A potential deal on Thursday to end the oil price war between Russia and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is likely not enough to stanch the fallout from Covid-19 in North America’s oil and natural gas industry, with one Lower 48 pioneer said to be on the cusp of declaring bankruptcy.
Global investment firm Franklin Resources Inc. reportedly was taking steps to prepare for a debt restructuring or bankruptcy filing by Chesapeake Energy Corp., according to The Wall Street Journal. According to sources, Franklin hired law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to negotiate in advance of a potential default. Franklin holds a 12.4% equity stake in the Oklahoma City-based independent and a “substantial chunk” of its $9 billion in debt, the Journal noted.
Chesapeake is far from the only Lower 48-focused operator that may face restructuring as commodity prices have sunk to nearly unsustainable levels. Denver-based Whiting Petroleum Corp. recently filed for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, citing low oil prices and the uncertain outlook for the sector.
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North America’s exploration and production (E&P) companies have a “staggering level” of debt maturing in the 2020-2024 time frame and limited access to credit, Moody’s Investors Service said in February. Without work from the E&Ps, the oilfield services (OFS) sector is facing mounting issues as well
Permian Basin pressure pumping expert ProPetro Holding Corp.’s board, executives and officers have voluntarily elected to reduce compensation at different levels up to 20%. The company also is evaluating additional strategic actions to benefit the cost structure of the Midland, TX-based operator.
“With the uncertainty that currently faces our company and our sector, our leadership team will continue to focus on taking actions to protect our capital structure while promoting safety and operational excellence,” said CEO Phillip Gobe, who took over in March.
During a recent conference call to discuss quarterly results, ProPetro’s Sam Sledge, chief strategy and administrative officer, said it was a “fluid situation” in the Permian, which “tends to change on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times in a single day.”
The OFS operator began January with about 20 pressure pumping fleets, and it exited March at slightly under 16 fleets, but “we do think it goes lower from there. It changes on a daily basis,” Sledge said, “with the last couple weeks of March taking a significant step down.”
Sledge told investors that it was “hard to see what the competitive environment is right now with how quickly things are changing and how customers are reevaluating plans.
“Our goal moving forward is to remain cash positive.” However, it’s difficult to determine the “longevity of the downturn” with little visibility across the E&P customer base.
“It’s amazing how much the world has changed in 30 days,” Sledge said. “At one point we had a good idea and confidence but…things have evolved so quickly it’s very difficult to anticipate what activity level any operator is going to have on any macro level given what is going on.”
Drilling tool specialist Superior Drilling Products Inc. of Vernal, UT, is laying off 20% of its workforce. Base salaries of executive officers, as well as directors’ fees, were cut by 20%, while management team and salaried employee compensation has been reduced by 5-10%. In addition new technology investments have been deferred.
The “dramatic turn of events in March,” said CEO Troy Meier, “has created an unprecedented situation globally for the oil and gas industry,” which requires “aggressive actions to reduce our cost structure and preserve cash.”
Superior expects the U.S. rig count to continue to decline, along with Middle East oil production, while “the recent pricing pressure on our products and services will be sustained,” CFO Chris Cashion said.
“The cost reduction actions we have taken has reduced our cash breakeven to approximately $1.1 million in revenue per month,” the CFO said. “In addition, we are addressing our balance sheet. We have applied for two loans made available through federally funded programs.”
Superior also is working with the holder of the note for subsidiary Hard Rock Solutions LLC “regarding delaying into the future the principal payments due in July and October,” Cashion said. “We believe our efforts, plus a second level of potential actions if needed, will ensure we have sufficient liquidity.”
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