What does Chesapeake's bankruptcy mean for US natural gas?
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In this report, our North America gas analysts use Wood Mackenzie Genscape's short-term data on North American gas markets to assess the impact of Chesapeake's bankruptcy on markets and pipelines. Read on to discover Chesapeake’s daily net gas production across key plays, Chesapeake’s gas hedges as of Q1 2020, and Chesapeake’s FERC index of customers gas transport contracts as of 1 April 2020.
In late 2019, Chesapeake, a juggernaut of the US shale revolution, issued a warning to investors that it may struggle to remain a going concern over the next 12 months if commodity prices did not improve. On 28 June 2020, Chesapeake announced that it has voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chesapeake intends to use the proceedings to strengthen its balance sheet and restructure its legacy contractual obligations to achieve a more sustainable capital structure. Chesapeake will operate in the ordinary course during the Chapter 11 process and has secured $925 million in debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing.
Chesapeake championed natural gas in the US and aggressively commenced its shale “land grab” and grow at all cost business model, which necessitated extensive borrowing. Early on Henry Hub gas prices spiking up to $13-14/mmbtu during the winter of 2005 and 2008 and access to low-cost capital cooperated with its business model, but in a way it became a victim of its own success. Significant shale gas-driven growth pressured gas markets to today’s 25-year record low. Chesapeake did not “discover” the various plays that led the shale gas revolution in the US but was involved in most of them, from the Barnett to the Utica. Although both plays have since been sold off along with others, Chesapeake still remains the 4th largest independent gas operator with its Q1 2020 net production slightly under 2 bcfd.
Chesapeake’s current major dry gas producing regions include the Northeast Pennsylvania Marcellus and the Haynesville. Its associated gas plays in the Eagle Ford, Powder River Basin, South Texas and Midcontinent also contribute additional volumes of natural gas. Although short-term production levels may be impacted by the bankruptcy filing, DIP financing should allow for existing operations to continue.
Chesapeake plans to operate six to eight drilling rigs for the next two years. It currently has four rigs active in Northeast Pennsylvania Marcellus and two rigs in the Haynesville. Chesapeake will likely have a more capital disciplined growth strategy, which presents a risk to the market as prices recover.
Our longer-term supply models are based on the “economics of the rocks” over the financial health of specific operators. Therefore, whether Chesapeake divests these assets or not after re-emerging from bankruptcy, longer-term both the Marcellus and Haynesville are expected to be major production growth pillars to support a North America gas market expansion, owing to their low cost and highly productive remaining well locations, especially as Henry Hub gas prices appreciate to $3 and above by the late 2020s.
Henry Hub prices that were pressured in the short term due to domestic demand loss from coronavirus impacts and high levels of LNG feed gas under-utilization, rallied over 10% today to $1.71/mmbtu. Although a continuation of warmer temperatures is the likely fundamental catalyst, news of Chesapeake’s bankruptcy likely provided additional bullish Henry Hub gas price sentiment. Approximately 59%, 16% and 2% of Chesapeake’s 2020, 2021, and 2022 gas production was hedged at an average floor price of $2.61/mmbtu, $2.88/mmbtu, and $2.88/mmbtu, respectively. Monetization of these hedges may have added to the recent Henry Hub gas price strength across the short-term price curve.
Along with its significant gas production, Chesapeake holds sizeable midstream contracts. It wants to walk away from contracts with Energy Transfer, Boardwalk, and a Crestwood Equity Partners and Consolidated Edison gas joint venture, Stagecoach. The contracts involve about $293 million with Energy Transfer’s Tiger Pipeline and $18 million with Boardwalk’s Gulf South Pipeline.
Already, in anticipation of bankruptcy filing, pipelines have asked FERC to exercise its jurisdiction. For example, FERC has concluded in a recent favorable order for ETC Tiger Pipeline that "the Commission and the bankruptcy courts have concurrent jurisdiction to review and address the disposition of the natural gas transportation agreements sought to be rejected through bankruptcy." The order stemmed from a Petition for Declaratory Order filed by ETC Tiger Pipeline on May 19, 2020, which the pipeline firm filed in order to "remove the uncertainty as to whether Chesapeake Energy Marketing" would be required to secure FERC approval under Section 5 of the NGA to reject jurisdictional agreements amid a bankruptcy proceeding.
In addition to setting an important precedent, midstream contracts in the future will likely layout more specific provisions in case of a bankruptcy filing to protect midstream operators. Incorporating these risks through higher cost recovery from tariff provisions may also be proposed. Similarly, gathering and processing contracts are at risk.