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Briefs -- Pennsylvania Budget, M3 Midstream, Enerplus Corp., Avista Utilities, U.S. Steel, Duke-Piedmont

December 18, 2015
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf exercised his line item veto on Tuesday, refusing to accept a $30.3 billion Republican-crafted budget sent to him by the state Senate. Earlier this year, Wolf vetoed the entire Republican budget because he said it failed to plug the state's deficit, setting off a six-month budget impasse that has left schools and human services agencies with little funding (see Shale DailyJuly 1). Republicans have sparred with Wolf and Democrats during the gridlock, forcing Wolf to suspend his push for a severance tax on natural gas production in order to reach a compromise. Both sides said in November that they had reached a framework for a compromise budget (see Shale DailyNov. 13), but Republican House leaders rejected that deal during negotiations last week. Instead, the Senate passed a smaller budget crafted by the House earlier this month. A severance tax remains off the table, but Wolf said the latest budget doesn't do enough to fund public education in the state. He vetoed parts of the latest budget, told lawmakers to get back to work and released $23.3 billion in emergency funding for schools and human services agencies.

M3 Midstream LLC's Stonewall Gathering System in West Virginia entered service at the end of November. An extension of the company's more than 100-mile Appalachia Gathering System, which serves dry natural gas production in northern West Virginia and southwest Pennsylvania, Stonewall is expected to move up to 1.4 Bcf/d of natural gas when it becomes fully operational next summer. The 50-mile expansion gathers gas in Doddridge, Harrison and Lewis counties, WV, for delivery to the Columbia Gas Transmission system.

Calgary-based Enerplus Corp. on Dec. 21 sold part of its nonoperating interests in North Dakota for approximately $80 million, as it plans to concentrate on operating assets in the Bakken on the Fort Berthold Reservation lands. The interests that were sold amount to less than 2% of Enerplus' net acreage in the state. The proceeds will be used to reduce outstanding bank debt for the oil/natural gas developer, which is involved in plays on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Enerplus' Fort Berthold operations amount to about 85% of its current production in North Dakota.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has adopted a natural gas rate hike by Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities of 3.5% effective Jan. 1. The settlement will also grant an electric utility rate hike of 0.6%. Avista had requested gas rate increases of 4.5% in 2016 and 2.2% in 2017 and electric hikes of more than 5% each year. Avista will receive a $2.5 million increase to revenue under the settlement.

United States Steel Corp. is postponing construction of an electric arc furnace (EAF) at its Fairfield Works in Birmingham, AL, "due to continued challenging market conditions in both the oil and gas and steel industries," the company said. "On Dec. 14, 2015 oil prices hit an eight-year low in the same week that rig counts dropped by another 28 to a 16-year low of 709. The company continues to feel the effect of these energy market conditions, along with low steel prices and continued high levels of imports. In order to combat these continued challenging global market conditions, U.S. Steel has made the decision to postpone the construction of the 1.6 million net ton EAF facility at Fairfield Works..."

Duke Energy's proposed acquisition of Piedmont Natural Gas has received early Federal Trade Commission antitrust clearance. The deal still requires approval by Piedmont shareholders and the North Carolina Utilities Commission. Duke Energy and Piedmont also are providing information regarding the acquisition to the Public Service Commission of South Carolina and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Closing of the $4.9 billion cash deal is expected by the end of 2016. It was announced in October (see Daily GPIOct. 26).

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