The David and Goliath war by Johnson County land owners against Chesapeake Energy may well have gained a pair of new troops on Tuesday.

Albert and Vertis Gibbs, who are Chesapeake royalty owners, attended a Cleburne Conference Center presentation by the lawyer who is suing Chesapeake on behalf of about 3,000 area royalty owners. 

“The big dogs started something,” Albert Gibbs said. “Now the little guy’s getting involved.”

About 60 lessors were on hand for the latest in the ongoing series of talks, designed to inform them of the issues, by Fort Worth attorney Dan McDonald. 

“They have stolen hundreds of millions of dollars,” from Johnson and Tarrant County royalty owners who leased land to Chesapeake, McDonald said.  “There is only one word to describe what they’ve done: stealing.”

McDonald is enlisting an army of plaintiffs who might not otherwise be able to hire a litigator; their individual claims are relatively small, and their potential judgments insignificant to Chesapeake....

However, a few new details emerged at the local meeting.

McDonald told the Cleburne crowd that District Judge William Bosworth will be handling the cases he’s filing here. 

“They’re all consolidated,” McDonald said. “Judge Bill Bosworth is going to be the Chesapeake judge.”

 Bosworth presides over the 413th District Court in Cleburne.

“Judge Bosworth is an excellent judge,” McDonald said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

McDonald, who has put together a sophisticated media campaign that includes a website devoted to the Chesapeake cases as well as billboards and a weekly 6 p.m. Wednesday royalty owners’ teleconference, told the crowd he’s hired an accountant with years of experience in the oil and gas industry to analyze clients’ royalty checks. 

On the conference center wall McDonald presented a table of one royalty owner’s payments from Chesapeake and other operators over four years. According to the graphic, underpayments ranged from an average of 54 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas in April 2011 to $1.88 per 1,000 cubic feet in May 2011.

In September, Chesapeake and McDonald are set to have a hearing on the motion to begin trying the Johnson County cases next spring, but ultimately McDonald said he expects Chesapeake to settle. 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week reported that Chesapeake agreed to pay the city of Arlington $700,000 after officials there sued, alleging that the company did the same thing McDonald is charging it did to land owners here: deducted post-production costs it was not entitled to.

“Under the agreement, Chesapeake will no longer subtract post-production costs and the city’s royalty will be calculated based on the highest price received by Chesapeake when the gas is sold or the price established by a formula,” the Star-Telegram reported. “Arlington’s deal mirrors one that Chesapeake reached with Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in 2012 for $5 million. That deal also established a formula for royalty payments.

“Chesapeake also quietly settled with the Tarrant Regional Water District earlier this year when it agreed to pay the district $1.8 million for royalties on 100 leases from January 2008 through October 2011.”

McDonald’s firm is gearing up to handle the cases. 

“We have added four lawyers and six new legal assistants to work on our Chesapeake litigation and we need much more space,” McDonald wrote in an email. “We have over 3,000 Chesapeake royalty owner clients. We expect to have at least 10,000 by the end of the year.”

Barbara Smith owns two acres of land at Bowman Springs Road in Arlington. Chesapeake has a lease on one acre and another company leases drills on the other. 

She only recently heard about the lawsuits, but she’s going to send McDonald her Chesapeake paperwork.

“Chesapeake is paying me less than half what Vantage is paying for the same land,” she said. “I kept calling and they won’t do anything.”

Chesapeake declined to comment.

Taking aim on Chesapeake royalty underpayment

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Moodys Downgrades Rating for Chesapeake Energy
UPI: By Daniel Graeber

Moody's forecasts negative cash flow for 2016 for U.S. shale player.

NEW YORK, Oct. 6 (UPI) -- The credit rating for U.S. shale player Chesapeake Energy was downgraded because of cash flow problems in the weak market, Moody's said.

Moody's Investors Service downgraded the corporate rating for Chesapeake Energy Corp. by one notch to Ba2. Moody's Senior Vice President Pete Speer said the downgrade came as a result of weak cash flow and the toll taken by lower natural gas and crude oil prices.

"Chesapeake will have to execute on assets sales and other transactions to meaningfully reduce its debt levels to better align its capital structure with the current commodity price environment," he said in a statement.

Energy consultant group IHS warned the depressed crude oil market could limit the borrowing options for North American exploration and production companies like Chesapeake.

The company, which has headquarters in Oklahoma, said in a September filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission it was cutting 15 percent of its workforce, or around 750 employees. Explaining the layoffs, the company said it was aligning its workforce to the business environment brought on by the sustained slump in energy prices.

Moody's revised its overall forecast for Chesapeake from stable to negative. Trajectory moving into 2016 should continue to move lower for the shale company.

"The company's low cash flow generation will likely result in negative free cash flow in 2016," the ratings agency said. "Moody's expects the company's capital spending in 2016 to be lower than 2015, resulting in declining production volumes and reserves in 2016 as capital spending will fall below maintenance levels."



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