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Briefs - Avista Utilities, Azure Midstream, Travis Peak Resources, COGCC, EQT Corp.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last week approved the resumption of gas efficiency programs for Avista Utilities' customers in the state. Spokane, WA-based Avista's retail rates overall, however, will decrease this year because the company’s 2015 gas commodity costs were down by 14.5%, effective Nov. 1, offsetting a base rate increase of 3.5% and the efficiency program increase, both effective last Friday. Resumption of the programs now, "with natural gas prices back on an upward trend, is in the public interest," the PUC ruled. Avista gas efficiency programs offer rebates and other incentives to customers who install weatherization or high-efficiency natural gas appliances. Avista estimates that first-year (2016-17) savings in Idaho will total about 233,000 therms. The programs were suspended in 2012 when the PUC calculated that low gas prices rendered them no longer cost-effective.

Dallas-based Azure Midstream Partners LP has struck two new producer deals for a combined 32 MMcf/d of capacity. The first is a four-year, fee-based deal with an East Texas independent that is growing its position in Panola County, TX. It has one rig active in the county drilling two horizontal Haynesville Shale wells. Additional wells are planned. The second is a five-year fee-based deal in the Waskom, TX, area with a producer that has a well producing 9.2 Mcf/d. The producer is currently evaluating drilling offsets and has been working to acquire additional acreage in the area. The well is one of the first horizontal Cotton Valley wells in the Harrison County area.   

A new exploration and production company, Travis Peak Resources LLC, recently secured drilling permits in north-central Pennsylvania in an area where other companies are testing the Utica Shale. Austin, TX-based Travis Peak received three permits between October and November from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to drill horizontal wells in Westfield Township, Tioga County. In recent years, Seneca Resources Corp. and a Royal Dutch Shell plc subsidiary have tested successful Utica wells in the area, where the formation is deeper than it is farther to the west (see Shale DailyOct. 13, 2015Nov. 24, 2014). Travis Peak, which partnered with the private equity firmEnCap Investments LP in 2013, also has interests in the Permian Basin, the Midcontinent and along the Gulf Coast. The company entered the Appalachian Basin in 2014 looking to lease land for Utica development, according to local news media reports at the time. It's unclear if the company has started to drill in Tioga County or if it plans to soon. 

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has identified thousands of idled well locations it will be focusing on in 2016, according to a 43-page report, "Final Reclamation Inspection and Implementation Program," completed by COGCC staff. Falling commodity prices that stalled natural gas development in western Colorado in 2008 have contributed to a growing collection of unused wells, according to the report. More than 40% of the state's wells (45,000 of 98,000) are eligible for final reclamation, with more than half of those having passed final reclamation inspections. This year, COGCC will concentrate on inspecting the remaining nearly 19,000 wells eligible for final reclamation. The state agency has added four reclamation inspectors to its staff in the past year to handle the backlog.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has paved the way for EQT Corp. to challenge the state Department of Environmental Protection's $4.5 million fine against it for a 2012 impoundment leak in Tioga County. In a 3-1 decision,, Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, writing for the majority, said EQT's argument against the DEP's interpretation of the state's Clean Streams Law may be reviewed by a lower court. The company has been battling the agency about the civil penalty since May 2014, when it was first proposed for $1.27 million, including $900,000 for alleged ongoing discharges from the impoundment. While the DEP recommends fines, the state's Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) makes a determination of the appropriate amount and imposes them. EQT had circumvented the EHB and filed a complaint directly with the state Commonwealth Court, challenging the DEP's interpretation of the law and asking the court, rather than the EHB, to decide whether the fines could include fees for ongoing discharges. In response, the DEP filed a lawsuit seeking $4.53 million for ongoing discharges and said the company was failing to cooperate with its investigation (see Shale Daily, Oct. 7, 2014).

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