A little over 3 years ago, right around when a lot of folks were signing a lot of their Marcellus Shale leases, the benchmark price for natural gas peaked at over $14 per million British thermal units. The benchmark is for the gas at the Henry Hub pricing point. As of Friday that price had dropped to around $2.34. So for now a decline of 80+% from it's recent peak, but nobody seems to know where the trend ends. Some describe it as a 10 year low in natural gas prices, but that is in nominal prices. Adjusted for inflation I wonder what prices would be described as? I only know what I read, and it seems to me that industry folks, or at least the traders, are beginning to contemplate a near term future where there isn't enough storage capacity to hold the gas being produced. Then what?
Remember the glow of steel mills along the rivers? There may be a new glow forming across the Pennsylvania countryside.
But it means more than the potential artificial twilight that may be on the horizon. Most landowners signed leases with upfront hand money as a bonus to entice signing development rights to one of the drillers out there, but also with guarantees of royalities against future production usually around 12.5% as per state law setting the minimum royalty payments, though many may have negotiated higher shares.
But not all minimums are a minimum. Some may remember that the drillers won a court case against landowners that the royalty payment was only due on the price NET of a cost to get gas to market. How much that isI do not know, but if there are any folks out there in receipt of royalities it would be of interest (at least to me). The only number in the record I see is from this old blog post which says Range Resources is deducting 72 cents or 80 cents, mer MMBtu, for dry and wet gas respectively.
So just for sake of argument, assume the selling price for gas is the benchmark price. Yes, some may be getting more, but hold the thought and lets assume a dry gas example for moment. If you net out 80 cents from the peak and current prices it works out to $13.28 back in 2008 and $1.62 on Friday, it then works out to a royalty decline of over 88%.
Seems to me there are some latent stories out there of individual landowners seeing their royalty checks dropping precipitously? Though I have no idea what the time lag is between production and check which may have a lot to do with it. The biggest drops in gas prices have been very recent, and certainly to recent to have been reflected in checks yet.
The bigger question is just where the stability returns to the market. Are current price levels enough. Some industry folks say clearly yes and tht profit can be made even as low as $2.50, likely because of the other 'wet' products in the gas here. But we are not even at that level right now.