Saturday, August 20, 2011

Point Thomson: Field fight over?

Field fight over?

Alaska, Exxon have ‘resolution in principle’ on Point Thomson, Sullivan says

For Petroleum News

A top Alaska official signaled strongly Aug. 15 that the six-year fight for control of the Point Thomson oil and gas field might soon be over.

Dan Sullivan, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, told a legislative committee the state and ExxonMobil, the Point Thomson unit operator, have reached “resolution in principle” on terms to settle the legal conflict.

“We believe that this is a resolution that advances the state’s interests,” Sullivan told the Senate Resources Committee, meeting in Anchorage. “ExxonMobil now is discussing the provisions of the settlement with other working interest owners of the unit, who are also the other litigants in the current lawsuit.”

Terms of the settlement remain confidential, Sullivan said.

He noted the matter is more involved than simply the state and ExxonMobil reaching a deal, as the Point Thomson WIOs also are working out “internal commercial terms between themselves.”

Sullivan’s remarks are the most significant sign yet that the struggle over the rich but undeveloped field is coming to a close, heading off what easily could be years more litigation between DNR and the major Point Thomson stakeholders. Besides ExxonMobil the major players include BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Alaska economic development boosters are anxious to see the legal cloud lifted from Point Thomson, as it contains roughly a quarter of the North Slope’s 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Many believe that all the gas, including the Point Thomson reserves, are needed to make a North Slope gas pipeline a viable project.

A settlement also conjures intriguing possibilities for how the field’s considerable endowment of oil and other hydrocarbon liquids might be exploited. Full-blown development of these resources could generate a boomlet of industry activity on the Slope.

Private briefing offered

DNR began taking firm steps to break up the Point Thomson unit and reclaim the state-owned acreage in 2005, during the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski.
The state’s beef is the lack of any production to date from Point Thomson, despite its discovery decades ago in the late 1970s.

The field is located along the Beaufort Sea coast next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The oil companies went to court to block the state’s effort to break up the unit, and today the case rests before the Alaska Supreme Court.

In recent weeks, DNR and the oil companies have filed heavy legal briefs, suggesting that no out-of-court settlement was near.

Yet the two sides have been negotiating for a year or more, with Gov. Sean Parnell and ExxonMobil executives stating publicly they wanted to settle the dispute.

Sullivan offered to brief legislators on the settlement terms “in a confidential setting.”

“Thank you, commissioner, I think that we would probably seek to take advantage of that offer because I think ... it is a material step forward,” replied Sen. Joe Paskvan, a Fairbanks Democrat and committee co-chairman.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, asked Sullivan whether it was “fair to say that the state and Exxon are through negotiating and that negotiations that are taking place now are between Exxon and its partners. In other words, we made sort of our last best offer.”

Sullivan: “I think it’s fair to say.”

During the court proceedings, some friction emerged among the Point Thomson working interest owners, with Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips complaining that they had been shut out of the negotiations between the state and ExxonMobil.

Deal timing unclear

ExxonMobil was measured in its response to Sullivan’s remarks. The company provided this statement via e-mail to Petroleum News and other media outlets:
“We’re aware of the State’s testimony on August 15, 2011 at the legislative committee hearings. We remain committed to working with Governor Parnell’s administration and the other working interest owners to finalize a settlement.

“Settling Point Thomson litigation and securing necessary local, state and federal permits is imperative to maintain the pace of Point Thomson development.”

The question naturally came up at the legislative hearing as to when a settlement could be finalized.

“When would you anticipate that the deal would be official and could be made public?” Paskvan asked Sullivan. “What’s the timeline on that — is that 90 days, 45 days?”

Sullivan replied: “You know, Mr. Chairman, I really don’t know. Our interest would be soon. In some ways those discussions right now are ... the timeline of those, we’re not necessarily driving that anymore.”

The other committee co-chairman, Republican Sen. Tom Wagoner of Kenai, said he’s been involved with the issue of Point Thomson development through three administrations, and he congratulated Sullivan on getting this far.

“I know it’s been a real battle that started with the Murkowski administration and went right on through,” Wagoner said. “Well, it’s very, very essential to the completion of the large pipeline.”

“Sen. Wagoner, we’re not, it’s not over yet,” Sullivan said. “As you know, anytime you work on settling litigation it’s never easy. You never get fully everything you want.”

What sort of development?

Sullivan noted that, while Point Thomson gas is considered important for a North Slope gas pipeline, the field also is rich in petroleum liquids, and production of those liquids could help stem the oil throughput decline on TAPS, the trans-Alaska pipeline system.
While construction of a gas line appears far from imminent, with no project yet confirmed, ExxonMobil itself created an incentive for wrapping up a Point Thomson deal as quickly as possible.

The company has pledged to begin production of 10,000 barrels a day of natural gas condensate, a liquid hydrocarbon, from Point Thomson by year-end 2014.

Already, the company has drilled two wells at Point Thomson, having obtained special permission from DNR in 2009 to sink the holes on two of the unit’s 31 leases. ExxonMobil and its partners proceeded with the drilling as part of a strategy to hang onto the field, which is worth billions of dollars.

But the Nabors 27-E rig used to drill the wells has been demobilized, and ExxonMobil would appear to have a tight window now for installing facilities to produce the condensate by the 2014 deadline.

A 22-mile pipeline also must be built to connect the remote Point Thomson field to the Slope’s existing pipeline network.

Of course, the deal now on the table between DNR and ExxonMobil might feature a whole new development scenario.

“The settlement is focused on the development of the Point Thomson unit which contains both hydrocarbon liquids and gas and we believe that the settlement of this litigation should help advance the strategic goals of filling TAPS and commercializing North Slope gas,” Sullivan told legislators.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

10 Things That Must Change

10 Things That Must Change
By Doug Kass

This blog post originally appeared on RealMoney Silver on Aug. 3 at 8:25 a.m. EDT.
It is said that confidence is contagious and so is the lack of confidence. And these days, this statement applies directly to our Representatives' rancor and overall behavior over the past month in Washington, D.C.
A domestic economic recovery on a slow trajectory path is exposed to policy mistakes and external shocks (e.g., geopolitical, oil spike, etc.). It is now clear that confidence has been sufficiently eroded, in part, by the Washington circus -- and this has, in part, served to undermine growth and has jeopardized our equity markets.
I have written extensively about investors' consternation toward our country's politicians. Over the past few weeks, in "My 'Fast Money Halftime Report' Recap" and "Partisanship Trumps Progress," I have described the potential headwinds to economic growth and stock market appreciation instilled by the lack of confidence (on the part of businesses and consumers) caused by the ineptitude and bitterness in the latest debate over the debt ceiling and budget issues.
Indeed, back in late 2010, my surprise list for 2011 included two surprises on the manner in which partisan politics would inhibit economic growth and limit the upside to equities.
Surprise No. 2:
Partisan politics cuts into business and consumer confidence and economic growth in the last half of 2011.
Increased hostilities between the Republicans and Democrats become a challenge to the market and to the economic recovery next year....
The resulting bickering yields little progress on deficit reduction. Nor does the rancor allow for an advancement of much-needed and focused legislation geared toward reversing the continued weak jobs market.
Surprise No. 9:
A new political party emerges. Screwflation becomes a theme that has broadening economic social and political implications. Similar to its first cousin stagflation, screwflation is an expression of a period of slow and uneven economic growth, but, in addition, it holds the existence of inflationary consequences that have an outsized impact on a specific group. The emergence of screwflation hurts just the group that authorities want to protect -- namely, the middle class, a segment of the population that has already spent a decade experiencing an erosion in disposable income and a painful period (at least over the past several years) of lower stock and home prices.
Importantly, quantitative easing is designed to lower real interest rates and, at the same time, raise inflation. A lower interest rate policy hurts the savings classes -- both the middle class and the elderly. And inflation in the costs of food, energy and everything else consumed (without a concomitant increase in salaries) will screw the average American who doesn't benefit from QE2.
Stagnating wages and ever higher food and other costs energize Middle America, the chief victim of screwflation, and a new party, the American Party, emerges chiefly through a viral campaign begun on Facebook. This centrist initiative initially is endorsed by several independent Republican and Democratic Congressmen, but a ratification by Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut) leads to several Senatorial endorsements as it becomes clear that the American Party's ranks are growing rapidly. (Both the Tea Party and Sarah Palin abruptly disappear from the public dialogue.)
By the end of 2011, between 5% and 10% of all U.S. voters are believed to be members of the American Party. With its newfound popularity, the American Party asks New York City Mayor Bloomberg to become its leader. By year-end 2011, he has not yet made a decision.
This morning I want to change my stripes; instead of focusing on and being critical of the disruptive impact of the deliberations in Washington, D.C. last week, I want to propose some solutions (a hat tip to Omega's Lee Cooperman who helped me on some of these suggestions).
So, if I were king of the forest, here are 10 changes I would immediately enact:
1. Establish term limits for all our representatives.
2. Limit government spending. Set a specific limitation on the annual gains in spending to be less than the increase in consumer price index.
3. Develop a comprehensive jobs plan.
4. Fix housing. Over 15 million homeowners are underwater with their mortgages, the shadow inventory of unsold homes is a drag on a housing recovery, and we must find a way to find a way to reemploy over 2 million former housing-related workers. We need a Marshall Plan for housing. I would suggest that the Obama administration reach out to the two most knowledgeable and smartest guys in the residential real estate markets, Eli Broad and Bob Toll. I would have them all meet in a locked room with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Geithner and President Obama (and his economic team).
5. Raise taxes on the rich. Put a three-year income tax surcharge (of 10% to 15%) on incomes above $500,000.
6. Create a health care czar and tackle our health care industry's delivery and costs.
7. Mean test entitlements, freeze entitlement payouts and gradually increase the social security retirement age to 70 years old.
8. Exit Afghanistan and Iraq immediately. More effectively rationalize the defense budget and provide returning soldiers full tuition to vocational schools and colleges as they have sacrificed much.
9. Build infrastructure. Set up an infrastructure bank, and place the money saved on defense into a massive build-out and improvement of the U.S. infrastructure base.
10. Create energy self-sufficiency. Develop a comprehensive plan designed to rapidly develop all of our energy resources.