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Feds Laud 'Robust' Shale Activity

December 3, 2012
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The Federal Reserve Board (FRB) said in the latest edition of its "Beige Book" that activity in the energy industry was a mixed bag and mentioned shale only once -- but in a positive light. The report is published eight times a year with data provided by the 12 FRB districts.

Meanwhile, BDO USA LLP, in its 2013 Energy Outlook Survey that polled 100 U.S. oil and gas CFOs, found a cautious but optimistic mood among the executives for shale's performance in the upcoming year.

In its latest Beige Book, the FRB said economic activity was expanding at a measured pace while concern and uncertainty grows about the federal budget and the fiscal cliff. The report also said there was a moderate increase in consumer spending, and slowing or outright contraction in manufacturing.

In the Cleveland District, which covers a large portion of the Utica Shale, the board said conventional oil and natural gas production held steady during the past six weeks, but shale gas activity had "continued at a robust pace."

"Most of our contacts reported plans to increase drilling in the upcoming months, which will boost capital outlays beginning early in 2013," the FRB said in its report. "Wellhead prices for natural gas are up slightly, while oil declined about $5/bbl."

The FRB said more electricity was being generated from natural gas in the Kansas City District, while damage to refineries and infrastructure from Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast was causing southeastern regional refiners in the Atlanta District to increase production and transportation of oil products to supply affected areas. With natural gas prices low, the Atlanta District also saw rigs being switched from targeting natural gas to oil.

The Minneapolis District reported record oil and natural gas production, but exploration activity was flat in North Dakota and down in Montana. Extraction activity in the San Francisco District expanded on balance for petroleum and natural gas, but the number of rigs targeting natural gas fell as producers shifted to the more coveted oil formations. The number of active rigs fell in the Kansas City and Dallas districts as well.

The Kansas City District saw overall energy activity decrease in October, but it was expected to rebound heading into the winter heating season. The FRB said the number of active drilling rigs in the district also declined from recent highs. Energy-related service firms in the Dallas District reported steady activity at high levels, despite a decline in the number of rigs targeting natural gas.

"Although oil prices remain at healthy enough levels to support current activity, recent price declines coupled with high volatility are making some firms nervous about drilling in higher cost fields," the report said. "Contacts expect activity to be flat through year-end, with improvement in 2013."

The BDO survey found that 77% of the CFOs polled expect the domestic supply of oil to rise; 69% believe natural gas supplies will also rise. But that excitement is tempered by only 50% of the respondents believing the demand for oil will also increase, fueled in part by lingering doubts over the health of the U.S. economy. BDO found that 31% of the CFOs believe their companies will increase investment in areas of nonconventional production, including shale, in 2013. The firm said companies were "banking on" a trifecta of continued shale development, higher natural gas prices and new production technologies, all coming together to make their investments profitable.

"While companies gear up for increased shale production, they are increasingly mindful of the environmental concerns around shale exploration and other industry issues," BDO said. "Hydraulic fracturing issues remain companies' biggest environmental concern for a second year, as cited by 44% of CFOs, followed by 25% who view spills and pollution clean-up as their top concern."

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