NGI The Weekly Gas Market Report

Briefs -- PG&E, Southern-AGL Merger, BLM Fines, Black Elk Energy, California Fire Risk, SEC Disclosure Rules, Texas Production

Pacific Gas and Electric Co.(PG&E) may begin to implement a precedent-setting plan after California’s State Lands Commission approved a lease extension for the utility’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. The extension would allow the plant to run through the now-targeted shutdown in 2025. PG&E has to file a proposal with the California Public Utilities Commission and convene a conference of interested parties related to settlement reached earlier in June (see Daily GPIJune 21). The State Lands extension was one of five contingencies listed in the settlement agreement.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has approved the merger of Southern Company and AGL Resources, which is the parent of Elizabethtown Gas, a regulated utility serving customers in New Jersey. "The BPU's decision represents the final regulatory approval needed to close the previously announced merger, which was unanimously approved by state regulators in each of the six required jurisdictions in just 10 months," Southern Company said. Closing of the deal is expected by the end of June. The combination is to be the second-largest utility company in the United States by customer base, bringing together 11 regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies serving nine million customers; 200,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; more than 80,000 miles of gas pipelines; and 44,000 MW of electricity generating capacity (see Daily GPIAug. 24, 2015).

The U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on Monday released a congressionally mandated increase in civil penalties for oil/natural gas operators violating regulations on federal and Indian onshore lands. The inflation-adjustment increases are effective Aug. 1 under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act passed last year. The increases, which BLM officials called small relative to the overall value of annual production on all federal and Indian oil/gas leases, are aimed at maintaining "the deterrent effect of civil penalties," and are calculated based on the percentage change in the consumer price index for all urban consumers since October 1987, the year the penalties were established. BLM does not see any undue economic impact on the industry from the larger penalties because it said individuals and companies can avoid the increased fines by complying with applicable oil/gas regulations. Only the civil penalties covered in the 2015 law apply to oil/gas operators, BLM officials said.

A confidential settlement was reached Monday in a New Orleans court in a trial that combined 10 lawsuits related to an explosion and fire of an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in November 2012 (see Daily GPIApril 18Nov. 19, 2012). The incident on a platform owned by Black Elk Energy LLC of Houston killed three workers and injured others. Parties to the case included Black Elk, contractors, injured workers and relatives of those killed. A jury that had been seated for a trial in the case was dismissed. A related criminal case is scheduled for trial in January.

As a hedge against what state officials fear could be one of the worst wildfire seasons ever, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) on Monday began daily aerial patrols to help spot and respond to wildfires that could affect its tens of thousands of miles of natural gas and electric infrastructure covering much of the northern half of California. The patrols will continue through October, focused on utility infrastructure traversing parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in north and central regions of the state, along with Mendocino County and along the historic redwood and central coasts. Patrols will be flown seven days a week from mid-afternoon until dusk. During heightened wildfire red flag days, PG&E will conduct special on-the-ground vegetation management patrols and added aerial surveillance in the designated red flag areas.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted rules to require operators to disclose payments they make to foreign governments to commercially develop oil, natural gas or minerals. The rules are mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Under the final rules, information must be disclosed regarding fees that total more than $100,000 during a single fiscal year for taxes, royalties and other types of payments to further oil, gas or minerals exploration, extraction, processing and export, or when a license is acquired for any such activity.

Texas production during April as reported to the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) was 74.6 million bbl of crude oil and 617 Bcf of total natural gas from oil and gas wells. The preliminary figures will be updated as updated data is received. Production reported for the same period last year was 69.6 million bbl of crude oil on a preliminary basis, which was later updated to a current figure of 90.3 million bbl; and 587.2 Bcf of total gas, which was later updated to a current figure of 730.6 Bcf. Preliminary April crude oil production averaged 2.49 million b/d, compared to the 2.32 million b/d average of April 2015. Preliminary April total gas production averaged 20.6 Bcf/d, compared to the 19.6 Bcf/d average of April 2015. April production came from 185,299 oil wells and 93,334 gas wells. In the last 12 months, Texas reported production was 1.02 billion bbl of crude oil and 8.4 Tcf of total gas. Crude oil production does not include condensate.

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