Legislation and Risks To Natural Gas Development (CHK, WMB, XTO, OXY, APA, EP, DVN)

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The American Exploration and Production Council (AXPC) today released a study by Wood Mackenzie, an energy consulting firm, claiming that costs to the natural gas industry associated with the pending alterations to the Lieberman/Warner Climate Security Act of 2007 put at risk the development of US natural gas resources. The 25-member council includes Chesapeake (NYSE:CHK), Williams (NYSE:WMB), XTO Energy (NYSE:XTO), Occidental (NYSE:OXY), Apache (NYSE:APA), El Paso (NYSE:EP), and Devon (NYSE:DVN).

Here’s the money quote from the AXPC press release: "…it is likely that a significant share of
government-imposed consumer emission allowance costs assessed on processors would actually be paid by exploration and production companies in the near term as funds are diverted, contracts are renegotiated, and the market adjusts to this new commodity burden."
The conclusion is that if E&P companies must pay for carbon allowances, they will spend less on production, prices for natural gas will rise, and consumers will face higher prices due to limited availability on natural gas.

Well, you can’t blame gas producers for trying, but this is akin to yelling "Boo!" during a horror movie: who cares? What the producers are probably really upset about is the Act’s restriction on how much the cost of the allowances they will be allowed to recover from customers. If emission costs are borne 100% by producers, the Wood Mackenzie study estimates that nearly 50% of projected production for 2012-2017 becomes uneconomic to produce. If 50% of emissions costs are forced on producers, up to 14% of production becomes uneconomic.

The price of natural gas for US consumers is likely to depend far more on the spot price of LNG than it is on the cost of carbon allowances. If LNG prices are high (and there’s every reason to believe they will be), the price of US-produced natural gas will also be high. The AXPC may be fighting an unnecessary battle on this issue. Congress has determined that the best way to assess carbon allowances is at the wellhead or the point of import. Once that’s done, producers, processors, and consumers are treated the same. The producers might not like it, but they may just have to deal with it.

George Soros noted that speculation is driving up energy prices, and we also saw T. Boone Pickens call for $150 per barrel for oil by the end of this year.

Paul Ausick
May 29, 2008