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Houston-based Transocean Inc.'s deepwater drillship Deepwater Pathfinder, a single-activity rig capable of drilling in water depths up to 10,000 feet, has been awarded a five-year contract by a subsidiary of Italy's Eni for operations primarily in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. Transocean estimated contract revenues over the five year period as high as $1.19 billion. The contract is scheduled to commence in March 2010, following completion of the rig's existing contract commitments. The Deepwater Pathfinder drillship, which entered service in 1998, is one of 39 High-Specification Floaters in the Transocean fleet, 18 of which are Ultra-Deepwater Floaters capable of drilling in water depths of 7,500 feet or greater.

Quantum Energy Partners IV LP, Larry Bickle and Larry Lawyer have formed Triton Energy Partners LLC to develop and acquire high-deliverability, multi-cycle natural gas storage capacity in the United States. Triton will initially focus on identifying strategic supply and market locations where it can develop greenfield storage facilities from the concept stage to commercial operation. The company will also evaluate the acquisition of in-process greenfield storage projects and operating storage facilities that have significant expansion potential or can be operationally improved by Triton's management team. Triton will be led by Lawyer and Bickle, a managing director at Haddington Ventures. Quantum Energy Partners, founded in 1998, is an investment firm specializing in the energy industry with more than $3.2 billion in capital under management.

Preliminary data show that Oregon faces a 30% hike in retail natural gas charges when state regulators determine annual gas cost adjustments, effective in November, a spokesperson for the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) told NGI. The PUC said it will hold a gas price outlook meeting to hear from the principal utilities and stakeholders Tuesday in Salem, OR. The public session, which has been held each summer in recent years, will allow discussion of gas pricing issues and their potential impact on electric utility retail charges. The major gas distribution utilities will file estimates of future wholesale gas prices in August, and the PUC will then process the data and make its own determination of how much, if any, to raise retail gas charges starting in November. A year ago demand and prices for gas were viewed as relatively stable, according to a Northwest Gas Association (NWGA) presentation to the Oregon PUC session. In addition to the utility representatives that will make presentations, the PUC has scheduled a staff overview of the expected gas price increases in the Northwest region; the Energy Trust of Oregon will present an update on energy efficiency and conservation efforts; and the NWGA will describe the broader impacts on gas prices on Oregon. The utilities will outline proposed rate changes based on their individual gas price forecasts, and the programs they will be offering customers to cope with higher gas prices.

A recently completed nonbinding open season for services at Atmos Energy Corp.'s proposed Fort Necessity salt-dome gas storage project in Franklin Parish, LA, was a success, with participants requesting more than three times the 5 Bcf of capacity proposed for the project's first phase, the company said Friday. Open season participants included gas utilities, gas marketing and trading firms, interstate pipelines, gas producers and liquefied natural gas (LNG)-related companies in the United States and international markets, Atmos said. Atmos Pipeline and Storage LLC plans to develop the facility to provide initially up to 15 Bcf of working capacity in three caverns on a 500-acre site in northeastern Louisiana. Pending regulatory approval, the first cavern is projected to go into full commercial operation by early 2011. The other two caverns are expected to enter service by 2012 and 2014. Based on market demand, four additional caverns could be developed. Fort Necessity would have mainline interconnects with Tennessee Gas Pipeline's 800 Leg, Columbia Gulf Transmission and ANR Pipelines and Regency Energy Partners' 30-inch diameter Winnsboro Extension. Additional mainline interconnects being considered include Trunkline and Texas Gas Transmission pipelines in northeastern Louisiana. Drilling operations recently began to obtain core samples necessary to complete a required Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) application, which Atmos anticipates filing next month. Dallas-based Atmos announced the open season in May. The company submitted a pre-filing request for the facility with FERC in February (see NGI, Feb. 11).

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved Targa Resources Inc.'s purchase of Chevron USA Inc. and Venice Gathering Co.'s combined 54% ownership interest in Venice Energy Services Co. LLC (VESCO) for an undisclosed amount. The FTC granted an "early termination" notice, which means that it has completed its review of the transaction without taking any action that could have jeopardized the acquisition by Houston-based Targa Resources. The company said it also needs some smaller permit approvals, but it believes these are all but assured now that the FTC has cleared the transaction. Targa currently owns approximately 23% in VESCO. It said it hopes to close the transaction in the third quarter. Located near Venice, LA, in Plaquemines Parish, VESCO consists of two cryogenic trains with a total processing capacity of 750 MMcf/d and the Venice Gathering System that collects natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. Targa is a provider of midstream natural gas and natural gas liquids (NGL) services in the United States. Its gathering and processing assets are located primarily in the Permian Basin in West Texas and southeast New Mexico, and the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Its NGL logistics and marketing assets are at Mont Belvieu and Galena Park near Houston, and in Lake Charles, LA, with terminals and transportation assets across the United States.

Oklahoma City-based GMX Resources Inc. plans to begin a drilling program in its Haynesville Shale and Bossier Shale holdings during 3Q2008. At 80-acre density, GMX estimates it would have five years of development on its 27,500 net acres. GMX plans to bump up its capital spending in 2008 to $271 million from $195 million, which would allow it to drill up to four to six net horizontal wells in the shale acreage. The new capital expenditure budget includes acreage acquisition costs, infrastructure build-out and equipment upgrades in East Texas and northwestern Louisiana. The company also increased its 2008 guidance for discretionary cash flow to $100 million, up from $80 million. Revenue is now forecast at $140 million, down from $125 million. In addition, production is seen to increase to 7.8 Bcfe in the second half of 2008 and is forecast to be 13.8 Bcfe for the full year. Daily production rates are expected to be 60 MMcfe/d by year's end, up from previous guidance of 42 MMcfe/d.

GE Oil & Gas' PII Pipeline Solutions has installed its solar-powered ThreatScan sensors along an 11-mile section of a natural gas pipeline operated by El Paso Corp. in southeastern Houston to enable 24-hour real-time remote monitoring of the pipeline. The acoustical sensors are designed to reduce the risk of third-party damage to certain pipelines, including accidents involving construction machinery. The sensors are installed at specific locations along a pipeline in order to detect vibrations that could potentially signal an actual impact or a possible encroachment along a pipeline's right-of-way. When a sensor detects vibrations, the data is transmitted via satellite to a ThreatScan call center in Houston, where the vibrations are analyzed. The operator is then notified to investigate whether there has been an actual impact that requires remediation or if there is a potential threat from a potential encroachment. GE Oil & Gas operates a similar call center at its headquarters site in Florence, Italy, to support European pipeline operators that use the sensors.

In a bit of encouraging news for Rocky Mountain oil and natural gas producers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to remove the Preble's meadow jumping mouse from the federal threatened species list in Wyoming. However, the mouse for now will remain listed as threatened in Colorado. The FWS said the mouse may be delisted in Wyoming because testing has confirmed that the habitat is no longer at risk from over development. Many of the mice found through testing were located on farmland and ranchland that is not considered at risk for development. However, in Colorado, the FWS noted that development continues to threaten the mouse habitat. "Much of Preble's riparian habitat in Colorado has been severely altered or destroyed by human activities," said Steve Guertin, director of the FWS Mountain-Prairie Region. "Continued rapid development is expected along Colorado's Front Range as the population continues to grow. Without the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, much of Preble's habitat would be lost." The nocturnal mammal, which has a tail twice the length of its three-inch body, mostly lives in streamside habitats near thick vegetation in the foothills of southeastern Wyoming and along the Front Range in Colorado, according to FWS. The mouse is able to jump up to three feet to escape predators. The mouse has been listed as a threatened species since 1998. In Colorado the FWS is expected to use a team made up of state and federal wildlife officials, agricultural and business interests to work on a recovery plan for the Preble's mouse.

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