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Department of Justice Launches an Antitrust Investigation into Pressure Pumping Services Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

by Nicole Castle

On July 24, 2013, Baker Hughes, Inc., the owner of the third-largest pressure pumping fleet in the United States, disclosed as part of its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had received a civil investigative demand (CID) from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on May 30, 2013.  The CID requests information and documents relating to U.S. pressure pumping services for the period from May 29, 2011, through May 30, 2013.  

Baker Hughes stated in its filing that it was “not able to predict what action, if any, might be taken in the future by the DOJ or other governmental authorities as a result of the investigation.”

Pressure pumping services generally refers to the process of pumping water and other materials into a well to break apart rock formations and increase the well’s oil or gas production.   Pressure pumping is the main step in the hydraulic fracturing process, and has in recent years become more heavily used for extracting oil and natural gas from rock formations.

The following day, on July 25, 2013, Halliburton Co., the largest provider of pressure pumping services in the United States., confirmed that it had also received a CID from the DOJ regarding pressure pumping services.  




Alleged Agreement Between Chesapeake Energy and EnCana Corporation to Suppress Prices for Mineral Rights Highlights the Antitrust Risks Facing Energy Companies

by Jon B. Dubrow and Shauna A. Barnes

Recently published reports of land acquisition activities between Chesapeake Energy and EnCana senior executives will likely expose those companies to a Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust investigation and challenge, as well as, if accurate, civil antitrust claims.  This matter highlights the risks that energy companies face when discussing lease arrangements with their competitors. 

Joint Bidding or Bid Rigging for Property Rights Can Violate the Antitrust Laws

In February 2012, DOJ settled its first challenge to a bidding agreement for mineral rights, alleging that agreements between Gunneson Energy Corporation and SGI Interests to bid jointly for government mineral leases were anticompetitive.  In a previous post, we explained the potential issues and pitfalls related to joint bidding for oil and gas properties.  We suggested various factors that companies can use to assess, or manage, their antitrust exposure. 

Reuters Obtains and Publishes Confidential Communications Between Chesapeake and EnCana Appearing to Coordinate to Reduce Prices Paid for Properties

On June 25, 2012, Reuters published a special report indicating that Chesapeake and EnCana agreed to suppress bids for mineral rights at public and private land auctions.  Citing dozens of highly inflammatory emails, the article purports to detail how Chesapeake’s CEO, Aubrey McClendon, and other senior executives at Chesapeake and EnCana discussed how to avoid creating a bidding price war in acquiring drilling rights for Northern Michigan properties. 

According to Reuters, throughout 2010, EnCana and Chesapeake were the leading buyers in Michigan and they aggressively competed to acquire properties for hydraulic fracturing (fracing) operations.  During a May 2010 land auction, they paid approximately $1,413 per acre.  Following the auction, private landowners sought competing bids, leading to a bidding war resulting in offers of more than $3,000 per acre.

Reuters indicates that Chesapeake and EnCana discussed via email entering into a formal venture, including some areas of mutual interest that would allow the parties to share in the risks and rewards of developing properties.  However, they did not enter into any venture.  Instead, they purportedly discussed in emails ways, as independent bidders, to refrain from bidding up land prices, and to allocate various properties between themselves.  These emails were followed by significant price reductions in the offers made by Chesapeake and EnCana. 

Oil and Gas Industry Companies Need to be Sensitized to the Risks in Joint Activities Related to the Acquisitions of Mineral Rights

The Chesapeake-EnCana situation, following quickly on the heels of the DOJ’s joint bidding challenge earlier this year, serves as a reminder that companies in the oil and gas industry must exercise care in situations where they may want to work with potentially competing bidders.  In the oil and gas industry, firms frequently work together to acquire and develop properties, and that can often be lawfully accomplished through a legitimate collaboration.  Firms, and their executives, may often have opportunities to discuss property acquisition in the context of a legitimate, integrated venture, including with firms that might otherwise be competitors.  However, while some [...]

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