U.S. Manufacturers Competing Globally Again Thanks to Cheaper Domestic Energy Sources

BoyarMiller Energy Forum Panelists Discuss Benefits for U.S., Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (March 28, 2013) — The U.S. manufacturing industry is competing globally again, thanks to lower natural gas prices and a renaissance in the oil and gas energy sector, according to panelists at BoyarMiller’s “Perspectives on the Energy Industry” forum. But, while more investors are injecting capital into the industry, the lack of sensible long-term energy policy and fragile global economies continue to have an impact on investor confidence.

“The energy industry is a significant driver for Houston’s growth and an important part of our practice,” said Bill Boyar, BoyarMiller’s founder and former chairman. “We host the Energy Forum each year providing current trends and developments to help our clients stay ahead of the curve and make smart, informed business decisions.”

Held at The Houstonian Hotel, BoyarMiller’s program featured David Pursell, managing director and head of securities with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.; Tom Hargrove, managing director with GulfStar Group; and James Wallis, vice president of Lime Rock Partners.

Pursell called for the construction of new pipeline in the Keystone project. “Reversing the flow in segments of existing pipeline rather than building new pipe according to specifications is insufficient,” he said. “A significant amount of the heavy crude from Canada is already being transported to the Gulf Coast by rail and will continue to do so for the next decade.”

Carbon emissions reached a 20-year low in the first quarter of 2012 and the U.S. has seen reduced CO2 emissions in the last five years, Pursell said. This is due to less expensive natural gas replacing coal for power generation. “For years we couldn’t grow natural gas production and now we are doing it with fewer and fewer rigs,” he said. “This is the best thing that has happened to the U.S. economy, especially in the manufacturing sector driven by natural gas and electricity, making it cheaper and globally competitive.”

U.S. law prohibits the export of domestic crude oil, Pursell said. The increased supply, combined with the export ban means there will be a disconnect between the pricing of crude in the U.S. and everywhere else. The U.S. crude oil will become cheaper and the refiners can export refined product, which is good for the Gulf Coast refineries and our area.

“The producers are becoming victims of their own success, making less money due to the increased supply of oil and natural gas,” Pursell said. “The people who will profit are companies who transport and refine it.”

Hargrove discussed the state of capital markets in the energy industry. Middle market M&A activity is driven by public companies, whose stock prices are at attractive levels and who have high cash balances; private equity buyers with large amounts of liquidity; and lenders, who are becoming aggressive again with cash flow-based lending. These activities contributed to a growing number of transactions in 2012 – which surpassed the number of deals in 2008, and a growth in transaction multiples, which have recovered from a drop in 2009 and now average 6.2 EBITDA in the middle market. Many transactions were completed in the fourth quarter of 2012 because of the pending increase in the capital gains tax in 2013.

“An estimated 80 percent of the wells are now non-vertical and from the capital standpoint, horizontal drilling requires more equipment, services and people than vertical drilling,” Hargrove said. “The Gulf of Mexico has recovered from the Deepwater Horizon spill with increased activity in deep water exploration. We see new rigs moving into the market and once-rare deep water production platform orders are now on backlog.”

“There is a huge demand for capital from pipeline service companies,” Hargrove added. “The introduction and enforcement of stricter U.S. Department of Transportation regulations; heightened concern over pipeline safety and maintenance after several high profile incidents; the adoption of the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011; and the required hydrostatic testing and repairs on all pipelines constructed before 1970 all contributing to stable recurring revenues from maintenance.”

“New pipelines are needed to transport product from the unconventional oil and gas fields from production areas to processing facilities,” Hargrove said. “Pipeline construction miles are projected to increase to approximately 41,000 in 2013, up from 36,000 in 2012, and total pipeline construction expenditures are expected to reach $41 billion in 2013 – a $7 billion increase from 2012.”

“Petrochemical and refining services are benefiting from low natural gas prices and are experiencing robust growth,” Hargrove said. “While increased domestic oil availability is providing domestic refineries with price advantaged crude oil, it requires capital investment in plant retrofits to process light crudes. Other investment factors include rising global demand for refined products, attractive economics for U.S. petrochemical plants, and a continued aging of current infrastructures. Capital spending is anticipated to reach $17.6 billion in 2013 and grow to $19.9 billion by 2017, with a lot of development in the Gulf Coast.”

“A Dow executive recently said that an estimated $95 billion worth of processing plants are planned domestically,” Hargrove said. “Much of the new construction will happen in the Gulf Coast petrochemical complexes, close to the ship channel, as U.S. refineries and chemical plants contract for domestic oil and gas as a secure source of supply with attractive prices. It’s a very active marketplace and a very good time to be in our business in Houston.”

Wallis addressed the issues facing private equity investors in the energy industry. “Investors still face a lot of uncertainty due to fragile global economies, a slow U.S. recovery dependent on fiscal stimulus, and worldwide governments and politicians hurting the private sector’s confidence,” Wallis said. “Trying to time the markets is incredibly difficult, so it’s important to proceed with caution and to seek diversification of timing, geography, and commodities within the energy sector specifically.”

Despite the sluggish economy and political uncertainty, a renaissance in the U.S. oil and gas industry is underway, he said. “We’ve all heard the news. The industry has reversed a decades-long trend of declining crude oil production, and natural gas production continues to grow despite a significant drop in its pricing and the number of rigs drilling for it.”

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology is not new, Wallis said. More than one million separate fracturing jobs have been conducted since 1947, and as those technologies have evolved the use of horizontal rigs is on the rise – they make up more than 60 percent of all rigs drilling in the U.S. today, compared with about 10 percent in 1991.

Recent advancements such as simultaneous fracing, real-time microseismic monitoring, nano-scale reservoir analysis and pad drilling individually are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but combined have made a big impact on the industry’s understanding of tight reservoirs and its ability to develop “bad rock” more efficiently, Wallis said. The end result is a dramatic increase in the amount of oil and gas resources that can be profitably developed today.

The U.S. is on its way to energy independence or at least significantly diminished energy dependence, he said. It is projected that North America will be energy self-sufficient by 2022 and the U.S. economy will see great benefits as a result. Direct jobs within the oil and gas industry could double from almost 500,000 today as several hundred billion dollars of new capital is invested in wells, pipelines, and supporting infrastructure over the next decade. The indirect benefits to the entire U.S. economy from lower energy prices will be far-reaching as well.

Decreased dependence on energy imports will lower our foreign trade deficit, strengthen the U.S. dollar, and will have implications for foreign policy. “The U.S. is becoming more self-reliant,” Wallis said. “Our technologies and techniques will be exported, and tight oil will fill a really big gap in future global supplies that existed previously. It is turning into a big solution for the U.S. and the world and that’s good for everybody.”

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BoyarMiller is a mid-size Houston-based law firm that advances client business goals by bringing new possibilities into focus with confidence and clarity to achieve extraordinary outcomes. Since 1990, we have been providing practical and smart business solutions. Our firm is comprised of two practice groups—business law and litigation—and we serve multinational companies, middle-market businesses and entrepreneurs in need of collaborative and strategic representation. See boyarmiller.com for more information.