Category Archives: Oil industry subsidies

GOP Tax Law Bails Out Fracking Companies Buried in Debt

Repost from DeSmogBlog
[Editor: See also the Pacific Standard report, Inside The Tax Bill’s $25 Billion Oil Company Bonanza.  – RS]

GOP Tax Law Bails Out Fracking Companies Buried in Debt

By Justin Mikulka • Thursday, April 26, 2018 – 08:44

A Scrabble board spells out 'Bankruptcy' overlaid on an unconventional oil and gas rigEOG Resources is one of the top companies in the fracking industry, and thanks to the new tax bill passed by Republicans and President Donald Trump at the end of last year, EOG had an exceptionally strong year compared to 2016.

In 2017, the company reported a net income of $2.6 billion. The previous year? A loss of $1.1 billion. That financial turnaround seems very impressive until you realize that $2.2 billion, or about 85 percent, of its 2017 income was the result of the new tax law. Without that gift from the GOP and Trump, EOG would have lost approximately $700 million between those two years. Instead they are $1.5 billion ahead of the game.

With numbers like these, it is easy to see how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was a much-needed lifeline for the money-losing fracking industryEOG is routinely touted as one of the best shale oil and gas companies. Yet the company still lost $700 million in the past two years. Or at least it would have if not for the tax bill.

This is the same company that an analyst at the investment advice website Seeking Alpha says is “generally considered one of the best unconventional upstream oil and gas players in the business, and its financials back it up.” If those are the best financials in your industry, your industry has a big problem.

An interesting side note is that EOG stands for Enron Oil and Gas, which was spun off as its own company from Enron — the company notorious for one of the great energy Ponzi schemes of the 20th century. Today, an Enron spinoff company is being held up as the most fiscally sound in the shale oil industry.

And Seeking Alpha is now pushing EOG as a good investment and wondering when “the equities market will wake up and smell this opportunity” despite EOG still being over $6 billion in debt. Without the tax overhaul it would be much harder to make this argument.

There is one prominent person in the shale industry warning against rosy forecasts for shale oil, and that is Mark Papa, head of independent oil company Centennial Resource Development. Papa’s last job? CEO of EOG Resources.

Continental Resources is another of the shale companies being heralded as a good investment in 2018. Continental is run by Harold Hamm who was an advisor to the Trump campaign and has taken the title of “Shale King” that once belonged to Aubrey McClendon. Hamm’s net worth is estimated at over $13 billion.

Thanks to the new tax law, Continental took home an extra $700 million because its effective tax rate for 2017 was negative 406 percent.


Continental Resources 2017 Annual 10-K Filing

And Continental needed that money (although Hamm certainly doesn’t). In 2007 Continental had $165 million in debt and paid $13 million a year in interest on that debt. In 2016 its debt had ballooned to $6.5 billion and the annual interest payments rose to $321 million. The GOP tax law essentially pays off two years of Continental’s interest payments, allowing this failing business model to continue because Continental has not been generating enough income to pay even the annual interest on its debt.

While the company he leads is drowning in $6.5 billion of debt, Harold Hamm is personally worth twice that amount. He’ll be fine. He was easily able to afford one of the most expensive divorce settlements ever.

These are just two examples of shale companies receiving an immediate financial lifeline from the GOP tax bill. These companies also will benefit from lowered tax rates in future years. However, this one-time handout simply masks the reality that the shale revolution looks a lot like a Ponzi scheme enriching CEOs and Wall Street financiers by producing oil and gas with borrowed money that is unlikely to be paid back in the future.

And Hamm and the Wall Street financiers have no incentive to do anything differently. Sure bankrupt energy companies destroy worker pensions, wipe out investors equity, layoff thousands of workers — but if we use the coal industry as an example — CEOs will still get bonuses after driving their companies into bankruptcy.

Tax Bill Especially Beneficial to Oil Companies

The benefits of the new tax bill are certainly not unique to oil and gas companies. Utility companies did even better and the big Wall Street banks who are financing the cash-burning shale industry also are awash in new profits thanks to the GOPtax overhaul.

However, due to the nature of how oil and gas companies book profits and losses — and the epic money-losing streak the shale industry created over the past few years — these companies benefited more than most.

To be clear — this bill which was signed at the end of 2017 was applied to the deferred tax liabilities that were already on the books — thus erasing a large chunk of the liabilities for these companies that had built up while the industry kept borrowing to drill more and ultimately lose more money. Simply a bailout of reckless financial behavior by any other name.

And it wasn’t just the companies primarily working in shale that benefited. ExxonMobil raked in a $6 billion benefit from the new tax law, which even CNN Money referred to as a “gift.”

Industry Will Use Bailout to Borrow and Drill More 

In discussing the trade deficit President Trump recently tweeted the following:

Coming from a man whose career includes multiple bankruptcies, this shouldn’t be surprising. The shale oil industry definitely has a kindred spirit in the White House.

What happens when you give free money to gamblers on an epic losing streak? In the shale industry, they double down.

ExxonMobil has promised to use the billions it gained from the tax bill to … drill and frack more shale oil. Which is likely to result in further discounts of Permian Shale oil, which will lower the price of oil and put more pressure on the heavily leveraged shale companies.

While the mainstream media is pushing the industry message that shale companies now are focused on profits instead of just production volume, record U.S. oil production and predictions for even greater increases would appear to reveal the lie in that promise. Just as most sharks must swim to stay alive, shale companies must drill to preserve CEO bonuses, which are often tied to oil production, not profits. So, they drill. Even when that means losing money on nearly every barrel of oil they pump.

A graphic from the Wall Street Journal reveals just how much money the shale industry has been losing compared to traditional oil — all while CEOs such as Harold Hamm were amassing billions in personal wealth. The shale oil industry generated free cash flow pumping oil for one brief period in the last seven years. Hamm has done a bit better personally during that time frame.

Shortly after President Trump signed the new tax bill, he took another vacation to Mar-a-Lago where he reportedly told those in attendance: “You all just got a lot richer.”

A rare moment of honesty from the President. And while he wasn’t speaking specifically to shale oil CEOs — it’s safe to say they got the message loud and clear.


Follow the DeSmog investigative series: Finances of Fracking: Shale Industry Drills More Debt Than Profit

    INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA

    Repost from Pacific Standard
    [Editor: Valero Energy’s windfall of DIRECT ONE-TIME 2017 TAX SAVINGS from the Trump tax law was $1.9 BILLION, according to Valero’s 4th quarter 2017 SEC filing .  See chart below. See also Valero’s Feb 2018 press release and Valero’s detailed SEC 2017 Year End Fiscal Report.  – RS]

    A Pacific Standard analysis shows the oil and gas industry is among the tax bill’s greatest financial beneficiaries.

    By Antonia Juhasz, Mar 27, 2018
    President Donald Trump pitches his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the Andeavor oil refinery in North Dakota in September of 2017.
    President Donald Trump pitches his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the Andeavor oil refinery in North Dakota on September 6th, 2017. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

    Last month, during a retreat in West Virginia, congressional Republicans set out their 2018 party goals. Their primary objective is to hold onto their majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the key mechanism for doing so is to ride the coattails of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “The tax bill is part of a bigger theme that we’re going to call The Great American comeback,” said Representative Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If we stay focused on selling the tax reform package, I think we’re going to hold the House and things are going to be OK for us.”

    More than 50 percent of the tax bill’s benefits will go to the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, and more than 25 percent to the wealthiest 1 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. As Businessweek put it, “President Donald Trump and Republicans sold their $1.5 trillion tax cut as a boon for workers, but it’s becoming clear just two months after the bill passed that the truly big winners will be corporations and their shareholders.”

    Pacific Standard‘s original analysis finds that it is the oil and gas industry, including companies that backed the presidency of Trump and whose former executives and current boosters now populate it, that are among the tax bill’s largest and most long-lasting financial beneficiaries.

    Just 17 American oil and gas companies reported a combined total of $25 billion in direct one-time benefits from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Many of the companies will also receive millions of dollars in income tax refunds this year. Looking forward, the Tax Act then reduces all corporate annual tax bills by a minimum of 40 percent every year in perpetuity, while adding new benefits that function as government subsidies for the oil and gas industry. The companies’ activities in the United States are made less expensive, thereby encouraging a further expansion of oil and gas operations.

    Pacific Standard reviewed the Annual 10K and Fourth Quarter Reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for 2017 by 17 U.S. oil companies, looking at the largest companies in production, refining, and pipelines that also clearly specified the impacts of the Tax Act in their results. Private companies, such as Koch Industries, which undoubtedly benefit from the legislation, could not be included because they are not required to make these financial reports publicly available.

    $25 BILLION IN OIL COMPANY TAX SAVINGS

    Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.19.30 PM
    (Chart: Antonia Juhasz/Pacific Standard)  …CLICK TO ENLARGE

    Continue reading INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA

      Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

      Repost from DeSmogBlog

      Welfare Kings? Study Finds Half of New Oil Production Unprofitable Without Government Handouts

      By Justin Mikulka • Tuesday, October 3, 2017 – 13:03
      Oil derrick with 'welfare' spelled on Scrabble tiles.
      Oil derrick with ‘welfare’ spelled on Scrabble tiles. [Main image is a derivative of “Creative Commons Oil Rig” by SMelindo, used under CC BY 2.0]
      new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Energy found that 50 percent of new oil production in America would be unprofitable if not for government subsidies. The study, performed by researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track, Inc., found that, at prices of $50 per barrel, light oil produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) was heavily dependent on subsidies.

      In fact, forty percent of the Permian basin in Texas would be economically unviable without subsidies, and for the home of Bakken crude production, Williston Basin, that number jumps to 59 percent, according to the researchers.

      In addition, the study highlights what this additional fossil fuel production means for impacts to the climate:

      …continued subsidies for oil investment could produce oil (and associated gas) that, once burned, will yield CO2 emissions equivalent to nearly 1 percent of the remaining global carbon budget for all sectors of all economies.”

      At current oil prices, perhaps the most effective “keep it in the ground” strategy might be to stop subsidizing oil production.

      But what happens with these subsidies when the price of oil is over $100 per barrel, as it was several years ago? The authors of the study report that, under such a scenario, government subsidies are simply “transfer payments” to oil investors. The oil would be profitable without the subsidies, which become, at that point, simply free cash for investors.

      While this study provides valuable insight into how subsidies affect oil production and the climate, it notes that its conclusions are not unique. The authors point out: “As others have found regardless of the oil price, the majority of taxpayer resources provided to the industry end up as company profits.”

      US Taxpayers Subsidizing Oil Exports to China

      Since the U.S. crude oil export ban was lifted in 2016, exports have risen much faster than most purported experts predicted, with volumes recently topping 1.5 million barrels per day. Much of these exports are the heavily subsidized light sweet oils produced by fracking in the oil fields of Texas and North Dakota.

      And while major oil producers such as Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources and major Trump donortestified in Congress that it was unlikely U.S. oil would be exported to China, that has quickly proven to be false.

      Bloomberg recently reported that Wang Pei, an executive for Chinese oil and gas company Sinopec, said, “Our refining system really likes U.S. crude.”

      That appetite for oil in China and other nations like India isn’t shrinking, spurring the U.S. oil and gas industry to ramp up production to export far greater amounts.

      Why are U.S. oil producers so keen to export their oil to other countries? Terry Morrison of Occidental Petroleum recently made the answer clear, saying, “It’s an alternative outlet for your production, i.e. better prices.” Better prices. At this point, American taxpayers are now subsidizing oil production so that oil companies can sell it to other countries like China for higher prices.

      As the Midland Reporter-Telegram notes, “analysts are forecasting Permian Basin crude production will increase between 400,000 and 700,000 barrels per day in the coming years,” with the majority likely for export. However, as the Nature Energy study pointed out, 40 percent of that production is dependent on subsidies making it economically viable in the first place.

      Taxpayer-funded subsidies don’t just incentivize oil production for export. As previously noted on DeSmog, taxpayers are also subsidizing the expansion of ports in Texas to provide access for loading oil onto the largest oil tankers, also destined for foreign shores.

      India just received its first shipment of American oil and as DNA India reported, “Officials here said the U.S. crude supply will help India to keep oil prices low and stable to benefit consumers.” Then, U.S. taxpayers are ponying up money for oil production to benefit foreign consumers. This seems like a bad deal for U.S. taxpayers and a horrible deal for the climate — but another big win for the oil industry.

      Subsidies Impact Everything

      The oil industry, led by its lobbying group the American Petroleum Institute, has long denied that it receives anything akin to a “subsidy.” In January former ExxonMobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson repeated this industry talking point during a Senate confirmation hearing. In response to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tillerson said, “I’m not aware of anything the fossil fuel industry gets that I would characterize as a subsidy.”

      Yet this new study notes that subsidies aren’t simply cash being handed to oil companies. Subsidies often come in the form of tax breaks, which is just one of the many ways oil companies receive government handouts.

      Another subsidy of sorts noted in the report relates to the fact that the oil industry isn’t required to have nearly enough insurance to cover accidents like the deadly crude oil train explosion and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The study notes that “the July 2013 crude oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec involved a Class II railroad with only $25 million in liability insurance. Costs of $2 billion or more will likely be shifted to the public.”

      However, some of the main impacts of this ongoing support of the oil industry are the ongoing impacts to the climate, the environment, and public health. Should America be subsidizing oil for India and China, two countries that have crippling air pollution issues? What additional costs will be incurred due to climate change thanks to these subsidies?

      Increased oil and gas production in the U.S. also means increased water consumption, increased contaminated fracking wasteincreased spills, increased oil trains, increased earthquakes, and increased flaring.

      newly released poll from the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 61 percent of Americans “think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address.” This latest study points to one major way the government could do that: by making the oil and gas industry pay the true costs of production instead of relying on U.S. taxpayers to insure its profits.