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Shale has changed producer-midstream relationships, industry executives say


Producers want pipeline connection to most profitable markets

Spud-to-production speed challenges pipeline development pace

The shale oil and gas revolution has changed the way producers and midstream operators collaborate as timeframes and demands have been altered by the pace of production.

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The issue was the subject of a panel discussion at the NAPE Global Business Conference in Houston, where participants agreed that the pace at which producers can drill in unconventional plays makes it difficult for midstream companies to keep up.

Marathon Oil Corp. Director of Marketing and Midstream Tom Lloyd said the company is now capable of increasing production at a faster rate due to its presence in multiple shale plays, but that rate has caused problems finding pipelines to connect with.

"We can [produce] with these unconventional fields much more quickly," Lloyd said. "The disconnect is, how fast can we ramp up or ramp down, and how do we marry that with midstream assets?"

With the ongoing low-price environment for oil and gas, producers are not interested in just having a connecting pipeline. They are looking for a pipeline that can carry their product to the most profitable locations.

"We want to take [production] from the wellhead, through midstream to whoever can make the most capital out of it," said Jim Finley, CEO of Finley Resources, a company active in the Uinta Basin. "You need to know the strength and weaknesses of refineries and the strength and weaknesses of the midstreams."

Lloyd said Marathon has the luxury of being able to move capital to other basins and slow down projects if midstream capacity is unavailable where they are operating. While Marathon and others have that advantage, midstream companies require some guarantee that they will get their money's worth from a new project, which puts pressure on the producer.

"We ramp up, ramp down more easily, and that's great in many respects. One thing we've seen is [with] the communication between you and the midstream partner ... transparency is absolutely critical," Lloyd said. "It's tough when it comes to five-year, 10-year, 20-year midstream relationships."

Former DCP Midstream President Brian Frederick said pipeline providers are showing flexibility of their own, assembling agreement terms that are at least partly based on the reliability of the upstream partner.

"We would do a lot of different deals, and a lot would depend on the producers themselves," Frederick said. "Good forecasters, we would do one kind of deal. We used to love ownership deals, where the producer would take part ownership, because they would have a line of interest."

Having a strong rapport is critical in determining how much capacity is needed as opposed to how much a producer may want, Frederick said.

"Midstreamers probably want 80%-90% utilization. Producers probably only want 50%, so they can ramp up quickly and have that extra capacity," Frederick said.

While midstream companies are looking for assurances that they will receive a preset amount of production as part of an agreement, producers are seeking certainty that the pipelines will be done on time and going to the most profitable places.

"We want to know that there's a track record, a history that projects will be done on time and on budget," Lloyd said. "It has to be at the top of the class in terms of economics."