Halliburton’s Frac’ing Surge Is Bigger Than Reported

        On March 6, 2018, Seeking Alpha reported that Halliburton’s frac’ing fleet was surging across the country.  This is, of course, a great news story for the American oil and gas industry.  The U.S. government’s statistical agency expects both oil and gas to hit record levels of production in 2018, and almost all of the growth is coming from frac’ing.  Halliburton is a huge part of this, though there is some disagreement over just how fast Halliburton is ramping up.

Who Knows What Halliburton is Doing?

        Halliburton has a strong foothold on fracturing services in the United States (see information box below).  They’re required by law to make some disclosures, but the company is not in the business of publicizing all of its work.  As a result, industry watchers are left to make their best estimates about what Halliburton is doing.

Q1-2017

- HAL Market Share by Frac Job: 28%
- HAL Market Share by Active Spreads: 18%
Q2-2017

- HAL Market Share by Frac Job: 27%
- HAL Market Share by Active Spreads: 20%

Q3-2017

- HAL Market Share by Frac Job: 28%
- HAL Market Share by Active Spreads: 20%

Q4-2017*

- HAL Market Share by Frac Job: 28%
- HAL Market Share by Active Spreads: 20%

*data incomplete

 Our company, Primary Vision, uses sophisticated analytics to project real-time data
 on active frac’ing operations from lagging data sets.

        The article states that Halliburton grew its frac’ing fleet by 700,000 horsepower in 2017, giving it a total of more than four million horsepower of frac’ing equipment under its control.  The information in that article was supplied by Rystad, a Norwegian based company that offers consulting services and business intelligence to the oil and gas space.

        We have a slightly different view. Primary Vision estimates that Halliburton currently has 115-120 marketed frac’ing operations, called frac spreads as of the writing of this blog.  Each spread is powered by roughly 36,000 horsepower of pumping equipment and also contains other necessary equipment, like data trucks, storage tanks, and frac’ing fluid blenders.  Our estimates of both Halliburton’s active (108) and marketed spread count (115-120) ramped up much faster than others.  We think the company actually increased its fleet operations over the course of 2017 by about 1.2 million horsepower, not 700,000.

helpful definitions…

Frac Spread –  A frac spread (or sometimes referred to as a frac fleet)is a set number of equipment that a pressure pumper (oil field servicecompany) uses for hydraulic fracturing.

This includes a combination of fracturing pumps (also referred to as frac pumps and/or pumping units), data trucks, storage tanks, chemical additive and hydration units, blenders and other equipment needed to perform a frac stimulation.

Active Spread – Equipment that a pressure pumper has working or active in the field. 

Marketed Spread – Equipment that a pressure pumper has ready to work and available to work but might be in transition or in process of being deployed.

        We estimate that Halliburton went from 72 to 108 active spreads between the first and third quarters of 2017.  This run up, coincidentally or not, correlates closely with a March 2017 announcement that two competing frac’ing companies, Schlumberger and Weatherford, were going to create a joint venture called “OneStim.”  That idea was abandoned at the end of 2017, with Schlumberger instead simply buying Weatherford’s assets.

Where is the Extra Capacity Coming From?

        One unique strength of Halliburton is that the company manufactures its own frac’ing pumps.  The latest and greatest version is the Q10 pump, which is the centerpiece of the company’s “Frac of the Future” system.  Halliburton reportedly began replacing its pumps with Q10s in 2013.  When oil prices really began to crash in 2014 the company appears to have accelerated its retirement of the older pumping systems.  The company said some of its older equipment was being retired permanently while other equipment was being “cold-stacked” and could be brought back into service later.  In 2016, then CEO Dave Lesar, (he retired on June 1st of 2017 and was replaced by Jeff Miller) said that if the market ever turned around, Halliburton would have “multiple levers” it could pull, including accelerating the manufacturing and deployment of the Q10s and presumably also reactivating some of its older equipment (ie. Grizzly™ pumps).

        We believe that Halliburton has activated more of the old equipment than other analysts are assuming.  These assets were quickly deployed in response to both improved market conditions and presumably also the threat of competition from the likes of OneStim, other competitors as well as new entries such as Pro Frac, and Alamo Pressure Pumping.  As a result, Halliburton’s industry-leading frac’ing fleet contains a mix of both new and old pumps.  We estimate that Halliburton has approximately 4.2 million horsepower marketed.

Looking for data like this?

        Many businesses need to know exactly how much frac’ing is happening in the U.S. and Canda.  Primary vision’s flagship product, the Frac Spread Count, provides both high-level aggregations of industry-wide data and detailed information on each service provider’s activity in each region.  Our Frac Spread Count has grown in popularity since its inception in 2013.

Learn more:

http://www.pvmic.com/frac-spread-count

http://www.fracspreadcount.com/

contact Primary Vision directly: info@pvmic.com

Winter Has Been a Time for Frac’ing

    Primary Vision has just released the Winter Update to its flagship Frac Spread Count Report.  Many casual industry observers are familiar with the Baker Hughes count of active drilling rigs, but we believe it is just as important to track the number of active hydraulic fracturing operations, known as frac spreads.  These frac spreads are units made up of fracturing pumps, data trucks, storage tanks, chemical additive units, hydration units, and blenders.  We use cutting edge technology to tell our customers how many frac spreads are operating across the industry, along with granular data on each company in each shale play.

High Oil Prices Help North America Too

    The Winter Update validates our previous predictions that, at least in a number of key basins, the industry is focusing on completing already-drilled wells.  The drilled, yet uncompleted, wells are called “DUCS.”  Many analysts have taken to calling America’s DUCS the “fracklog.”  This abundance of pre-drilled wells allows American producers to ramp up production quickly if (and when) OPEC tries to drive up prices.

    Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows the number of DUCS at a record 7,483.  Saudi Arabia is seeking to open its state oil company up to investors by the end of 2018, and it needs a high oil price to get the best possible deal.  To that end, the Saudis have been doing their best to enforce production quotas on OPEC members.  We believe based on our research that the OPEC deal on quotas is likely to hold for longer than most in the industry assume.

    Rising oil prices have a very direct effect on the number of frac jobs completed each year.  The count of active frac spreads has risen only slightly, because the U.S. fleet is largely already deployed, but the number of frac jobs completed is rising.  27,838 frac jobs were completed in 2014 before oil prices collapsed, and then the number dropped to 16,930 in 2015 and appears to have bottomed out in 2016 at 9,650.  Activity has now turned around and in 2017, 11,826 frac jobs were completed as of the writing of this article (PV believes the total will be closer to 13,000 after all completion reports are filed). 2018 will continue the surge.

More Frac’ing Than Drilling

    Most government and industry forecasts are overly focused on drilling and fail to properly account for completions.  Their data is also often based on information that is dreadfully out of date, as it can take months for well activity to be reported, if it is at all.  The EIA, for example, now estimates that U.S. crude will hit a record average of 10.6 million barrels per day in 2018 and gas will also hit a record of 80.3 billion cubic feet per day.  We believe these estimates fail to account for the near full deployment of frac spreads.

    Primary Vision continues to predict that companies will focus on DUCS, leading to more frac spreads than active drilling rigs in many regions.  For example, in the DJ Basin-Niobrara, active frac spreads surpassed drilling rigs in early 2017 and have maintained a steady lead.

    Similar dynamics were at play in the Williston and Utica plays.  We also look for operators to further explore the Duvernay and Montney formations which seem oil-abundant in western Canada.

Get Your National Frac Spread Count Winter Update Today

    Our reports are trusted by companies large and small, as they are a unique source of both industry-wide frac’ing activity along with more detailed data focused on each company and each play.  Our proprietary system collects data from countless public and private sources and uses sophisticated techniques to produce real time frac spread counts from this sometimes dated and incomplete data.  We also have detailed data on water, proppant, and chemical usage.  Get in touch with us today to subscribe to our reports or just order a sample.

2017 Frac Maps – Canada

A couple weeks ago we released our U.S. Frac basin map for free.  You can get that one here.  This week, we’re releasing our Canada frac basin maps. Canada is rich in natural resources, but has experienced a painful decline in activity due to recent market conditions. In terms of spread activity we see the U.S. experiencing 10-1 the activity over Canada, however this could change as the market begins to recover over the next 12-18 months.

Feel free to share this map, use it in a presentation or print it out!  Just make sure to source Primary Vision, Inc.

THE MOST RECENT OFFERING FROM US AT PRIMARY VISION IS THE FRAC SPREAD COUNT REPORT, WHICH OFFERS BOTH WEEKLY UPDATES ON PROJECTED ACTIVITY AND ACCESS TO OUR HISTORICAL DATA.  CUSTOMERS CAN GET THE INFORMATION IN TOP-LINE CHARTS THAT CAN BE EASILY DIGESTED OR THROUGH THE REAMS OF MORE GRANULAR DATA THAT WE ALSO SUPPLY.  YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE TO OUR REPORT AT WWW.FRACSPREADCOUNT.COM.  YOU CAN ALSO CONTACT AT INFO@PVMIC.COM FOR MORE INFORMATION OR A DEMONSTRATION ON HOW OUR PRODUCTS CAN HELP YOUR BUSINESS.

Does #Exxon Know The Value of Its Assets?

by Matthew Johnson

In recent months, ExxonMobil has been under fire after investigative reporters claimed the oil and gas giant knew about risks associated with climate change since at least the 1970s and hid that knowledge from the public.  Leading environmental groups called for the company to be prosecuted the way tobacco companies were prosecuted for hiding Smoking risks.  Mainstream politicians like Hillary Clinton joined in and New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman launched an investigation.  In March 2016, attorneys general from 18 jurisdictions announced they are now part of his effort. In September 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that AG Schneiderman had changed his aim and is now looking more closely at how Exxon values its assets.  The federal government has also launched a similar effort.

In addition to climate questions, the government wants to know if Exxon is hiding the damage it has suffered from low oil prices.  As our proprietary data shows, frac jobs decreased 50% from Q42015 to Q12015, and that foretold a corresponding drop in production and cash flow.  ONE THING TO NOTE IS THAT PRIMARY VISION’S DATA FOCUSES ON NORTH AMERICAN FRAC’ING AND THE MAJORITY OF EXXON’S BUSINESS IS INTERNATIONAL/OFFSHORE.

The Good:

First off, ExxonMobil is a pillar of American industry that traces its lineage back to the Standard Oil Trust that dominated world oil markets in the late 1800s.  The company has survived a lot of legal issues in its past, and when crude markets rebalance (or if OPEC is able to boost oil prices) then Exxon’s troubles may disappear.
This particular controversy has to do with the process executives use to sign off on calling reserves “proven” after reviewing data from engineers, geophysicists, and geologists.  Dropping oil prices and costly regulations reduce the value of these “proven” resources.  Most companies will write down that lost value, but write-downs reduce profits.  Exxon is notorious for refusing write-downs.  Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson sees this aversion as a good part of the company’s culture.  He says it avoids write-downs by placing a high burden on executives to ensure that projects can work at low prices.  Those executives will not be “bailed out” by having their projects written down in a bad market.

One thing that helps make this strategy viable for Exxon is that its operations are heavily centered in areas that continue to be economic at current prices.  In particular, this means the Permian Basin in Texas, and through it subsidiary XTO Energy the company also reaches the Williston Basin in North Dakota.  Our data shows these to be the most popular locations for frac jobs in recent years.

The Bad:

The flip side here is that Exxon could be seen as lying about the cost of climate or its losses associated with low oil prices.  The company has outperformed many of its rivals since oil prices began to drop in 2014, but it has lost money in its U.S. drilling business for the past six quarters.  By failing to admit that their reserves had lost value, Exxon was able to report higher earnings than rivals that made significant write-downs.  Some may say the company inflated its earnings to boost its stock price.

The Ugly:

Exxon is now facing two different investigations with overlapping aims.  First, New York AG Schneiderman and his coalition are pursuing allegations of fraud related to climate change.  AG Schneiderman also appears to be independently reviewing Exxon’s practices related to writing down assets and accounting for the cost of climate change.  Second, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has now opened up an inquiry into the same issues of write-downs and climate accounting.

Conclusion:

Exxon has been on the attack against AG Schneiderman and what the company views as a politically-motivated attack, but Exxon has said the SEC is the “appropriate entity” to look into these matters.  Exxon is proud of its practices and it will likely hold up against government scrutiny as it has for decades.  History suggests commodity prices will rise again, and when they do Exxon’s troubles will seem minor.  Moreover, these investigations were just a chink in Exxon’s armor.  Stock prices took only a small dip after the SEC investigation was announced, and analysts like The Street Ratings still consider the stock a “hold” as the company is in a solid financial position despite weak cash flow and poor profit margins.

sources:

Disclaimer
The data presented above has a margin of error of 5-8% as a result of E&P and/or service company errors or incorrect data filings. Neither the information, nor any opinion contained in this site constitutes a solicitation or offer by Primary Vision or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities, futures, options or other financial instruments or provide any investment advice or service.

Frac Spread Count 2.0 – June 2016

by Jake Stevens

Have you prepared for the inevitable?

While a lot of focus is on permits and even the rig count over the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve been distributing a new metric that propelled Primary Vision into the mainstream in the summer of 2015, one we believe is the most important metric of frac activity.  We call it the Primary Vision Frac Spread Count (I might refer to it as the PVFSC or the FSC for the rest of this blog).

A quick summary of what the PVFSC is.  Simply put its a metric for the highest daily value of active frac spreads for a given week.

Ok great, but what exactly is a frac spread.  Well, lets start telling you what it isn’t.  It has nothing directly to do with natural gas prices (the crack spread), natural gas refiners (the fractionation spread) or the value gained from the sale of any natural gas liquid.

Primary Vision knows the who (pressure pumper), where, when, how many, and in most cases what the service providers are pumping, but it doesn’t stop there. We also know for what operators they are pumping for.

To summarize for every frac spread we know the following:

1) Days Active
2) Location
3) Pressure Pumper
4) Operator
5) Volumes of water, proppant, chemicals pumped

This allows us to know the number of active fleets on a given day and allows for the creation of the Primary Vision Frac Spread Count.

We give away for free, updated every week ,the Primary Vision Frac Spread Count National number.  This you can find here. Its updated by 10am every Friday.  Sign up for the free national report and you’ll get an email sent out weekly that includes the historical frac spread data plus the frac spread data for the previous week.  Use the chart and the data as you wish, all we’re asking is that you source us when using the data/image in a commercial capacity.

Its free, and yes you can get started today.

In a few days we’ll highlight what you get with the paid subscription for the Primary Vision Granular Frac Spread Count or you can reach out to us at info@pvmic.com to learn more.

July ReFrac Report – Permian Basin Style

July Update

Primary Vision has been working hard to improve our ReFrac report offering.  We’ve added some additional charts for you focused on the Permian Basin, changed some charts that were hard to read, added a printable version, upgraded our delivery method from an attachment to a link, etc. etc.  A lot of changes that required a lot of testing and we’re not gonna stop there.  Look for us to add in additional analytics, chemicals and production before the end of the year.

side note: We’re also looking to add an account based system as well as additional reports (hint: Frac Fleet report)

In addition to our reports, we’re going to soon be adding production data, additional completions data and making our trek to the great white north (yes, Canada)!  All a part of the continued evolution of our comprehensive U.S. frac data products.

Survey Forthcoming

Some time this week we’re going to release a survey on our refrac report and a bit about what’s important to you frac data-wise.  Should be super easy, ten questions or less.  Thanks in advance!

Shameless Plugging

Still thinking about ordering our Granular ReFrac Report?  Get July’s instantly and be setup for August where we’ll focus on the Barnett and maybe one additional surprise. You’ll have to subscribe to find out!

How to Subscribe:

You can order here for just $99 (or jump on our soon to change yearly pricing of $899) that is packed with 30+ pages of information including…
Number of ReFrac’ed Wells by Quarter, Region, Orientation and Trajectory
– 
Updated from June!
ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Top 10 Operator (ALL and HZ wells separately)
– Updated from June!

ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Service Company (ALL and HZ wells separately)
– Updated from June!

Average Proppant Mass by Proppant Type (ALL and HZ wells separately)
– Updated from June!

ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Proppant Type (ALL and HZ wells separately)
– Updated from June!

Proppant Mass Comparison Between Original and Second Frac (ALL and HZ wells separately)
– Updated from June!
Heat maps for Re’Frac wells for each year
– Updated from June!
Additionally we drilled down into the Permian Basin in July, so additional slides focused on that region are included.

Summer is half way over, get outside!

Primary Vision Team

ReFrac Report Redux & Eagle Ford Drill Down

Updates, Refracs and Future

The rig count has gone up for the first time in 2015 and more permits were issued last week than in any week since February. Good news?  Kinda!

The grass is fairly green here as we move past the half way point of 2015 and boy is the refrac market heating up!

According to Forbes “1 in 2” frac’ed wells in the United States are candidates to be refrac’ed.

According to our frac records that is almost 50,000 candidate wells!

Halliburton and Schlumberger seem to be gearing up technically and financially to make a big splash into refracs in the second half of 2015.

Let that sink in a second…

Where are the candidate wells?
What operators are testing and what operators are ready to turn the refrac machine on?
How much proppant is being used in those refracs?
What is the chemical system that is being used?
What is the secondary frac chemistry?

All of these questions have been asked to Primary Vision in the last month! We can help you and your team learn more about the buzzy topic, so lets get started with our June report right now.

You can order here for just $99 (or jump on our soon to change yearly pricing of $899) that is packed with 30+ pages of information including…

Number of ReFrac’ed Wells by Quarter, Region, Orientation and Trajectory – Updated from May!
ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Top 10 Operator (ALL and HZ wells separately) – Updated from May!
ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Service Company (ALL and HZ wells separately) – Updated from May!
Average Proppant Mass by Proppant Type (ALL and HZ wells separately) – Updated from May!
ReFrac’ed Wells by Year by Proppant Type (ALL and HZ wells separately) – Updated from May!
Proppant Mass Comparison Between Original and Second Frac (ALL and HZ wells separately) – Updated from May!
Heat maps for Re’Frac wells for each year – Updated from May!
and we drilled down (all puns intended) into The Eagle Ford as well as made our prediction on total refracs for 2015.

Next month we’ll cover the Permian Basin and soon be releasing our second report based around pressure pumpers. Things are getting exciting!

Want to get on the early bird list for that? Email me at mjohnson@pvmic.com

Marcellus Shale Market Trends Part 2: Is Average Proppant Mass Still on the Rise?

In our last post, we discussed a variety of factors that have influenced frac activity levels in the Marcellus shale, including continually rising natural gas production levels, basis differentials at regional market hubs relative to Henry Hub natural gas spot prices, and pipeline takeaway constraints. Reduced drilling and completion (D&C) activity by certain operators has been offset by increased activity by others. That said, there is little doubt that D&C activity would be more robust were it not for these factors. We also took a look at some notable acquisitions and divestments in the Appalachian Basin, the most notable of which was Southwestern Energy’s acquisition from Chesapeake Energy of 413,000 net acres and 435 wells with net production in September 2014 of 336 MMcfe.

Today, we delve into well completion designs that have been used in efforts to optimize well performance and what implications it has had for proppant use. In particular, we focus on 16 leading E&Ps active in the Marcellus.

With E&Ps in full-scale well manufacturing mode in the Marcellus, emphasis has shifted to increased operational efficiency to bring down or, at the very least, contain well construction costs. But just as we see across several oily basins, operators targeting both liquids-rich and dry-gas zones of the Marcellus (and Utica) shale have continued to fine-tune well and frac designs to optimize well performance.

In an effort to increase EURs and produce wells to their maximum potential, E&Ps in the Marcellus have been: 1) drilling increasingly longer laterals; 2) improving lateral placement in the reservoir; 3) increasing frac stage counts per well; 4) using shorter stage lengths (SSL) and reduced cluster spacing (RCS) completions (tighter spacing between stages and more perforations or “perfs” per lateral). RCS completions were first adopted in the Marcellus, and operators have been using the technique since early-2012. As Credit Suisse has suggested, RCS completions have become “almost universally adopted in the Marcellus.” Operators are more commonly evaluating well costs and economics based on per-lateral-foot basis.

In April 2012, Range Resources announced that 2 wells using RCS completions produced at twice the initial production rate (IP-rate) as compared to non-RCS wells on the same well pad. In September 2013, Antero Resources commented that using RCS frac designs in 17 liquids-rich Marcellus wells resulted in incremental frac costs that averaged 20% higher than previous designs ($2 million vs. $1.5 million per well). But the operator saw IP-rates increase by 25-35% compared to similar wells in the area. CONSOL Energy commented that when it first used RCS on two wells in early-2012, IP-rate improvements over non-RCS wells were not meaningful. However, the operator observed that after 15 months of production history, these two wells were 20% and 40% above the type curve, respectively.

What is the implication of all of this for proppant? Longer laterals, SSL/RCS completions, and increased stage counts per well all in isolation lead to increased proppant. But the contemporaneous adoption of all of these practices has led to significant increases in average proppant mass pumper per well.

We categorized 16 publicly-traded operators into peer groups as outlined in the table below. The E&Ps have collectively accounted for approximately 75% of frac activity in the Marcellus since 2012.

Notes: XTO Energy operates autonomously as a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and manages US Land upstream operations on behalf of its parent company; E&P categorization reflects that of Raymond James

The proppant mass index presented below uses weighted averages based on the number of wells frac’ed by operators within each peer group. The chart reflects growth of average proppant mass per well using 2011 Q4 as a base of comparison.

Marcellus-Average-Proppant-Mass-Index-12Q1-14Q3

Marcellus Average Proppant Mass Index (12Q1-14Q3)

Sources: Primary Vision

The findings are rather staggering. As a collective, average total proppant mass per well is up 2.3x between 2011 Q4 and 2014 Q3. Our analytics reveal that as a collective group, average proppant mass per well has increased at a 32% CAGR between 2012 and 2014.

As this trend has played out, it has had cascading impacts across the upstream supply chain. After a surge of manufacturing capacity expansion during 2012 and 2013 led to an oversupply and falling pricing, frac sand suppliers have seen significant demand growth bring the market back closer to balance over the past ~12 months and have realized . Proppant logistics have been challenging due to chronic shortages of rail cars and truck-trailers as well as intermittently by weather. During 2014, operators have reported delays scheduling frac due to temporary sand shortages. Certain frac services providers have commented that proppant hauling costs essentially doubled overnight during spring 2014 – sand haulers appeared to be colluding by simultaneously charging a per-truck day rate rather than on a per-load basis. Some frac services providers have rushed to lock in long-term supply agreements with sand suppliers.

Primary Vision’s customers leverage our Big Data solutions to gain meaningful insights on the latest market dynamics and act accordingly. By staying ahead of the curve, they can make data-driven tactical and strategic decisions that help increase their bottom line.

Marcellus Shale Market Trends Part 1: Natural Gas Prices & Frac Activity

In today’s post, we discuss natural gas prices, frac activity levels, and some recent acquisitions and divestments in the Marcellus.

Natural gas prices at some market hubs in the Appalcahian Basin have been trading at negative differentials relative to spot prices at the Henry Hub, considered the “New York Stock Exchange of Natural Gas.” This has been driven by a supply glut and take-away pipeline capacity constraints. Natural gas production from the Marcellus shale has increased from approximately 5.0 Bcf/day in January 2012 to roughly 13.6 Bcf/d at present, according to research from EIA’s Natural Gas Weekly Update illustrates.

Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Production (January 2012 - October 2014)

Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Production (January 2012 – October 2014)

Sources: Primary Vision; EIA

Take-away pipeline capacity, especially in Northern Pennsylvania, was unable to keep pace with rising production. The divergence of spot prices can be traced back to mid-2012. Several new interstate and intrastate pipeline projects in different stages of development will deliver natural gas flows to other markets, including the Southeast US. These developments should mitigate the supply backup that has exerted downward pricing pressure. An exception to these regional market dynamics has been the TCO Pool, one of the Appalachian hubs where pricing has kept close parity to Henry Hub prices due its ability to back out deliveries from Gulf Coast sources and its pipeline connections that provide access to several markets.

Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Pipelines and Market Hubs

Natural Gas Prices – Marcellus Hubs (April – October 2014)

Sources: EIA

Facing these challenging dynamics, certain operators have decreased activity levels during 2014 relative to 2012 and/or 2013 levels, including Chesapeake (as further detailed below), XTO/ExxonMobil, EOG Resources, EXCO Resources, and WPX.

On the other hand, certain E&Ps have stepped up or maintained strong frac activity levels, including Southwestern Energy, Antero Resources, EQT, CONSOL Energy, Noble Energy, Talisman, Seneca Resources, and Rex Energy. Indeed, Southwestern Energy recently announced a $5.375 billion agreement with Chesapeake Energy to acquire 413,000 net acres in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania targeting natural gas, natural gas liquids, and crude oil in the Upper Devonian, Marcellus, and Utica. The deal also includes 256 operated and 179 non-operated wells, or 435 total wells, with a net production of 336 MMcfe/d (55% gas, 36% NGL, 9% oil).

Royal Dutch Shell, which has been reshuffling its US Land unconventional oil and gas portfolio in an effort to shore up its balance sheet, has announced a few transactions of late in the Appalachian Basin. Rex Energy acquired 208,000 gross (207,000 net) acres from Shell in a deal announced on August 12, 2014. The $120 million all-cash transaction added significantly to Rex’s asset base in a liquids-rich area covering Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence, Mercer and Venango counties in western/southwestern Pennsylvania and Columbiana and Mahoning counties in northeastern Ohio. Two days after details of the transaction with Rex were made public, Shell announced two separate transactions, including a “swap” with Ultra Petroleum. The deal with Ultra involves Shell selling its 100% interest in conventional natural gas assets in the Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming in exchange for 155,000 net acres in the Marcellus and Utica as well as $925 million cash. Interestingly, the Supermajor describes these newly-acquired assets in northcentral Pennsylvania as “highly attractive exploration acreage” rather than clearly-delineated development acreage. The second transaction announced involves Shell selling 100% of its Haynesville shale assets in Louisiana, including associated field facilities and infrastructure, to Vine Oil & Gas LP and its financial sponsor, the Blackstone Group, for $1.2 billion. Shell appears to simultaneously be demonstrating its belief in the long-term value proposition of the Marcellus and Utica, but appears more inclined to focus on dry gas production instead of what may be for the operator less economic wet gas production. Either way, Shell’s well construction costs in the Appalachian Basin are certainly lower than in its recently-divested dry gas Haynesville assets. It will be interesting to see how Shell’s plans and regional natural gas prices will affect its medium- and long-term returns.

Similar to major basins across US Land, many operators active in the Marcellus have managed to bring well costs down due to increased drilling and completion efficiency, driven primarily by the more common practice and larger scale of multi-well pad operations. E&Ps have also managed to exert pricing leverage on vendors, particularly frac services providers that are competing in a market oversupplied with pressure pumping capacity. Recent commodity price weakness has been well-document in the news, but operators such as Occidental Petroleum and oilfield service providers such as Halliburton remain optimistic and report that activity levels recently have not materially changed.

In Part 2 of our analysis on the Marcellus, we will discuss proppant market trends. Stay tuned!