Revision to Wyoming’s APD Rules: Proposal for Wyoming’s First to File Rule to Expire in 2 Years

At yesterday’s hearings, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“WOGCC”) released a proposed rule aimed at addressing the increased volume of drilling permits filed in the Cowboy State. The formal bulletin entitled, “WOGCC Proposes Rule to Address Volume of Drilling Permits,” can be found here.

If approved, the proposed rule, released in accordance with Wyoming’s rulemaking guidelines, will change several aspects concerning the filing of Applications for Permits to Drill (“APDs”), according to the bulletin:

  • Going forward, Wyoming will remain a “first to file state” for a two-year period
  • After the expiration of the initial two-year period, other working interest owners within a drilling and spacing unit (“DSU”) will be able to file APDs with a time limit placed on the operator to drill the well
  • A new checklist will be provided for information to be included in and submitted with an APD from (i) the operator who is not the current operator of the DSU and (ii) the operator of the DSU who holds the oldest pending APD or producing well

To review the proposed rule, click here.  Prior to the comment period, a public meeting will be held to explain the rule and answer any questions. Written public comments will be collected and reviewed during the 45-day comment period.

Stay tuned as we will be monitoring how this proposed rule develops! This is a big proposed change that could have many potential consequences for operators. 

Wyoming’s Increases in the Energy Sector are Visually Apparent

As I drove from Denver to Sheridan, Wyoming this weekend, two things caught my eye from the highway:

1. Coal: I passed not one, but two trains pulling railcars filled to the brim with coal. It has been awhile since I have seen a full coal train on the move, let alone two within hours of each other!

2. Oil: More derricks are springing up.

Actually, I should say three things caught my eye – the third is that Wyoming is greener than I have seen in many years. The grasses are lush and vibrant, transforming the prairies and hills.

COAL

Many may not be aware that Wyoming has been the nation’s leading coal producer since 1986. For more excellent information about Wyoming’s coal production, check out the Wyoming Mining Association’s website, which can be found here.

The coal in the Powder is truly a one of a kind commodity. Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, located in the northeast corner of the state, is known not only for the large size of its mines, but the unique features of its primary commodity. Because thick coal seams lay relatively close to the surface, the Powder lends to cost effective coal recovery operations, keeping costs lower. Further, the coal from the geologic formation there is lower in sulfur, making it cleaner when burned.

Of the roughly 5,500 employees reportedly working in the coal industry across Wyoming, more than 4,500 of them work in the Powder. Coal has always been a big part of Wyoming’ economy, and the commodity’s future is very volatile at this point.

OIL

Oil production is on the rise in the Cowboy state. In fact, according to a recent article published by Wyoming Public Media, which can be found here, oil production in Wyoming has risen to its highest level in 25 years.

In short, increases in the energy sector are visually apparent in Wyoming – only time can tell what the future is for Powder River coal and what lies ahead for the oil produced in the Cowboy State. Stay tuned!

Potential Oversupply and Slower Demand: Will OPEC Extend Production Cuts?

There is one thing on the mind of many folks involved in the oil and gas industry – the upcoming OPEC meeting in Vienna.  On June 25, 2019, the 176th OPEC meeting will be held.

In fact, there are already reports out there attempting to predict the potential impacts of the upcoming OPEC meeting and other global factors on the price of oil – check out this recent article from Bloomberg entitled, Bulls Beware: The 2020 Oil Market is Quickly Turning Ugly.

While oil prices have increased slightly today, they are still lower than many would like to see.  As of this post, WTI Crude is at $52.25 per barrel and Brent Crude is at $61.36 per barrel, according to Bloomberg Energy.  Of significant impact on oil prices is the fundamental nature of supply and demand – stockpiles are reportedly high (ish) and demand is currently low (ish), and may be going lower. 

Oil & Gas 360 released an article entitled, Goldman Sees Hard Path to OPEC+ Extension that discusses these supply and demand issues in the context of the upcoming OPEC meeting in detail.  The bottom line is that we may be going into the OPEC meeting with many uncertainties as to whether production cuts will be extended.  According to the Oil & Gas 360 article, stockpiles are currently at their highest level since mid-2017 and this oversupply is present “amid slower demand growth.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) Short-Term Energy Outlook which was released June 11, 2019:

Annual U.S. crude oil production reached a record 11.0 million b/d in 2018. EIA forecasts that U.S. production will increase by 1.4 million b/d in 2019 and by 0.9 million b/d in 2020, with 2020 production averaging 13.3 million b/d. Despite EIA’s expectation for slowing growth, the 2019 forecast would be the second-largest annual growth on record (following 1.6 million b/d in 2018), and the 2020 forecast would be the fifth-largest growth on record.

The takeaway from this is easily summed up by a recent CNBC article entitled, Oil Steadies as OPEC Supply Cuts Counter Growth Concerns as follows:  “While the talk of prolonged supply restraint is supporting prices, concern about slowing demand and economic growth has had a bigger impact on sentiment.”

Are we oversupplied?  Is there too much oil in inventories? How much will global oil demand drop?

We must wait and see…stay tuned!

Another Oil Glut Feared?

The headlines are all talking about supply and demand; specifically, oil supply and its impact on the price of oil.  As of the posting of this, WTI Crude is sitting at $58.07 per barrel and Brent crude is at $67.85 per barrel, according to Bloomberg Energy, and it has folks wondering where oil prices will go from here in light of oil inventories rising.  In fact, Oil & Gas 360 just released an article yesterday entitled, Rough Day for Oil: Crude Plunge Approaches 6% discussing the plunge in oil prices in detail.

The recent headlines include:

By way of a reminder, at the end of last year, a “glut” is reported to have helped contribute to the fact that oil prices took a significant tumble to that $45 per barrel mark, that we all would like to forget happened. 

So is another “glut” on the horizon? 

Let’s focus on North Dakota for now:

The North Dakota Industrial Commission (“NDIC”) released its most recent Director’s Cut on May 15, 2019, which can be found here.  North Dakota oil production reportedly bounced up approximately 54,500 barrels of oil per day from February 2019 to March 2019.  In addition, the number of producing wells reportedly increased by nearly 200 wells from February 2019 to March 2019, edging close to the all-time high number of producing wells which was 15,409 in January 2019.

However, the North Dakota rig count is reportedly down 70% from the high; the rig count as of May 15, 2019 was 65 and the all-time rig count was 218 from 5/29/2012.  The Director’s Cut also reports that drilling permit activity has returned to normal, operators continue to maintain a permit inventory that will accommodate varying oil prices for the next 12 months.

Now let’s look at big picture data:

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (“EIA”), crude oil inventories have risen – according to EIA data highlights, which can be found here, crude oil inventories as of May 17, 2019 are at 476.8 million barrels, an increase of 4.7 million barrels from a week earlier, and an increase of 38.6 million barrels from one year earlier. This increase was reportedly larger than expected, according to the article entitled, WTI Extends Slide to Weekly Lows Near $61 After EIA Report.

It is no secret that supply has increased, so the question remains as to whether supply has increased to the extent that it will cause a glut.  The upcoming OPEC meeting in June and many other factors may help us in determining where we sit on the supply front. Stay tuned!  

Wyoming: A Place for Energy and Persistence

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.” – Benjamin Franklin

Discussing topics in the energy sector gives one a certain, well, energy. A charge or *spark* – a bolt of anticipatory excitement and the promise of potential comes from being “in the know.”  I just received such a spark

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) released a new portal this week that will change the way that we analyze state-level energy data in the United States.  To be honest, I am very excited about it, in the only way that a true nerd in the energy sector who writes an energy-focused blog can be. 

It is called the State Energy Portal and can be found here

I was instantly pulled to focus on the Rockies, and one clear conclusion was apparent – states in the Rockies, namely, North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, produce more energy than they consume.  The Rockies are producers.  Check out the EIA states overview map here.  

Yes, there are obviously other states in the same boat that are producing more energy than they consume (check out Texas, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Alaska, for example).  However, there is not an entire producing region like the Rockies anywhere else in the United States.  States in the Rockies are synonymous with energy production – the Rockies are giants in energy production.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”  That could not be more true for the Rockies, an area of the country built by persistence, grit and tenacity – and also by the energy sector.   

The Cowboy State via the State Energy Portal

The state-by-state analysis in the State Energy Portal is amazingly instructive.  As a native of the Cowboy State, I was first drawn to the analysis on Wyoming, which can be found here

The first sentence of the State Energy Portal analysis on Wyoming says it all:

“Wyoming produces 15 times more energy than it consumes, which makes it the biggest net energy supplier among the states.” 

Folks from Wyoming are taught from a very young age the importance of producing. Work hard, imagine big, create, labor and focus your effort – produce something valuable with your time.  It makes sense that Wyoming is THE giant in energy production. 

What is also important, though, is that the State has a variety of sources to tap for energy production.  According to the State Energy Portal Wyoming analysis, and the internal sources cited within the same:

  • Coal: 7 of the 10 largest U.S. coal mines are located in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
  • Petroleum:  Wyoming is the 6th largest crude oil producer in the U.S.
  • Oil Production: Wyoming’s monthly oil production is on the rise and in August 2018 reached its highest level in more than 25 years. Most of the state’s oil production increase has come from two primary regions in eastern Wyoming: the Niobrara Shale (due north of the Colorado border) and the Powder River Basin (due south of the Montana border).
  • Natural Gas: Wyoming ranks among the top 5 states with the most natural gas reserves.
  • Natural Gas Production: Most of Wyoming’s natural gas has come from fields in the Green River Basin located in the southwest corner of the Cowboy State.  Notably, more than half of the state’s natural gas is produced on leased federal land – recently in 2018, the federal government approved a large natural gas project in the basin, which calls for the drilling of 3,500 wells over 10 years.
  • Uranium:  Wyoming has significant uranium reserves and is home to the largest uranium mining operations in the U.S.
  • Wind:  Wyoming has some of the largest wind reserves in the nation and big wind-generating electricity projects are in the works in the State.
  • Hydroelectric Power:  Many people may not know that Wyoming is home to 21 hydropower dams and hydroelectric power is the 3rd largest source of Wyoming’s power generation.

TAKEAWAY:  Wyoming is an energy production giant.  It provides a variety of sources for energy production, which clearly causes energy-related industries to dominate the Cowboy State.  While Wyoming is my personal place to refuel and recharge, it also is a major energy producer for the nation. 

A Line in the Sand: Weld County & Boulder County

As a resident of Weld County, I can tell you that there are sometimes stark contrasts between Weld and Boulder Counties.  Although neighbors, the two counties have very different views – and I do not mean of the mountains. 

One of the ramifications of S.B. 181 is increased local control, allowing Colorado cities and counties more control over drilling operations through local zoning ordinances and land use regulations.  Hence, a line in the sand is beginning to be drawn between Boulder and Weld Counties…

On May 1, 2019, the Weld County Board of Commissioners (“Weld County Commissioners”) issued a press release entitled, “Local Control Focus of Board Action,” which can be found here.  During the hearing that same day, the Weld County Commissioners reportedly started the process to give the Weld County government control over oil and gas permitting by “formally designat[ing] all of unincorporated Weld County as being under the purview of county government as it relates to mineral resources – particularly oil and gas.”

The press release follows the “Open Letter from the County Commissioners” from April 16, 2019, the same day that S.B. 181 was signed by Governor Polis, expressing Weld County’s understanding of the value of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, which can be found here

The proposed designation is set for public hearing on June 10, 2019, during which time the Weld County Commissioners will act on the same.  Per the press release, public comment and participation is encouraged at the hearing.  

It is clear that lines are being drawn…stay tuned as more develops!

Colorado’s SB 181: Wyoming’s New Economic Stimulus Package?

It is no secret that Wyoming’s economy is heavily reliant on the energy and natural resources sector.  In fact, the primary forces behind the economy of the Cowboy State are mineral extraction, in the form of coal, oil, natural gas and trona, and agriculture. 

Wyoming is an attractive place to do business due to state incentives like no income tax and low sales and property taxes; however, Wyoming may become even more of a hot opportunity state in light of the passage of Senate Bill 181 by its neighbor to the south, Colorado. 

Colorado has recently taken serious steps to increase oil and gas regulation and revamp the make-up of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.  As Governor Jared Polis signed SB 181 into law yesterday, April 16, 2019, many are trying to anticipate the impact that the bill will have on the oil and gas industry in Colorado.  The future of oil and gas is uncertain, due in part to the significant reforms mandated by SB 181.  For a full discussion of the sweeping impacts of the bill, check out our prior post here

I have heard several folks referring to Colorado’s SB 181 as “Wyoming’s Economic Stimulus Package.”  The comment has been said in jest, but it got me thinking…

Will the oil and gas industry shift more of its focus to the Cowboy State in the wake of SB 181?

There are several factors that support the theory that Wyoming will greatly benefit from Colorado passing SB 181, including:

  • Rural Nature of Wyoming – Wyoming is one of the least populated states in the country.  In addition, the population of the state is spread out – meaning the population density is very opposite to that of Colorado.  As a result, the friction that Colorado has faced with the oil and gas industry as its towns and communities have rapidly expanded into producing areas will be practically a non-issue for rural Wyoming.  In fact, the New York Times wrote an article last summer commenting on this issue of the increase of production in Weld County coupled with Colorado’s population boom entitled, “In Colorado, A Fracking Boom and a Population Explosion Collide.”  Wyoming is a much more attractive environment for operations than Colorado, given Wyoming’s lower population.
  • Attitude – Wyoming residents are, in general, supportive of responsible oil and gas development in the state.  Talk in Wyoming is positive and hopeful of the boom to come, and folks are making what preparations they can in the hopes of a boom in the oil and gas sector again – welcoming it with open arms. Wyoming residents recognize the value of the revenue that oil and gas operations bring to the state.   
  • Workers with Grit – Wyoming is known for its quality of worker; Wyoming folks work hard and with grit, as working outdoors in all weather conditions requires.  

Wyoming presents a favorable opportunity for the energy and natural resources sector to grow, but will the oil and gas industry shift its focus to the Cowboy State in the wake of SB 181?

It is likely that Wyoming will benefit from the passage of SB 181 in Colorado, but only time will tell if SB 181 will be Wyoming’s new economic stimulus package…stay tuned!

In the Know: Update on Colorado’s Senate Bill 181

As discussed in our March 13 post, which can be found here, Senate Bill 181, introduced on March 1, proposed significant changes to Colorado’s long-standing oil and gas regulatory system.  After a number of amendments from Senate and House membership, Governor Polis signed S.B. 181 into law on April 16, 2019. 

Here’s an overview of key amendments that brought the bill to its final form:

(1)        More direction and support in implementing local regulation

S.B. 181’s original revamp of local authority under C.R.S. § 26-20-104, which gave localities the power of “regulating oil and gas development” in order to generally “minimize adverse impacts… on public health and the environment” remains mostly intact.  However, S.B. 181 amendments have limited that power to “regulating the surface impacts of oil and gas development,” and have also tailored local impact minimization measures “to the extent necessary and reasonable to protect public health, safety, and welfare and the environment…” 

S.B. 181 now creates C.R.S. § 29-20-104(3), which establishes atechnical review board procedure to provide qualified input on local well siting determinations. This new system will allow a locality or operator to request that COGCC-appointed experts report on the technical and operational suitability of the locality’s preliminary or final well siting decision. 

  • C.R.S. § 29-20-104(3)(b) makes clear that local governments will not be required to reconsider or amend siting decisions based on technical review board reports.
  • More specifics regarding technical review board procedures and membership can be found in the revised C.R.S. § 34-60-104.5(3).

(2)        More direction in enacting new emissions rules

S.B. 181 now includes important additions and refinements to the COGCC’s new mandate to adopt emissions regulations under C.R.S. § 25-7-109. 

COGCC rules to minimize emissions of methane, VOCs and NOx must be adopted under C.R.S. § 25-7-109(10)(a).

C.R.S. § 25-7-109(10)(b) now directs the COGCC to revisit its existing rules and consider stricter requirements with respect to: leak detection and repair; pipeline inspection; emissions from pneumatic tools (e.g. gas-driven pumps and compressors); and continuous methane monitoring “at facilities with large emissions potential, at multi-well facilities, and at facilities in close proximity to occupied dwellings.” 

  • Notably, S.B. 181 no longer requires emissions monitoring installation at every “oil and gas facility”in the state.

(3)        Future restructuring of COGCC

S.B. 181’s original changes to the nine-member COGCC, which de-emphasized oil and gas industry experience among the qualifications of its seven appointed, volunteer commissioners, will be effective until no later than July 1, 2020. By then, the COGCC will be restructured to seven total members, including five appointed commissioners of balanced credentials who will become full-time state employees.

  • At least one member of the restructured COGCC must have substantial experience or formal training in: the oil and gas industry; planning and land use; environmental and wildlife protection or reclamation; and public health.  More specifics regarding the future makeup of the COGCC are set out in the new C.R.S. § 34-60-104.3.  

(4)        Minor Adjustments to Pooling Application Amendments

S.B. 181 originally introduced amendments to C.R.S. § 34-60-116 that would have required a 50% minimum consent threshold on forced pooling applications and a 15% statutory royalty on oil and gas for non-consenting, unleased owners. The final bill instead requires consent to be pooled from parties comprising 45% of the interest of reasonably locatable owners and a statutory pooled royalty of 13% on oil and 16% on gas.     

Up a Bit, Down a Bit: The Pricing Rollercoaster

Watching commodity pricing is a bit like watching a rollercoaster – it goes up one minute, down the next, then up again and down.  Today’s oil prices are no different.  We started the day up a bit, and this afternoon we are down a bit – the rollercoaster continues.  If you were looking for a lazy river-like pace, with its predictable turns and steady current, commodity pricing is not the ride for you.

This morning, Bloomberg Energy reports the following oil prices, which are up a bit from yesterday:

WTI Crude $4.06 per barrel, a +0.75% change

Brent Crude $1.36 per barrel, a +.075% change

A CNBC headline reads, “A ‘forecasting nightmare’: Volatile Oil Prices are Virtually Impossible to Predict, Analysts Say.”  In short, prices are on a rollercoaster and folks are having difficulty predicting where exactly on the ride we sit – are we on the upswing or should we brace for decline?

A number of things have contributed to pricing’s rollercoaster effect, including:

  • Supply and DemandU.S. Inventories are High.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (“EIA”) Monthly Crude and Natural Gas Production report released March 29, 2019, which can be found here, U.S. crude oil production is increasing.  In fact, according to the EIA’s Today in Energy from April 9, 2019 entitled, “U.S. Crude Oil Production Grew 17% in 2018, surpassing the previous record in 1970,” “[a]nnual U.S. crude oil production reached a record level of 10.96 million barrels per day in 2018.”
  • OPEC Production Cuts – Plus Global Issues.  According to CNN Business article entitled, “There’s Trouble in OPEC and Oil Prices are up 50%,” trouble in 3 OPEC nations, namely, Venezuela, Iran and Libya, have contributed to domestic oil price increases.   
  • Restraint and a More Cautious Approach.  According to CNN Business article entitled, “Wall Street Taught Oil Drillers Restraint. That Could Lift Oil Prices,” some of the price volatility could be related to the more cautious approach some companies are taking, with the hopes of keeping higher oil prices sustained.  The article also reports that the sense of restraint in the oil patch could lead to breaking the boom-bust cycle.

There are of course other factors that may come into play, including politics, pipeline constraints, whether OPEC continues supply cuts and global supply and demand impacts.

While it is difficult to predict where the rollercoaster is headed, yesterday’s CNBC article entitled, “Prepare for $80 oil this summer as ‘wounded bulls’ rise, RBC warns,” forecasts that “international oil prices will average $75 a barrel in 2019 and consumers may find themselves contending with bouts of $80 crude this summer, RBC Capital markets said.” One thing is for sure, we are along for the ride!

Adams County Unanimously Approves Temporary Moratorium on New Oil and Gas Permits

Yesterday, Wednesday March 20, 2019, the Board of County Commissioners for Adams County, Colorado (the “Board”) held a special public hearing on whether to impose a temporary ban on local oil and gas permit applications in the wake of Colorado’s Senate Bill 19-181.  Senate Bill 19-181 was passed (with amendment) by the Senate and is currently under consideration by the House.

Following a nearly three hour hearing that included statements given by numerous industry and community stake holders, the Board unanimously adopted a temporary moratorium on new oil and gas permits.  This moratorium, which became effective immediately, lasts for six months and applies to all permits for which applications have not yet been submitted to the Board.  Permit applications already filed with the Board are not affected.

In its resolution, the Board expressed concern with a potential flood of new permit applications and Senate Bill 19-181’s impending changes to local government authority to regulate oil and gas development.  If Senate Bill 19-181 is passed into law this legislative session it is expected to take effect on July 1, 2019. 

Click here for the full text of the Board’s resolution (via the agenda).

For more information on Senate Bill 19-181, check out the prior post on this blog by Jim Tartaglia, titled “In The Know: Primer on Colorado’s Senate Bill 181,” which can be found here.