by Zachary R. Mider and Rachel Adams-Heard, Bloomberg Green, Oct. 12, 2021.
Hutson is the founder and chief executive officer of one of the strangest companies ever to hit the American oil patch and the reason for our four-day visit to the Appalachian region. While other oilmen focus on drilling the next gusher, Hutson buys used wells that generate just a trickle or nothing at all. Over the past four years his Diversified Energy Co. has amassed about 69,000 wells, eclipsing Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the largest well owner in the country. Investors love him. Since listing shares in 2017, Hutson’s company has outperformed almost every other U.S. oil and gas stock, swelling his personal stake to more than $30 million.
But Diversified’s breakneck growth has alarmed some regulators, landowner groups, and industry insiders, not to mention environmental advocates. State laws require that every well be plugged with cement after it runs dry, an expensive and complicated chore. At the rate Diversified is paying dividends to shareholders, some worry there will be nothing left when the bills come due. If a company can’t meet its plugging obligations, that burden falls to the state, which means Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia could be stuck with a billion-dollar mess. “The model seems like it’s built on abandoning those assets,” says Ted Boettner, who’s studied abandoned wells at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a regional research organization. “It looks like a liability bomb that’s destined to explode.”
photo credit/caption: A separator tank at a Diversified site in Pennsylvania viewed through the infrared camera reveals methane spewing into the air. Source: Bloomberg
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