Climate Change and Trends in Global Finance

On December 12, French President Emmanuel Macron, joined by President of the World Bank Group, Jim Yong Kim and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, hosted the One Planet Summit highlighting public and private finance in support of climate action. The summit’s focus centered on addressing the fight against climate change and ensuring that climate issues are central to the finance sector.

The summit’s most notable event was perhaps the announcement that insurance giant Axa would be dumping investments in and ending insurance for controversial U.S. oil pipelines, quadrupling its divestment from coal businesses, and increasing its green investments fivefold by 2020. Axa’s plans echo those of BNP Paribas, who, in mid-October, announced that it would terminate business with companies whose principal activities involve exploration, distribution, marketing, or trading of oil and gas from shale or oil sands. The bank also ceased financing projects that are primarily involved in the transportation or export of oil and gas. These moves themselves follow controversy over the Dakota Access pipeline in the U.S. from mid-March that resulted in ING’s $2.5 billion divestment in the loan that financed the pipeline.

These measures prefigure what might be a more conspicuous trend of large institutional investors moving more rapidly away from fossil fuel investments and into green investments. In mid-December, the World Bank said it would end all financial support for oil and gas exploration by 2019. Around the same time, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo revealed a plan for the state’s common retirement fund, with over $200 billion in assets, to cease all new investments in entities with significant fossil-fuel related activities and to completely decarbonize its portfolio. Recently, HSBC pledged $100 billion to be spent on sustainable finance and investment over the next eight years in an effort to address climate change. Additionally, JP Morgan Chase committed $200 billion to similar clean-minded investments, Macquarie acquired the UK’s Green Investment Bank, and Deutsche Bank and Credit Agricole both made exits from coal lending. As the landscape of global finance shifts, it will be important to monitor how funds, banks, and insurers address the issues related to climate change.

 

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The UK 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round

Andrews Kurth

At the end of July 2014, the UK government published application criteria and terms for the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round. This will be key to the aspirations of would-be shale gas developers in the UK. Onshore licences are available in areas including the Bowland Shale in the north of England (where the British Geological Society estimates a potential gas-in-place resource of 1,329 trillion cubic feet (tcf) alone) and the Midland Valley in Scotland.

Applications for new licences under the 14th round can be made until 2:00 p.m. 28 October 2014. This is the first round of onshore licensing in the UK for six years, and the resultant final licence awards are expected to be announced in the next 12 to 18 months. The level of interest expressed in these new licences will be a good barometer of how the industry regards the steps which the UK government has been taking to promote the growth of shale gas in the UK.

Additionally, new model clauses for onshore licences have been issued in the Petroleum Licensing (Exploration and Production) (Landward Areas) Regulations 2014, which came into force on 17 July 2014. These model clauses are intended to promote unconventional oil and gas exploration and production and include several new provisions which are aimed at affording greater flexibility to licensees – these provisions relate to “drill or drop” elections, the term of the licence (with revised focus on extensions and retention areas) and splitting horizontal layers on surrenders.

The new model clauses recognise the different attributes of shale gas exploration and production programmes and that shale gas deposits typically have a much wider geographic footprint when compared to conventional oil and gas resources. Whilst greater flexibility is given to licensees under the new model clauses, there are also tighter controls over proposed project activities and timescales, with the intention of accelerating the outturns of planned exploration and production plans. 

The new model clauses are also intended to promote the findings of the recent Wood Review relating to maximising economic recovery.

There is also a new requirement for a detailed Environmental Awareness Statement (“EAS”) to be submitted with licence applications. The EAS is intended to demonstrate a licence applicant’s understanding of the environmental sensitivities relevant to the area proposed to be licensed. This requirement is intended to promote a successful interface with ecological sensitivities.

The UK government has taken a number of other steps to promote shale gas development in the UK, including introducing localised fiscal incentives to support the development of shale gas exploration pads. However, significant other issues still remain to be addressed by would-be shale gas developers, including obtaining planning permission to drill and hydraulically fracture test wells and managing often vociferous local public opposition to shale gas development. We have previously considered how UK onshore shale gas developments might be structured (see Notes From The Field – Issues 3 and 6).

Many challenges still lie ahead. Oil & Gas UK, the trade association that represents the interests of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry, has given a cautious welcome to these new developments:

“There are a number of synergies between the offshore oil and gas industry and the onshore sector. Many of the techniques and some of the services required to recover land based unconventional shale gas already exist in the offshore oil and gas sector and should be readily transferable. There is scope for making these learnings and expertise from the offshore sector quickly transferable to operators developing onshore oil and gas resources. The new Oil and Gas Authority, which will govern both onshore and offshore industries, should ensure consistency of approach wherever applicable.”

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Texas Supreme Court Clarifies Royalty Calculations For Enhanced Oil Recovery

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In French v. Occidental Permian, Ltd., the Texas Supreme Court clarified royalty calculations for enhanced oil recovery.  The Court:

  1. Rejected a royalty owners’ claim that royalties on casinghead gas should be determined as if the injected carbon dioxide (CO2) was not present
  2. Held that, under the applicable leases and Unitization Agreement, the costs of removing CO2 from the gas were post-production expenses that royalty owners must share with the working interest owner

In the opinion, the Court emphasized the importance of efficient production of oil and gas and the prevention of waste.

Background

The Plaintiffs-Appellants, Marcia Fuller French and others (“French”), were lessors on two different oil and gas leases.  Both lease royalty provisions provided that the casinghead gas royalty was net of post-production expenses, but not production expenses.  The Defendant-Appellee, Occidental Permian Ltd. (“Oxy”) owned a working interest.  The parties had entered into a Unitization Agreement to allow secondary recovery operations.

Oxy began injecting wells on these leases with CO2 in 2001 in order boost oil production when waterflooding became less effective.  As a result, the wells produced natural gas that was about 85% CO2.  Although Oxy could reinject the entire casinghead gas stream, Oxy had the gas treated off site to remove the CO2.   It sold the resulting gas and had the extracted CO2 sent back to the well to be reinjected.  Oxy paid royalties on the gas after it was treated and deducted the treatment costs from French’s royalties.

French sued arguing that, except for the removal of contaminants and the extraction of NGL, the costs of processing the casinghead gas (including transportation costs) were production costs that should be borne solely by Oxy.  Conversely, Oxy argued the CO2 removal was necessary to render the gas stream marketable.  At trial, the Court agreed with French and awarded her $10,074,262.33 in underpaid royalties and entered a declaratory judgment defining Oxy’s ongoing royalty obligations.  The court of appeals reversed with a focus on the damages calculations, but did not reach a decision on whether the cost of separating the CO2 from the casinghead gas was a production expense.

Supreme Court’s Decision

The Court examined the parties’ agreements noting that French consented to the injection of extraneous substances into the oil reservoir and gave Oxy the right and discretion to decide whether to reinject or process the casinghead gas.  The Court further pointed out the Agreement provided that the royalty owners agreed to forego royalties on any unitized substances used in the recovery process.  The Court found that French benefited from that decision and therefore must share in the cost of the CO2 removal.  The question then became whether the CO2 processing was a production or post-production cost.

French argued that the CO2 separation was akin to the removal of water from oil, which Oxy treated as a production cost.  The Court, however, found that oil and water are “immiscible” and separation of the two is a relatively simple process, unlike CO2 and gas separation, which requires special technology.  Water separation is necessary for reinjection into the reservoir and to make the oil marketable.  Conversely, CO2 separation is not necessary for continued production of oil.  The Court then noted that Oxy was not required to reinject the casinghead gas.  Therefore, based on the parties’ agreements, “French, having given Oxy the right and discretion to decide whether to reinject or process the casinghead gas, and having benefited from that decision, must share in the cost of the CO2removal.”  Id. at 7.

Conclusion

The Court indirectly emphasized efficient production of oil and gas and prevention of waste.  The gas processing was economically beneficial to both French and Oxy.  The CO2 separation increased the value of the stream to both Oxy and French by allowing sale of the extracted NGLs and allowing reinjection of more than 10% of the gas produced directly back into the field.  Because French received the benefit of Oxy’s decision, it had to share in the cost.

This opinion is an important reminder to carefully negotiate and agree to terms in all agreements.  It is a further reminder to proceed in an efficient and economic manner.

Commerce Department Rulings Spur Oil Export Battle

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As reported in our blog post of last week, the Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) recently determined in two private classifications that lease condensate — a type of stabilized and distilled light crude oil — is not subject to the United States’ broad ban on crude oil exports.  BIS has for years defined “crude oil” in its regulations as “a mixture of hydrocarbons that existed in liquid phase in underground reservoirs and remains liquid at atmospheric pressure after passing through surface separating facilities and which has not been processed through a crude oil distillation tower.”   Although the regulations state that this definition includes lease condensate, BIS appears to have determined that lease condensate that has been distilled is a refined petroleum product that is not subject to the broad ban on crude oil exports from the United States.

While BIS claims that there has been “no change in policy on crude oil exports,” the recent determinations have spurred the debate over whether the U.S. should change its position on crude oil exports.  In particular, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) — who have been vocal opponents of lifting the ban on crude oil exports — wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Priztker alleging that BIS may have impermissibly approved the exports of lease condensate and demanding copies of the two determinations and information on the legal rationale for approving such exports by July 14, 2014.  Senators Markey and Menendez argue that allowing exports of crude oil would increase reliance on foreign oil and cause domestic gas prices to rise.  However, with U.S. crude oil production surging as a result of the advancements in hydrofracking technology, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mary Landrieu have championed the effort to reconsider the ban on crude oil exports, which has been in place since the Arab oil embargo and global energy supply shortages of the 1970s.  In particular, Senator Murkowski has issued a report calling for a “renovation” of U.S. energy export policy, which includes an April 2014 white paper in advocating for condensate exports.

While some view BIS’ approval of condensate exports as a step towards a greater liberalization in crude oil export policy, financial analysts such as Morgan Stanley are not bullish on any significant changes occurring before this years’ mid-term elections.  Moreover, recent reports indicate that the White House may not have been aware that BIS was planning to issue such determinations, and therefore this may not represent a conscious effort on the part of the Obama Administration to change crude oil export policy.  Indeed, Secretary Pritzker has confirmed publicly that the rulings were not a change in policy.  However, the Secretary also said that “it’s a mistake to think there isn’t serious conversation going on within the administration about what we should do,” and that the issue of energy exports overall should be “examined holistically from an economic, strategic, and diplomatic standpoint.”  These statements suggest that the Administration is not backing down from the condensate rulings, and is considering the broader policy issues involved in allowing exports of other oil products.

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SEC Settles Civil Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Action Against Two Former Oil Services Executives

Katten Muchin

On the eve of a trial which was scheduled to begin this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled a civil Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case it brought against two former oil services executives. The case was an outgrowth of anindustry-wide investigation the SEC had initially commenced beginning in 2010.

In February 2012, the SEC filed a complaint against Mark A. Jackson, who was the former CEO and CFO of Noble Corporation, and James J. Ruehlen, former Director and Division Manager of Noble’s Nigerian subsidiary, alleging that they authorized the payment of bribes to customs officials to process false paperwork that purported to show the export and re-import of oil rigs, which was necessary under the requirements of Nigerian law. In fact, the rigs had never been moved. The SEC alleged that the scheme was part of a design to save Noble from losing business and incurring costs associated with exporting rigs from Nigeria and re-importing them under new permits. The complaint asserted violations of the anti-bribery and books and records provisions of the FCPA. The complaint also detailed the fact that Jackson had refused to cooperate during Noble’s internal investigation of the matter and had asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify during the SEC investigation.

The settlement with Jackson and Ruehlen was the last in a lengthy saga of FCPA actions against Noble and its former employees. Noble was initially charged with FCPA violations in a civil action in 2010. The company settled, agreeing to pay more than $8 million in fees. The SEC filed charges against Jackson and Ruehlen in 2012 following the corporate settlement and also filed charges against Thomas F. O’Rourke, the former controller and head of internal audit at Noble. O’Rourke quickly settled and agreed to pay a penalty.

Despite pursuing the action for more than two years and alleging serious wrongdoing by the defendants, including responsibility for an extensive bribery scheme, the SEC agreed to settle with Jackson and Ruehlen just two days before their trial was to commence with an injunction against violating the books and records provision of the FCPA. Although Noble had settled its own case for a hefty penalty, neither Jackson nor Ruehlen were required to pay a fine, concede a violation of the bribery provisions of the FCPA nor agree to restrictions on employment.

SEC v. Jackson et al., No. 4:12-c-00563 (S.D. Tex. Jul. 7, 2014).  

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EU Sanctions And The International Oil And Gas Industry

Andrews Kurth

The international oil and gas industry is continuously tasked with adapting to an ever evolving sanction-regulated environment. The level of sanction activity and implementation in recent years has been unprecedented, partly as a result of the political events which gave rise to the Arab Spring and the opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme. The recent crisis in the Ukraine, and associated sanctions against Russia, have sparked further debate around the need for effective, targeted punitive measures and the consequences they may have for Europe.

This article considers the EU’s sanction regime, explores the effect it has on international oil and gas companies and addresses the short-comings of the EU’s decentralised system.

What are sanctions?

Sanctions are political policy instruments used to encourage jurisdictions acting in contravention of international law to adopt standards supported by the wider global community. They impose measures designed to cause damage to the targeted government, non-state entity or individual (“Target”) in order to force it to undertake, or prevent it from undertaking, certain behaviour. They may inhibit the Target from accessing foreign markets for trade or deny it from pursuing financial and other forms of commerce. The professed ultimate objective of a sanction is to preserve or restore global peace and security.

What is the source of EU sanctions?

The UN Security Council imposes sanctions through Security Council resolutions which are binding on the EU. The EU implements all sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council through legislation enacted by the European Council. The process typically results in a European Council regulation which has direct effect in EU member states’ separate legal systems, creating rights and obligations for those subject to them, and overrides national law. Additionally, the EU may decide to impose self-directed sanctions or restrictive measures which go further than a UN Security Council resolution in circumstances in which the EU deems such action to be necessary.

Why do EU sanctions affect international oil and gas companies?

Over the past two decades, the EU has engaged in an active use of restrictive measures in the form of economic and financial sanctions, embargoes and restrictions on admission to a country. Economic and financial sanctions typically take the form of asset-freeze measures which involve the use of funds and economic resources by Targets or persons acting for and on behalf of Targets, and the provision of funds and economic resources to designated Targets. Embargoes may prohibit trade in certain goods, and activities relating to such trade, with Targets (including the flow of arms and military equipment). Visa or travel bans can be imposed preventing certain persons from entering the EU or transit through the territory of EU member states. These sanction measures are part of the EU’s strategy to support the specific objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

At the time of writing, the EU has announced asset freezes and travel bans against around twenty individuals in Russia and the Ukraine. Companies conducting their business in the oil and gas sector should be particularly vigilant to ensure they act in compliance with EU sanctions, as Ukrainian and Russian entities and individuals who operate in this industry may increasingly become sanction targets.

US sanctions are questionable under international law because they apply extra-territorially to third state parties involved in business activities with the Target. Unlike the US, the EU has refrained from adopting legislation with extra-territorial effect. However, the EU’s recent sanctions against Iran displayed a greater resemblance to those levied by the US than had previously been the case. For example, sanctions were imposed prohibiting the provision of key resources to various parts of the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as the provision of financial services to that sector. As a result of EU financial sanctions most, if not all, banks and other financial institutions have declined from conducting any business relations with the Iranian regime.

It is clear that EU sanctions are wide reaching and their scope has a significant impact on business activities. They will apply to international oil and gas companies in the following situations:

  • within EU territory, including its airspace;
  • on board of aircrafts or vessels under the jurisdiction of an EU member state;
  • to EU nationals, whether or not they are in the EU;
  • to companies and organisations incorporated under the law of a member state, whether or not they are in the EU (this captures branches of EU companies in non-EU countries); and
  • to any business done in whole or in part within the EU.

The corporate behaviour, performance and conduct of international companies are powerful channels through which the objectives of sanctions against Targets are achieved. Since an international oil and gas company has little option but to observe EU sanctions to the extent such company falls within the EU’s jurisdiction, these restrictive measures are likely to play a big part in a company’s commercial decision making processes.

Why are EU sanctions difficult to manage?

A principal reason why EU sanctions are difficult for international oil and gas companies based in various EU member states to manage largely stems from the fact that the European Union lacks a centralised licensing body. Instead, the responsibility for implementing and enforcing EU sanctions is delegated to the relevant competent authorities of the EU member states. The potential for variance and discrepancy is rife in a system where there are twenty-eight EU member states, each with their individual national resource constraints and self-centred policy objectives.

Typically, the competent authorities of EU member states are responsible for:

  • granting exemptions and licences;
  • establishing penalties for sanction violations;
  • coordinating with financial institutions; and
  • reporting upon the implementation of sanctions to the European Commission.

There have been calls for a central EU licensing body which would produce a single licensing and exemption policy for EU member states. Although EU guidelines on sanctions and best practices for the effective implementation of restrictive measures go some way to plug the gap, arguably a more comprehensive regime for implementing sanctions is required to provide a better level of certainty to international businesses operating in the realms of the EU.

Managing the risks

International oil and gas companies have always had to function in politically active climates. As sanctions initiated by multilateral organisations such as the UN and EU become more fashionable, so too does the exposure to political risk that these companies will face. Given the considerable levels of investment that can only be recouped over extended periods of time, and in accordance with pre-determined contractual apportionments, international oil and gas companies need to be able to recognise, assess and manage these political risks effectively.

Oil and gas companies can relieve the risks imposed on them by sanctions through political lobbying, taking pre-emptive measures and by reacting quickly to sanctions once they are implemented. Commercial negotiations will need to focus on the allocation of risk as a result of one party’s failure to perform or withdrawal from the contract on the grounds of applicable sanctions.

International oil and gas companies need to be proactive and consider both the legal solutions and pre-cure safeguards. Time and effort should be spent focusing on drafting and negotiating the relevant contractual documentation, following a careful risk assessment, instead of deferring to dispute resolution provisions. For instance, careful construction of force majeure provisions can allocate each party’s obligations in the circumstance where an event outside of a party’s control causes contractual performance to become impossible. Thus, whilst conventional force majeure clauses relating to physical events afford relief to an affected party from its liabilities under the contract, oil and gas companies should consider expanding such contractual provisions to cover sanctions and other restrictive measures imposed on them by the UN and EU.

To avoid falling foul of existing EU sanctions, oil and gas companies should also consider putting in place comprehensive compliance procedures and systems to implement applicable sanction regimes. Penalties for breach of sanctions can be severe; a person guilty of a sanction-related offence may be liable on conviction to imprisonment and/or a fine. Falling foul of sanctions also means that a transaction can immediately become unlawful.

Conclusion

In view of the economic significance of the EU, the application of economic financial sanctions can be a powerful tool. But like a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, the effectiveness and success of the EU’s sanction regime depends on all EU member states applying, implementing and enforcing EU sanctions in a consistent manner.

The current EU sanction regime warrants a fully integrated approach which would undoubtedly benefit its policy objectives and move some way to reducing the unduly high economic cost that international oil and gas companies face when operating their businesses in the EU.

In voicing the sentiments of Henry Kissinger: “No foreign policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none”, perhaps now, in the dawn of the recent events which have taken place in the EU’s backyard in the Ukraine and Russia, the EU should further global security measures by tightening its ranks and implementing a more centralised, and better monitored, sanction regime.

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The President’s Methane Reduction Strategy – Here’s What Energy Companies Need to Know

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President Obama recently released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Strategy) that sets forth a multi-pronged plan for reducing methane emissions both domestically and globally.  Domestically, the plan is to focus on four sources of methane—the oil and gas sector, coal mines, agriculture and landfills—and to pursue a mix of regulatory actions with respect to those sources.  Energy companies now have the opportunity to help influence exactly what those actions will be.

For the oil and gas sector, the Strategy indicates that the federal government will focus primarily on encouraging voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions—such as bolstering the existing Natural Gas STAR Program and promoting new technologies.  But the Strategy also identifies two areas of potential mandatory requirements.  First, later this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will issue a draft rule on minimizing venting and flaring on public lands.  Regulated parties will have the opportunity to submit comments after the proposed rule is released.  Second, the Strategy confirms that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will decide this fall whether to propose any mandatory methane control requirements on oil and gas production companies.  Consistent with that announcement, on April 15, 2014, EPA released five technical whitepapers discussing methane emissions from the oil and gas production process.  The agency is soliciting comments on those whitepapers—they are due by June 16, 2014.

For coal mines, the Strategy indicates that BLM will soon be seeking public input on developing a program to capture and sell methane from coal mines on public lands.  The Strategy further indicates that EPA will continue promoting voluntary methane capture efforts.

For landfills, the Strategy calls for public input on whether EPA should update its regulations for existing solid waste landfills, indicates that EPA will be proposing new regulations for future landfills, and indicates that EPA will continue to support the development of voluntary landfill gas-to-energy projects.

For agriculture, the Strategy does not suggest any new regulatory requirements.  Instead, it indicates that EPA and the Department of Energy will work to promote voluntary methane control efforts and that those agencies will place special emphasis on promoting biogas—starting with the release of a “Biogas Roadmap” in June 2014.

In addition to these sector-specific approaches, the Strategy emphasizes the need for improved methane measurement and modeling techniques, both domestically and globally.  All of the topics covered by the Strategy are ones about which regulated parties may want to submit comments—to EPA, BLM and/or the Office of Management and Budget.

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