The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 12, 2010

“There is international interest’

Big operators tapping Marcellus gas

— They carry names such as Anadarko Petroleum, Range Resources, Chief Oil & Gas and North Coast Energy.

Their primary interest in Pennsylvania is the rich, abundant Marcellus Shale natural gas that lies deep inside the earth.

As of late summer, about 75 drilling companies had snatched up Pennsylvania land leases and had already or were preparing to drill for the Marcellus natural gas. Most of them have corporate addresses in Texas.

The deep shale basin covers nearly 40 counties in Pennsylvania, starting in the southwestern corner and running in a wide swath through Somerset and Cambria counties and northeast to the New York border.

And while small drillers were among the first in the state doing exploratory work, the quality and quanity of the Marcellus natural gas has attracted the big operators.

Some of those big companies have swallowed up smaller drillers and now own the rights in our region.

• East Resources has been acquired by Shell Oil Co.

• Atlas Energy Resources has been acquired by Chevron.

• XTO Energy now belongs to Exxon.

Lou D’Amico is executive director of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, a drillers’ advocacy group that has been around for

40 years. He expects the trend to continue as drilling action heats up across Pennsylvania.

“We’re going to see more acquisition of companies,” D’Amico said from his office in Wexford, north of Pittsburgh.

Some of the big players in the Marcellus fields of Pennsylvania – such as Chesapeake Energy, Range and Talisman Energy – will stay independent. But over the next few years, the numbers of drillers will decline significantly, D’Amico predicted.

The gas industry is seeing an expansion of activity as companies look for capital so they can do more extraction work in Pennsylvania, said Tom Murphy, of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR.)

“We’re seeing a lot of asset sales – companies selling so they can come here,” Murphy said.

And the interest in Marcellus does not stop at U.S. borders, Murphy said. Foreign interests are also starting to play a bigger role in the state’s natural gas story, Murphy said.

“There is international interest – the Dutch, British and Norwegians,” he said.

D’Amico said foreign interests include Japanese companies and energy corporations out of India.

The Marcellus is attractive to foreign investors because of limited overseas investment opportunities and stifling tax regulations, D’Amico said.

“For the overseas companies, there are not as many areas they can invest in, so they look to the United States,” he said. “A lot of tax situations in other countries are worse than here.”

Yet another reason for the rush of foreign investment is the weak dollar, allowing the off-shore investors to get more for their buck, D’Amico said.

While the concern always is that globalization does not take American jobs, foreign money is already creating work in the Cambria region, said Randy Frye, dean of the business school at St. Francis University.

Frye points to Spanish manufacturer Gamesa Energy USA, the windmill manufacturer in Cambria Township and the Norwegian Kongsberg Defense Corp. plant in Johnstown among those that have invested capital in this area.

“It’s just a sign of the global economy,” Frye said. “The money flies across borders.”

As the Marcellus market grows, many of the thousands of gas leases are being sold off to create larger bundled tracks, something that adds to the activity at the county courthouses.

“They’re pooling the leases, selling them off as a unit,” Cambria County recorder of deeds Andrea Feodore Sims said.

Most drillers want units of 600 to 800 acres, while a square mile  – 640 acres – is ideal, Sims said.

The leasing by numerous companies in one county can create a patchwork appearance, Murphy said.

“A broker trades between companies, trading or selling to get more contiguous,” parcel, he said.  

The Marcellus industry caught the eye of many Tribune-Democrat readers a few months ago when our Business section ran a host of transactions in Cambria and Somerset counties.

Carrollton Mineral Partners of Texas purchased deeds from Pennsylvania Mineral Group LLC, an example of the acreage pooling and selling.

Carrollton describes its mission as “acquisition, development and management of gas and oil leases, royalties and mineral interests.”

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