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July 23-27: AEP drops Wind Catcher; BHP, Chesapeake to exit shale plays

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BHP ASSET SALE — Australia's BHP Billiton Group said July 27 it has agreed to sell its U.S. onshore oil and natural gas assets for US$10.8 billion to London-based BP PLC and Merit Energy Co. unit MMGJ Hugoton III LLC. BP will buy BHP subsidiary Petrohawk Energy Corp. and its entire interests in the Permian Basin, Eagle Ford and Haynesville shales for US$10.5 billion. BHP's Fayetteville shale units BHP Billiton Petroleum (Arkansas) Inc. and BHP Billiton Petroleum (Fayetteville) LLC will go to the Merit Energy unit in exchange for about US$300 million. "BHP is known for having Tier 1 assets which they execute well, like coal, copper and iron ore, so it makes sense to move on from these oil and gas purchases [in the U.S.]," UBS Mining Analyst Jade Little told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

CHESAPEAKE — Chesapeake Energy Corp. announced July 26 it will exit the Utica Shale through the sale of its entire operating position for up to $2 billion to Encino Acquisition Partners LLC. The transaction includes more than 900,000 net acres in Ohio, and 920 operated and nonoperated wells, along with related infrastructure and equipment. "By divesting our position in the Utica and using the proceeds for debt reduction, we will not only significantly improve the health of our balance sheet, but we will also accelerate progress toward our strategic goals of reducing our debt, improving our margins and reaching sustainable free cash flow neutrality," Chesapeake CEO Doug Lawler said.


WILDFIRE LIABILITY — With deadly wildfires again scorching parts of California, top executives from Edison International and PG&E Corp. told investors they are adjusting to "the new normal" of heightened wildfire risks and liability as they await policy changes. California Gov. Jerry Brown is backing legislation that would instruct courts to limit utilities' liability for damages resulting from wildfires caused by electrical equipment. "We cannot be put in a position of being held strictly liable for damages without the ability to recover costs," PG&E Corp. President and CEO Geisha Williams said on a July 26 earnings call.

UTILITY SALE — Lafayette Utilities System LLC, the municipal utility for Lafayette, La., is no longer for sale, the city's mayor told a local newspaper. Joel Robideaux, the mayor-president of Lafayette, La., told The Daily Advertiser that unless the city receives an offer "far, far above fair market value," the risk is not worth it to sell the 65,000-customer electric division of Lafayette Utilities System, or LUS. Bernhard Capital Partners Management LP, investor-owned utility Entergy Corp., Southwest Louisiana Electric Membership Corp. and firms involved in the acquisition of Cleco Power LLC were among those reported to be interested in purchasing the electric division.


WIND CATCHER — A day after the Public Utility Commission of Texas rejected cost recovery for the acquisition and construction of the $4.5 billion, 2,000-MW Wind Catcher Wind Farm, American Electric Power Co. Inc. announced it is canceling the project. The 800-turbine wind farm, announced in late July 2017, was in the early stages of being developed in the Oklahoma panhandle by Invenergy LLC and would have been acquired by AEP subsidiaries Southwestern Electric Power Co., or SWEPCO, and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma. Texas regulators on July 26 rejected SWEPCO's Wind Catcher application based on "concerns about the need for the project, the uncertain nature of benefits, and inadequate protections for Texas consumers."