For many of us, the future of Ohio’s shale industry has become a regular topic of conversation. And as a landowner in the state’s Marcellus and Utica shale regions, you’ve probably wondered what (if any) effect current events, such as the state budget and plunging energy prices, will have on your financial well-being. While nobody can predict the future, I’m optimistic we won’t see any major slowdowns over the next few years. Here are a few reasons why:
Severance Tax Sees The Cutting Room Floor
We recently learned that Gov. Kasich’s plan to increase the state’s severance tax on horizontal drilling to pay for the plan to cut income taxes was removed in the newest rendition of the state’s proposed budget bill.
The governor’s original two-year budget plan called for oil and gas produced by horizontal wells to be taxed at a 6.5 percent tax rate for product sold at the wellhead – while 4.5 percent tax would have been applied to product sold downstream. Earlier this year, Ohio Tax Commissioner Joe Testa told the media that the governor’s proposed tax hike was because Ohio’s horizontal drilling industry has become more developed and that drilling has proved to be less expensive than anticipated. In response, American Petroleum Institute’s Executive Director, Chris Zeigler, argued that the original budget proposal placed the “future development of Ohio Shale at serious risk.”
Now that the proposed tax increase in question has been removed, one could assume that drilling companies are breathing a sigh of relief. However, while there appears to be no new initiatives in play to raise the existing severance tax rate at the moment, the new budget proposal still has a long legislative journey to make before the June 30 deadline.
Shale Investment Appears To Be Untouched By Low Energy Prices
Lower prices at the pump might be a bit unnerving if you are, for example, in the process of finalizing a mineral lease agreement. But have no fear, even though new drilling initiatives in Ohio’s shale regions are slowing, according to Business Journal Daily, “oil and gas exploration continues to have positive ramifications across the region.”
As Ohio’s oil and gas industry matures, it continues to become more efficient, which has helped it persevere at a time when oil producers in the Middle East and elsewhere appear to be maintaining higher production quotas in an effort to price horizontal drillers out of the market. For example, the practice of “super fracking,” by which producers pump higher quantities of sand into the wells they fracture, has increased productivity from 400 barrels a day to 600. The result is a lower break-even cost for producers and, in general, more staying power than experts had initially thought.
To date, Energy In Depth, an oil and gas trade organization, estimates that Ohio’s shale industry has grown to $22.3 billion, and expects it to grow by another $8.1 billion by 2016, with the construction or extension of additional pipeline infrastructure, power plants and processing plants. In other words – don’t expect the Ohio’s oil and gas industry to slow down any time soon. In fact, it could be expanding as landowners from other parts of the state appear to have been approached by companies looking to increase their reserves.
Companies Eye Mercer County For Fossil Fuel
About 10,000 acres of farmland located in the Mercer County area, about 60 miles southwest of Lima, has been leased for 3D seismic oil and gas exploration according to The Daily Standard, a local news publication. The leased property, which is primarily farmland, will be subjected to noninvasive 3D seismic tests that will identify whether “significant amounts of oil and/or gas” are present. The results are expected to be available by June.
The newspaper reports that “[more] than 90 land leases involving thousands of acres have been filed in Mercer County since 2013 between various companies and property owners … the legal documents give companies access to test, drill or perform other action on the land as stipulated in each agreement.” Mercer County Commissioners agreed to test some government-owned property as well.
This news is not only important to the residents of Mercer County, but to residents throughout Ohio. The fact that companies are actively seeking to further their investment within the state is promising for all landowners. And at the very least, this recent move signifies that these companies have no plans packing up and shipping out anytime in the near future.
Email Rea & Associates if you have questions about how current events could affect your leasing options or if you are considering entering into a lease agreement for drilling or exploratory purposes.
By David Shallenberger, CPA (Wooster office)