the statistical models we used could project. It was in fact the prevailing common wisdom in the industry at that time.

The NPC study projected that imports of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) would in fact have to make up an increasingly high percentage of U.S. natural gas supply. That incredibly wrong projection led to the building of a series of LNG import facilities in the U.S. and helped compel ExxonMobil to invest billions in its own fleet of new LNG tankers to help supply America’s coming needs.

While other operators held similar views about the future for U.S. natural gas, Chesapeake was without doubt the most aggressive in terms of pursuing new reserves. In addition to arguably over-paying for acquisitions of other companies or their assets, Chesapeake became infamous for radically driving up lease bonus prices in every new shale play, in the process running up a prodigious level of corporate debt. At one point, Chesapeake’s corporate debt exceeded that held by ExxonMobil, a company many times its size.

As natural gas prices collapsed in the late ‘00s, McClendon next turned to sales of his own company’s assets or portions of working interests in big play areas as a means of continuing to finance and pay down that debt. He sold shares of the company’s working interests in the Barnett, the Eagle Ford, the Marcellus and the Haynesville to various other players, like BP and CNOOC, but every sale also meant less and less cash flow coming into the company itself. Many in the business during that time joked about it being a sort of a pyramid scheme in which the debts would ultimately end up outstripping the company’s income and ability to pay.

 

 

 

 

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For the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry, the Time for Alarm Has Arrived

Today’s Energy Update 

I’m no fan of alarmism, whether it be about energy, the environment or any other subject, but the situation for the domestic oil and gas industry has grown somewhat alarming over the past two months. Since early January the S&P Oil & Gas Index has plunged 32%. Investors appear convinced not just that there is oodles of oil in the world but that the spread of Coronavirus brings the risk of economic flatlining in the biggest growth market for oil — China.

With the virus set to spread and the OPEC+ group running out of options to contain the oil glut, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crashed through the important $50 level this week, and promises to slide further. Chevron yesterday sent home 300 workers in London over virus fears. Thus, a year that began with a fairly promising outlook is rapidly devolving into one that will present a fight for survival for some domestic producers.

The statement on Tuesday by Dr. Nancy Messonnier, an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that spread of the Coronavirus in the U.S. was “inevitable,” and that citizens here should begin preparing for an outbreak will certainly work to further inflame the markets. President Donald Trump has reserved television time for a statement designed to calm the situation on Wednesday night, but it could come too late to prevent further disruption in the commodity and financial markets.

Meanwhile, the U.S. market for natural gas remains chronically over-supplied with no real relief in sight. Although the NYMEX price per MMBtu has remained fairly stable during the first two months of the year, it is stable at a price that is far too low for many natural gas producers to remain profitable.

All of these factors now combine to create a precarious situation for heavily-leveraged companies as they head into debt re-determination season. Chesapeake Energy is a good example. When I wrote about that company’s long, difficult struggle to survive last November, Morgan Stanley had just lowered its price target for CHK stock from $2.25 per share to $1.25.

But it isn’t only independent producers who are finding the current market conditions to be challenging: Even ExxonMobil, despite its prime position in the Permian Basin and major international discoveries over the past two years, is experiencing a disturbing rate of value destruction. As noted by Bloomberg, XOM stock dropped to a 15-year low on Monday and fell further on Tuesday, “just over a week before Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods is scheduled to present the oil explorer’s long-term strategic plan to investors and analysts.” For the year, XOM is now down by almost 25%.

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Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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Is an Oil Price Train Wreck Hiding Around the Bend?

Today’s Energy Update
(Because Energy Fuels Our Lives)

The energy media has recently featured headlines that seem at odds with one another and that, when taken together, portend the possibility of a coming train wreck somewhere down the road where crude oil supply and prices are concerned. Let’s look at some of the more recent headlines as examples:

“The U.S. Shale Boom is About to Get a Major Upgrade” – Investors Business Daily, Feb. 19

“Wall Street Calls for Better Returns; Shale Gets Thrifty” – Gulf Times, Feb. 17

“OPEC Cuts Send Crude Exports to Lowest Since 2015” – Financial Times, Feb. 19

“U.S. shale oil output to hit record 8.4 million bpd in March: EIA” – Reuters, Feb. 19

That Investor’s Business Daily story begins by stating “The U.S. shale oil boom is about to get a whole lot bigger. The reason: Giant oil companies like Exxon Mobil (XOM) are leveraging their massive scale to unleash more production from the top-producing shale oil formation.”

The EIA projects that the domestic industry will push U.S. oil production past the 12 million barrels of oil per day (bopd) level for the first time in the nation’s history in March, with 70% of that coming from shale plays. Fully 1/3rd of all oil produced in the U.S. in March will come from the Permian Basin alone.

Follow me on Twitter at @GDBlackmon

Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.

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