Marcellus disappoints

An important report from Oil Drum, published at the Business Insider, explains that the Marcellus shale play will not break even when natural gas is selling at less than $7/Mcf, as the result of faster than expected decline rates for the wells.  Why then do companies continue to drill?  The report says:

Returning to the broader subject of shale plays in general, why do operators keep drilling while their own over-production has depressed the price of natural gas by half of its value since January 2010? It seems fairly clear at this time that the land is the play, and not the gas. The extremely high prices for land in all of these plays has produced a commodity market more attractive than the natural gas produced.

Foreign companies invest in U.S. shale plays for different reasons but the most often-stated reason is to learn about the technology that they may be able use to their advantage in future shale plays around the world. It is possible that some companies enter into joint ventures with U.S. shale operators for strategic reasons based on fears of future resource scarcity particularly as China expands its efforts to control everything from petroleum and minerals to rare earth metals around the world.

Read more:

But with currently reported natural gas futures at $3.84, it does not seem like this play is going to be viable.  Indeed, the report explains that while debt for Marcellus-focused companies has gone up and reserves have increased somewhat, shareholders’ equity has dropped dramatically.   To add insult to injury, the states of Pennsylvania and New York are placing moratoriums on new drilling in the play for fear of the new fracking technology that is used to exploit these wells, and in the case of Pennsylvania, because of a dispute between the republican legislature and the democrat Governor Edward Rendell over the drilling tax; of course, it’s the democrat who is insisting on a higher rate and has thus issued the moratorium.  I wonder if Governor Rendell has read the Oil Drum report showing that the drilling is largely unprofitable in the region.  This is no golden goose.  But I suppose a brass goose can also be strangled by taxes.

As a result of this, I’ve decided to sell 50% 75% 100% (update 11 Nov) of my holdings in Enerplus (ERF.un: TSX; ERF: NY) which has a large Marcellus shale operation.  This follows an excellent run for Enerplus, which still has many other great holdings.  Along with Marcellus, Enerplus recently acquired some lands on the US side of the Bakken.  I am uncomfortable with their large stake in the US with Obama at the helm–he illegally shut down  drilling in the Gulf and he and the other democrats in the US intend to destroy the US-based energy industry, all while subsidizing Brazil and Soros.  I will probably sink the funds that are now freed up into Pengrowth Energy and Penn West Energy, which are both listed as Action-List Buys by TD Newcrest.  These can also be bought on the New York Stock exchange and they can thus add to my US dollar carry trade.

The bad news for Marcellus shale may turn out to be good news for conventional natural gas plays in Canada, and it would come at an excellent moment.  The shale plays in the US have put great pressure on the prices causing a glut of available gas. I am maintaining my shares of Perpetual Energy (PMT:TSX) which dropped about 7% immediately after being trashed on BNN by Eric Nuttall of Sprott Asset Management (hat tip: Devon Shire), who said it is due for a dividend cut if natural gas prices don’t improve soon.  Some think that dividend cut is already factored into the current price. I’m looking to buy in at $3.85-4.00. Nuttall, a cognoscente of the Canadian oil industry, claims that no managed funds own Perpetual, only retail investors because of its high dividend yield.  Ouch!  He excused himself for previously recommending Terra Energy (TT:TSX), a natural gas weighted junior (which I started buying recently).  So Nuttall is not inerrant. 

C. Edmond Wright, shrugging entrepreneur

C. Edmond Wright has become one of my favorite writers at the American Thinker.  He is an entrepreneur who closed his business on the day that President Obama was elected.  He explains today why he considers that to have been the right choice.  In his article today, “Dear Mr. President: Why We Are Not Hiring” he trys to explain to Mr. Obama about risk [italics his]:

And since you clearly do not understand business at all, let me give you a short primer:

Any business idea, from the first day it is hatched, is nothing more than a series of cost-benefit analyses that the idea-holder either acts on or passes on. Sometimes the first decision is to forget the idea. Sometimes the first decision is to move ahead and invest some cash.

Perhaps a few million cost-benefit analyses later, you might have Microsoft or Home Depot or ESPN. Or you might have Bill’s Plumbing or Johnson’s Quality Homes or a café or an electrical wholesaler, and so on. And those businesses still operate on a constant stream of risk-reward decisions. In the business world, there is no neutral gear.

(There: Now you have more useful information than Jamie Gorelick or Franklin Raines got from Harvard.)

Thus, each time a risk factor is changed, the small business man has to determine whether he is going to hire, retain or layoff employees.  One huge risk factor in the US is the promise to raise tax on people making over 250K (or was it 100K? the number keeps changing).  Many limited partnerships and sole proprietorships are thus exposed to the full brunt of such taxes. Thus, the risk response will be to lower the number of employees and make less than that threshold where the extraordinary taxes kick in.  It is a promise based upon class envy and populism, and it is a real job killer.  The small business owner will not risk great amounts of capital unless the reward is also great.  Therefore, most will simply downsize their businesses to the point where they have few or no employees, or they will just simply shut their business down completely.  Now, the Bush tax cuts are expiring and there will be across the board tax increases on everyone.  This will obviously not help the employment situation in the US either.

Mr. Wright also mentioned how the environmental movement has sabotaged energy production in the USA and has increased the risk to business by raising the cost of energy.  Yet much of the current environmental pressure is focused on AGW (anthropogenic global warming), which is a hoax and based on counterfeit science.

Well, Mr. Wright, I for one have greatly benefited from this energy crisis because I’ve invested in Canada’s mid-cap (e.g., cpg, erf, nae.un) and junior oil and gas companies (mel, cta, psx, mox).  Now that Obama has announced further plans to remove tax cuts from oil drilling in the US, we can expect the whole Canadian oil industry to take off, as long as nothing stupid is done on the levels of our provincial or federal governments here in Canada, such as cap and trade or carbon tax.  (Perhaps the Luddites of the environmental movement want us to live as poor primitive peoples–but I’ve been to place where people live like that and I don’t know a single sane person who would ever choose to live like that.)

This is my comment on Mr. Wrights article at American Thinker:

Posted by: pwdunn Feb 12, 06:52 AM

Mr Wright: I found your article riveting; I too have decided to shrug for 12 years now for two reasons: (1) Taxes in Canada are so high that my wife already works for all levels of government until June 11th  or something like that [**actually June 17], and so why would I want to work for 6 months of the year for government as well? (2) I could teach at University level but I am neither black nor a woman, nor any other under-represented minority (actually I belong to an over-represented minority)–thought about changing my name to something Yupik, and I’d get a job in minute–but then who wants to be involved in higher education when the profs are hired on the basis of their gender or skin color. Not me.

More articles like this from business people would be greatly appreciate. Thank you American Thinker!