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How Diverging Energy Policies In The U.S. Presidential Election May Affect Credit Quality

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How Diverging Energy Policies In The U.S. Presidential Election May Affect Credit Quality

As we wind closer to the presidential election, one topic garnering a lot of attention is the candidates' respective energy policies. The tenets of President Donald Trump's and former-Vice President Joe Biden's energy platforms are in stark contrast to each other and could have vastly different outcomes. Trump supports promoting U.S. energy, protecting energy tax subsidies, increasing use of federal lands/waters for drilling, reducing regulatory hurdles for infrastructure spending, rolling back clean air emission standards, and eliminating methane gas emission regulations; a Trump re-election would likely result in more of the same. Biden's energy plan is more focused on reducing dependence on fossil fuels, protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and eliminating tax subsidies for fossil fuel producers.

Both energy platforms are subject to change, and Biden's plan in particular is still only an outline, but the major themes and differences are already apparent. In this commentary, S&P Global Ratings evaluates the implications on the oil and gas industry, utility, and power sectors, as well as states/municipalities that are concentrated to the U.S. energy industry.

The Candidates' Key Energy Themes

Leases on federal lands/waters.   According to the Department of the Interior, approximately 22% of U.S. oil production and 13% of natural gas production comes from federally owned land/water. Platt's Analytics predicts an immediate ban on federal leases could reduce U.S. oil production by approximately 2 million barrels by the end of 2024.

The Trump administration has clearly supported drilling on federal lands/waters. During his tenure, the president directed the U.S. Department of the Interior to roll back the Obama administration's 2017-2022 leasing plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. In addition, he lifted the Obama's administration's moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling in approximately 120 million acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Under a Trump administration, we can expect continued executive support for offshore drilling and drilling on wildlife refuges, including opening up the 19.2 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

A Biden administration would most likely restrict or halt new leases on federally owned land/waters and seek to make such policy permanent. However, a Biden administration is unlikely to issue an immediate moratorium on existing drilling or permits. Also, Biden's plan does not call for a ban on the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking), and any such measure, in our opinion, would meet stiff resistance, considering the economic importance and importance to the nation's power grid: natural gas accounts for 35% of the nation's electricity generation. Hydrofracking has transformed the U.S. into a net exporter of oil and one of the world's largest producer of fossil fuels. According to the White House Council on Economic Advisors, shale hydrofracking saves U.S. consumers approximately $203 billion or $2,500 annually per a family of four.

Fossil fuel subsidies and tax cuts.   Oil & Gas subsidies have a meaningful impact on the cost of doing business for oil and gas companies. Researchers at Oil Change International estimated that direct subsidies alone for the U.S oil and gas industry total at least $20 billion per year. Indirect subsidies have a far greater financial impact but are somewhat difficult to quantify. We would expect a Trump administration to support or implement further fossil fuel subsidies and tax cuts under the auspices of encouraging domestic production and promoting energy independence.

Biden is calling for the elimination of certain subsidies, as well as tax breaks and royalty payment relief for the oil and gas industry. We believe any such rollbacks would target intangible drilling costs, credits for enhanced oil and gas recovery methods, and the percentage deduction for depleting oil and gas wells. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) concluded that eliminating the intangible drilling costs deduction would generate $1.6 billion in revenue for the U.S. government in 2017. The JCT also estimated that eliminating the depletion deduction would generate approximately $13 billion over the next 10 years. This could raise the overall cost profile for shale, which we view as being the marginal cost barometer for the global oil industry, but could ultimately provide a higher, longer-term floor for prices that could offset the higher costs.

Methane emissions.   The Biden energy plan lacks specifics but will likely include restrictions on natural gas venting and flaring for new wells in addition to increasing monitoring and reporting of methane leakages. The IEA has stated that methane regulation could add several dollars per barrel of oil production.

President Trump has long been supportive of eliminating methane emission regulation. Indeed, in August, the EPA rolled back most of President Obama's methane regulation.

New pipelines and energy infrastructure.   Biden's energy plan calls for federal permitting to review any new infrastructure project and its effect on climate change and GHG. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would likely implement more stringent guidelines for new gas pipeline and NGL (natural gas liquids) projects, which would likely increase the costs and hurdles to build new pipelines. This would probably not have much of an impact in the Texas Permian basin, which is regulated by the state of Texas, but could prevent other interstate pipelines--like Keystone XL--from being built. In fact, Joe Biden has stated he would rescind Trump's permit to construct Keystone XL.

Carbon and GHG emissions.   Biden has announced a greenhouse gas and carbon emission plan to eliminate carbon pollution from the power sector by the year 2035. The $2 trillion plan would provide a standardization and be a key driver for state renewable energy policy. With only 36% of the country's electricity (according to the EIA) generated from clean sources (including 20% from nuclear), the plan is ambitious and would most likely require significant advances in current technology to meet its objective. Biden is also calling for the nation to achieve 100% clean energy and net zero emissions by 2050.

How It Could Play Out In Different Sectors

Exploration and Production (E&P) (analytical contact: Thomas Watters)

Despite enacted legislation that has reduced costs, eliminated some regulatory hurdles, and made it easier to operate, the oil and gas sector has fallen victim to its own success, creating a global oil glut that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Approximately two-thirds of the upstream portfolio is rated 'B-' and below, which speaks to the high degree of volatility and very weak outlook for credit quality. Over the last six years, oil and gas has been one of the worst performing sectors in the S&P 500 with respect to return on capital. Indeed, since the beginning of 2015, Haynes & Boone LLP reports 448 E&P and oil field service companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in North America, representing approximately $275 billion of debt. Investors have grown quite discontent with the sector and are demanding producers operate within cash flow and improve returns. Capital market access for most E&P companies is constrained, with limited equity access and most high yield issuers being shut out of the unsecured debt markets.

Under a Biden administration, oil and gas producers and oil field service companies would face additional headwinds. However, largely due to a lack of detail in Biden's energy plan, it is difficult to discern the impact on credit quality. Biden's plan would ban new leases on federal lands/waters. What's not clear is if new drilling permits will be issued on outstanding federal leases--or whether a Biden administration would ban permitted drilling on existing leases--(something we view as unlikely because there would be significant restitution costs). Regardless, producers are rushing to file permits on leases to be grandfathered, which would give them at least two years of drilling before they expire.

The greatest impact from such a ban would be felt in the Gulf of Mexico, the Williston Basin in North Dakota, the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, and the New Mexico Delaware Basin. Several companies have greater than 20% of their acreage on federal land/waters (see table 1). We don't believe this is a near-term credit risk as many of these companies can apply for leases before the ban or focus drilling efforts on other acreage.

Table 1

Issuer ICR Outlook % of total acreage on federal land Basins

Berry Petroleum Co.

B- Negative Approximately 20%* Uinta, San Joaquin, Ventura

Cimarex Energy Co.

BBB- Stable 14% Delaware Basin

Concho Resources Inc.

BBB- CreditWatch Positive Approximately 20% Delaware Basin

Devon Energy Corp.

BBB- Stable 20% Delaware Basin (New Mexico, 40%) and Powder River Basin (60%)

EnVen Energy Corp.

B- Negative 100% Gulf of Mexico

EOG Resources Inc.

A- Stable 25% Permian/Powder River

Kosmos Energy Ltd.

B Negative 35% of total production from federal acreage Gulf of Mexico

Matador Resources Co.

B- Negative 28% Delaware Basin

Murphy Oil Corp.

BB Negative 43% of total production from federal acreage Gulf of Mexico

Occidental Petroleum Corp.

BB+ CreditWatch Negative 12% Permian/DJ/Powder River/Gulf of Mexico

W&T Offshore Inc.

CCC+ Negative Significant exposure Gulf of Mexico
*S&P Global Ratings' estimate.

Biden's energy proposals could also raise the cost of drilling in the U.S., reduce demand for fossil fuels, lead to a decline in recoverable shale reserves and resources (stranded assets), and possibly increase merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. Eliminating many of the subsidies that oil and gas companies benefit from could force companies to garner synergies or seek larger, deep-pocketed partners. Faced with concerns that COVID will accelerate the onset of peak oil demand, an oil supply glut, massive asset write-downs, subpar returns, and an apathetic investor base, many U.S. oil and gas companies might see the M&A route as the only way out.

We have seen M&A activity increase recently, with deals being accepted by shareholders with very low premiums, which we believe reflects these concerns. Moreover, U.S. producers are drilling core acreage to generate higher returns and live within cash flows; under a Biden administration some of these wells could be rendered unprofitable at today's oil and gas prices, forcing marginal producers to seek partners or bankruptcy protection. Already, this year has seen a wave of significant asset write-downs. A Biden administration in the midst of the pandemic could start another wave, resulting in a crush of stranded assets. Indeed, Rystad Energy estimates the pandemic alone could result in about 10% of the world's recoverable oil resources (125 billion barrels) becoming stranded. In a bit of irony, these assets could actually become a significant liability.

The transition to a more renewable, cleaner energy will be a formidable challenge for domestic energy producers. Carbon Tracker estimates the world's listed oil and gas majors would need to cut combined production by 35% on average by 2040 to hold carbon emissions within international climate targets. This will force companies to expand beyond the traditional oil and gas portfolio. We note that Exxon and Chevron have fallen behind their European counterparts in making this evolution. Indeed, BP’s surprise announcement in August to pivot to cleaner energy demonstrates the industry's awareness of the changes coming to the sector.

Midstream (analytical contact: Michael Grande)

A Biden win in November would present serious headwinds for North American midstream energy companies and U.S. independent refiners. The Biden energy and climate policy goals will undoubtedly take time to be implemented, but could have an impact on midstream and downstream credit quality.

Since hydrocarbons will be in the crosshairs of a Biden administration, midstream companies that gather, transport, and store crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs could face near-term effects. Already, large projects, including Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), are facing roadblocks, even with more-relaxed environmental regulations and easier permitting processes. Despite a favorable Supreme Court ruling, the sponsors of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline scrapped the project after a legal battle that lasted six years and costs that were several billion dollars over budget.

It's possible a Biden presidency could deny new permits to DAPL, which has capacity to move 570,000 b/d of Bakken crude oil to markets in the Midwest and Gulf Coast. DAPL is also in the process of a 300,000 b/d expansion that would leave producers to seek riskier and more expensive alternatives, such as crude-by-rail to refineries located in the Gulf Coast. TC Energy Corp., one of Canada's largest diversified energy companies, has partnered with the Government of Alberta to build Keystone XL, with Alberta taking most of the risk with a US$1.1 billion equity investment covering costs through 2020 and guaranteeing $4.2 billion of construction costs scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2021. We view Alberta's equity investment as akin to a call option on the U.S. presidential election and potential regulatory risk.

Biden's plan to stop new federal drilling permits could jeopardize the cash flows of some midstream companies in the next few years, especially those in the Gulf of Mexico, the Powder River Basin, Piceance, New Mexico, and parts of the Delaware basin. As with any policy, the devil is in the details, and the effect could be somewhat muted if certain wells or drilling activity is grandfathered. Nevertheless, it will likely limit future upside for most gathering and processing businesses.

Several refining companies have shuttered refineries or intend to convert them to biodiesel facilities. Any reduction in the amount of U.S. crude oil production will likely mean higher feedstock prices for refiners at a time when refining margins or crack spreads are very weak. Biden's plan to accelerate the use of clean energy for the transportation sector could increase CAFE standards or accelerate the use of electric or hybrid vehicles through subsidies or other incentives, which will dampen already-weakened demand.

Natural gas could fare better under a Biden administration, as a bridge toward cutting U.S. emissions to zero by 2050. But any plan to essentially eliminate gas-fired generation will harm recontracting rates along all the major gas pipelines, and is--not surprisingly--at odds with the view of executives at all the major midstream companies that transport natural gas.

Utilities (analytical contact: Gabe Grosberg)

For the U.S. regulated utility industry, the credit impact will depend mainly on the next administration's GHG standards and taxes.

Over the past decade the U.S. regulated utility industry has transformed itself, reducing its GHG emissions (chart 1), cutting in half its reliance on coal generation, and increasing its reliance on natural gas generation (chart 2). The industry's robust capital spending is centered on renewable energy, battery technology, and natural gas generation. We expect that regardless of the U.S. administration, the utilities will continue on this path.

Chart 1

image

U.S. Generation Mix By Energy Source

Chart 2

image

Chart 3

image

However, a Democratic administration could accelerate the pace of reducing GHG emissions, particularly in states that have been less proactive in this area thus far. While such an accelerated plan is better for our environment, it could be a problem for specific utilities that are forced to transform quickly, potentially overburdening the customer bill. Under our base case, the utility industry will coax some exceptions from a possible Biden administration on the implementation of GHG policies that would prove too burdensome for the customer bill. We expect these jurisdictions would be allowed a somewhat longer and more gradual implementation phase.

Taxes are the second key area that could have an effect on the industry's credit quality. Several years ago the Republicans lowered the corporate tax rate, which lowered the customer bill but also weakened the industry's credit measures. Overall, we estimated that the industry's funds from operations (FFO) to debt weakened by about 200 basis points (bps). If a Democratic administration reverses these lower corporate tax rates it would likely reverse the credit effects from several years ago; we would likely see the customer bill increase and the industry's financial measures improve. The higher customer bill will complicate regulators' decisions, potentially impacting a utility's longer-term consistent ability to effectively manage regulatory risk.

Renewables (analytical contact: Aneesh Prabhu)

The November election's impact on the renewables industry could be profound. Biden has proposed a $2 trillion clean spending plan for the first four years. The plan would stimulate the electrification of power generation, transport, and real estate. This is a significant acceleration in clean infrastructure spending. According to IEA data, current spending in power grids and renewables in the U.S. is in the range of $100 billion per year.

We expect more additions in 2020 vs. 2019. In the U.S., wind and solar cumulative installed capacity topped 105 GW and 90 GW, respectively, by year-end 2019. The pandemic has resulted in a modest decline in solar installations; however, wind has been on track with nearly 5 GW deployed through the first half of 2020, and we expect wind installations to reach nearly 19 GW this year from just over 9 GW in 2019. We expect residential solar installations to slow, but utility-scale solar to keep pace with 2019 and add 12 GW. With overnight capital costs projected to decline from $1,250/KW for wind and $1,150/KW for solar in 2020 to $1,050/KW and $825/KW in 2025, respectively, we expect renewables deployment to continue to accelerate in the medium term.

Despite the pandemic's pervasive economic impact, renewables installations in the U.S. are a function of tax credit policy. The sharp increase in renewables in 2020--especially wind installation-- is unsurprising as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for qualified wind projects have increased to 60% and 18%, respectively, from 40% and 12% in 2019. This step-up in tax credit eligibility created an odd market dynamic, pushing for higher installation in 2020.

With a phase-out for wind credits in 2021 and step-downs for solar ITC, we expect a decline in renewables installations. However, a Biden win along with a Democratic sweep in congress could accelerate renewables policies and demand in the U.S. In such a scenario, we expect residential solar companies to benefit and battery storage investment and adoption to increase.

Following the expiration of the 30% solar ITC at the end of 2019, extensions and other federal tax credits in support of renewables have been in focus. One proposed bill includes a five-year extension of the 30% solar ITC through 2025, followed by step-downs to 10% for commercial, 0% for residential in 2028.

A Biden task force included several solar-specific recommendations that we think are noteworthy. First, it recommends a target of installing 500 million solar panels over the next five years. Assuming an average panel rating of ~300W, this would equal ~150 GW of total volume and imply 30 GW of annual installations over this period. To put this figure into context, we note the peak solar installations year for the U.S., to date, is around half this level about 15GW.

The proposal also puts the U.S. on the path of cutting net carbon emissions from the country's electricity production to zero by 2035. The 2035 target allows for the use of nuclear power, the largest zero-carbon electricity source in the United States, along with wind and solar. As part of his new plan, Biden also proposed upgrading or retrofitting 4 million commercial buildings and weatherizing 2 million homes over four years to make them more energy efficient.

Public Finance: (analytical contacts: Geoffrey Buswick (States and Utilities), Oscar Padilla (States), David Bodek (Utilities))

States:   S&P Global Ratings does not expect the Biden energy platform to have a meaningful credit impact on the nation's oil-producing states, but could accelerate developing trends toward less mineral extraction. To get our bearings, we are focusing on the nine states we view as oil producing: Alaska, California, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Within these states (aside from California), mining and natural resources employment is not a significant component. However, in all the states, the mining sector's contribution to economic output is meaningful to credit, and both measures (employment and economic output) significantly exceed that of the nation (see "U.S. Oil-Producing States Dealt Double Blow From Price Collapse and COVID-19," June 8, 2020). The Biden platform aims to reduce carbon emissions and discourage reliance on fossil fuels, so the longer-term demand for and the price of minerals could soften under his administration. Where states budget a mineral-royalty revenue stream (which is mostly derived from oil and gas extraction), this could introduce budget stress when they are already facing pandemic-related economic and revenue hardships. And any sharp pullback in exploration and production will likely inflict considerable strain on these state' economies and revenues.

In 2019 the federal government paid approximately $1.2 billion derived from mineral royalties paid by energy companies for oil and gas produced on public lands. In May 2020 the Trump administration cut the royalties owed from the companies to provide some corporate relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and so states have already been expecting less in federal disbursements this year. Historically, federal disbursements from mineral royalties have exhibited extreme volatility (see table 1). Given the uncertainty surrounding federal disbursements in recent years, states have adapted by conservatively estimating potential revenues to minimizing the potential impact to their budgets. Although these royalties do not make a significant amount of any state budget, a shift in policy away from mineral extraction on federal lands could widen budget gaps for states.

Table 2

2019 Mineral Royalty % Change Over The Past Six Years
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
State
Onshore Alaska 12.3% (8.1%) (24.7%) (8.3%) 207.3% (29.0%)
Onshore California (0.9%) (35.8%) (39.4%) (4.9%) 23.3% 5.9%
Onshore Louisiana 31.1% (49.2%) (47.9%) 11.7% 113.0% 32.9%
Onshore Montana 4.3% (9.9%) (32.3%) 4.5% 6.9% 16.8%
Onshore New Mexico 21.0% (14.3%) (25.7%) 23.5% 39.5% 83.6%
Onshore North Dakota (24.2%) (31.1%) (31.0%) 22.8% 33.3% 76.0%
Onshore Oklahoma 25.0% (9.4%) 37.8% (60.7%) 199.6% (56.4%)
Onshore Texas (32.0%) (42.1%) (49.0%) 49.0% 2.6% (1.1%)
Onshore Wyoming 8.0% (12.0%) (25.0%) 0.7% (15.7%) 13.7%
State--GoMESA
Offshore Alaska 1337.7% (46.9%) (86.4%) 190.0% 10078.2% 14.3%
Offshore Louisiana 1381.0% (41.7%) (87.4%) 213.0% 25661.6% 14.4%
Offshore Texas 1404.3% (41.0%) (87.4%) 229.6% 41673.1% 14.4%
State 8(g)
Offshore Alaska (14.3%) (22.3%) (45.6%) 17.2% 21.1% (0.4%)
Offshore California (17.4%) (48.2%) (54.4%) (63.2%) 124.9% (10.2%)
Offshore Louisiana (20.7%) (38.7%) (47.1%) 19.7% (19.9%) (38.3%)
Offshore Texas 18.8% (48.8%) (74.5%) (52.0%) 7069.8% (47.4%)
GoMESA--Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. 8(g)--Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Source: U.S Department of the Interior- Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Information, and Data Management.

Public Power:   With a Biden administration, there could be a tightening of environmental regulations affecting electric utilities, resulting in operational and financial stress. For example, some states have established ambitious decarbonization goals to fill what they perceive to be a void in federal environmental policy under the Trump administration. In a Biden administration, we anticipate the federal government will build on the states' initiatives.

Many of the state initiatives appear to discount the intermittency of renewable generation and the insufficiency of existing storage technologies to counter intermittency. In other words, neither solar nor wind produce electricity around the clock and current technologies do not provide capacity to store enough of the surplus solar and wind produced during peak production hours to cover the nonproduction hours. The Biden energy plans, including variants on the Green New Deal Concept proposed by members of the Democratic party, might be costly and technologically challenging (see "California's Rolling Blackouts Could Foreshadow Rating Pressures For Public Power And Electric Cooperative Utilities," Sept. 10, 2020) and could lead to less reliable electric service. Furthermore, if a Biden administration restrains fracking, natural gas prices could rise sharply. Natural gas is the primary generation input for electric utilities. Consequently, consumers might see higher electricity costs if fracking is reduced or eliminated.

Whoever's elected, we believe coal generation will continue to decline. While the Trump administration favors supporting the coal mining and associated electric generation industries--an idea that the Biden camp strongly opposes--the economic realities of low natural gas prices have frustrated the administration's efforts and we expect to continue to see coal plant closures under either a Trump or Biden administration. If public power utilities are compelled to close undepreciated power plants, their financial performance could face pressures. Public power utilities can look to their essentially captive customer bases to recoup uncompensated investments, but this could be burdensome to customers, particularly if these utilities need to explore alternative sources of electricity production, which will likely add costs.

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analyst:Thomas A Watters, New York + 1 (212) 438 7818;
thomas.watters@spglobal.com
Secondary Contacts:David N Bodek, New York (1) 212-438-7969;
david.bodek@spglobal.com
Geoffrey E Buswick, Boston (1) 617-530-8311;
geoffrey.buswick@spglobal.com
Michael V Grande, New York (1) 212-438-2242;
michael.grande@spglobal.com
Gabe Grosberg, New York (1) 212-438-6043;
gabe.grosberg@spglobal.com
Oscar Padilla, Farmers Branch (1) 214-871-1405;
oscar.padilla@spglobal.com
Aneesh Prabhu, CFA, FRM, New York (1) 212-438-1285;
aneesh.prabhu@spglobal.com

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