Discussing the Shale Revolution with Enlink Midstream
We thought it would be interesting to learn how the Shale Revolution has changed some of the midstream infrastructure businesses that support it. What have these companies learned, and how are their operations affected?
For the first in an occasional series on this topic, we chatted with Adrianne Griffin, Director, Investor Relations with Enlink Midstream (ENLK). Four years ago, ENLK was created when Devon Energy (DVN) combined its midstream infrastructure assets with those of Crosstex. Because DVN controls ENLK through its ownership of the General Partner (GP) Enlink Midstream, LLC (ENLC), the two businesses remain tightly linked. DVN can claim to own some of the original assets that led to the Shale Revolution; George Mitchell was an early pioneer of horizontal fracturing (“fracking”), and in 2001 DVN acquired its eponymous company which had unlocked natural gas reserves in the Barnett Shale, in north Texas. Without the Shale Revolution, it’s unlikely ENLK would have been created.
Like all energy infrastructure businesses, ENLK’s relies heavily on the activities of its oil and gas producing companies. Anticipating shifts in production is crucial to ensuring that pipeline and other capacity is available as needed. As the Shale Revolution has gained importance, companies like ENLK aim to align their capacity with customer demand. An under-utilized pipeline represents an inefficient use of assets, but no producer wants to find that output can’t be cheaply processed and transported. The alternatives are to move product by train or truck, both of which are more flexible but substantially more expensive and less safe.
Although the improvements in technology have largely been at the producer level, the resulting increased production certainly impacts the need for infrastructure. Ms Griffin discussed how multi-well pad drilling had dramatically boosted efficiency, since today it’s not uncommon to see a row of four pads with four rigs drill two dozen individual wells. She contrasted this with past practice of drillers poring over maps and selecting single well locations with a marked dot. Today, it’s increasingly common to see software engineers remotely guiding multiple drilling rigs from a central control station (see Drillers turn to big data in the hunt for more, cheaper oil).
Although the Barnett Shale was where the Shale Revolution began, it was long eclipsed by prolific gas output from the Marcellus in the northeast and oil production in the Permian Basin in west Texas. Oklahoma’s “Scoop and Stack” is another high-producing region, and ENLK is well positioned to benefit from increasing production there. Techniques originally developed in Mitchell Energy’s original acreage have been successfully transferred from north Texas to Oklahoma. Although ENLK is slowly diversifying its customer basis, it’s no surprise that DVN is 50% of their business in that region.
Pressure is the name of the game. Ms. Griffin explained why “Keep the pressure low” is a constant refrain. If the pressure at which existing oil and gas are moved through the pipeline network is too high, it makes it harder for new production to enter the system. A key element of managing flow is to find the right balance between optimal management of the pipeline network that still accommodates additional supply coming on. Shale wells are characterized by high initial production rates that decline quickly. When you combine this with multi-well pad drilling, it can lead to producers quickly adding new supply that soon tapers off. In order to manage overall pipeline pressure, drillers often leave some wells as Drilled Uncompleted (“DUCs”), or choke back initial output, in order to deliver less variable flow to their midstream infrastructure provider. Drillers and their infrastructure providers are in constant contact.
On the processing side, ENLK have been investing in new, cryogenic processing plants, because the gas stream they’re asked to process is a lot “richer”. This means it contains Natural Gas Liquids such as ethane and propane, which must first be removed and sold separately before the methane can be supplied to customers as natural gas.
In an interesting twist, DVN recently announced plans to divest its acreage in the Barnett to focus on Oklahoma and West Texas. However, technology has improved tremendously since George Mitchell’s day, and it’s allowing the re-exploitation (‘re-frack”) of wells that were previously regarded as having little remaining commercial value for new potential owners.
Since ENLK is an MLP with a GP, no discussion would be complete without asking about the financing model. Over the past couple of years most large MLPs have combined their GP and MLP. Euphemistically called “simplification”, it’s generally resulted in lower distributions and unwelcome tax consequences for investors. Although management teams typically blame the difficulty of raising equity capital with the GP/MLP structure, the problems are invariably self-inflicted as overly ambitious growth plans stretch distribution coverage and leverage covenants. NuStar’s recent combination with its GP, NuStar GP Holdings, is an example.
While ENLK has certainly benefited from a strong corporate sponsor in DVN, they’ve also maintained leverage at 3.5-4X Debt:EBITDA, and have managed their growth so as to retain an investment grade debt rating. More than three years since the peak in the energy infrastructure sector, it’s a prudent approach that is paying off.
We are invested in ENLC
The information provided is for informational purposes only and investors should determine for themselves whether a particular service, security or product is suitable for their investment needs. The information contained herein is not complete, may not be current, is subject to change, and is subject to, and qualified in its entirety by, the more complete disclosures, risk factors and other terms that are contained in the disclosure, prospectus, and offering. Certain information herein has been obtained from third party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. No representation is made with respect to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of this information. Nothing provided on this site constitutes tax advice. Individuals should seek the advice of their own tax advisor for specific information regarding tax consequences of investments. Investments in securities entail risk and are not suitable for all investors. This site is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities in the United States or in any other jurisdiction.
References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and do not reflect the deduction of the advisor’s fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase. Indexes and benchmarks may not directly correlate or only partially relate to portfolios managed by SL Advisors as they have different underlying investments and may use different strategies or have different objectives than portfolios managed by SL Advisors (e.g. The Alerian index is a group MLP securities in the oil and gas industries. Portfolios may not include the same investments that are included in the Alerian Index. The S & P Index does not directly relate to investment strategies managed by SL Advisers.)
This site may contain forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involves a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of SL Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made. r
Certain hyperlinks or referenced websites on the Site, if any, are for your convenience and forward you to third parties’ websites, which generally are recognized by their top level domain name. Any descriptions of, references to, or links to other products, publications or services does not constitute an endorsement, authorization, sponsorship by or affiliation with SL Advisors LLC with respect to any linked site or its sponsor, unless expressly stated by SL Advisors LLC. Any such information, products or sites have not necessarily been reviewed by SL Advisors LLC and are provided or maintained by third parties over whom SL Advisors LLC exercise no control. SL Advisors LLC expressly disclaim any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information, and/or quality of products or services provided by or advertised on these third-party sites.
All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.
Past performance of the American Energy Independence Index is not indicative of future returns.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!