May 28, 2019
Hey look. It’s Tuesday. It must be time for another oil and gas bankruptcy filing! White Star Petroleum Holdings LLC is the latest oil and gas company to make an oh-so-2015-like appearance in bankruptcy court. No need to knock your skull or check your watch: yes, it is very much 2019.*
The company, formerly known as American Energy — Woodford LLC, was originally formed in 2013 by American Energy Partners LP, a shared services platform founded by Aubrey McClendon, the eccentric wildcatter who plowed his life (literally) and billions of dollars of cash into the exploration and production business. In 2014, The Energy & Minerals Group LP (“EMG”) and other investors cut an equity check and, in this case, it didn’t take Mr. McClendon as long as usual to fail: by 2016, the company and its businesses were separated from American Energy to become White Star, a standalone company independent of the American Energy platform. Of course, in typical McClendon fashion, the company sprayed and prayed for a while prior to the transition, gobbling up Mississippian Lime and Woodford Shale assets along the way.
Which is not to say that, post separation/transition, the company just sat on its hands. In 2016 and thereafter, the company extended its shopping spree. First it acquired additional Mississippian Lime and Woodford Shale assets from Devon Production Company LP for approximately $200mm (funded in part by equity from ESG and borrowings under the company’s revolving credit facility). Then it acquired Lighthouse Oil and Gas LP (which was 49.4% minority owned by EMG, but whatevs) through a combination of equity and more borrowings under the credit facility. Finally, the company expanded its portfolio into the Sooner Trend Anadarko Canadian Kingfisher area with borrowings under its credit facility. If you’ve been paying attention, yes, E&P is a capital intensive business: there’s a reason why so many of these companies are levered up the wazoo.
What did that capital buy? “As of December 31, 2018, the Debtors had proved reserves of approximately 84.4 million barrels of oil equivalent (“boe”) across approximately 315,000 net leasehold acres….” But, to be sure, this is a company that focuses its exploration and production on “unconventional” resource plays. Said another way, it is a horizontal driller and hydraulic fracker: its assets tend to produce in high volume for two or so years and then tail off considerably requiring capital to acquire and develop a steady stream of new wells. Of course, an investment in new wells only works if the commodity environment permits it to. With oil and gas trading where it has been trading, well…suffice it to say…the environment is proving unaccommodating. Per the company:
“Despite controlling significant leasehold and mineral acreage in the MidContinent region, due to the declines in commodity prices in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the Debtors’ financial condition, the Debtors ceased drilling new wells in April 2019 and have not resumed such activities as of the Petition Date.”
Consequently, the company suffered a net loss of $114mm in 2018 after losing $14mm in 2017; it has negative working capital of $61mm as of 12/31/18 and $70mm as of the petition date. This sucker is burning cash.
The company’s capital structure looks as follows:
The current capital structure is the result of clear triage undertaken by the company in the midst of a severe commodity downturn. WE CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH: nearly every oil and gas exploration and production company under the sun was forced into some sort of balance sheet transaction around the 2015 time period — many in-court, others out-of-court in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy. Here, notably, the $10.3mm of unsecured notes represent the remnants of a distressed exchange that took place in 2015 whereby approximately $340mm of unsecured notes (with a 9% cash-pay interest coupon) were exchanged for approximately $348mm 12% second lien notes. Thereafter, in late 2015 and extending through August 2016, the company entered into a series of cash and equity transactions that took out the second lien notes in a cash-draining attempt to strengthen the balance sheet and extend liquidity (by way of reduced interest expense)**. The company was effectively playing whack-a-mole.
Alas, the company is in bankruptcy. That happens when your primary sources of capital are large equity checks, borrowings under a credit facility, and proceeds from producing oil and gas properties in a rough price environment. Of course, not all oil and gas properties are created equal either. This company happens to frack in challenging territory. Per the company:
Independent oil and gas companies, such as the Debtors, with Mississippian Lime-weighted assets in the Mid-Continent region have been particularly hard-hit by volatile market conditions in recent years and the majority of the Debtors’ peers in the region have filed for chapter 11 since 2015. This is in large part due to operational challenges unique to the region, including complex geological characteristics. One of these challenges is the Mississippian Lime’s relatively high ratio of “saltwater” to produced oil and gas. During the normal production of oil and gas, saltwater mixed with hydrocarbon byproducts comes to the surface, and its separation and disposal increases production costs. Low production volumes and higher than expected production costs, together with allegations that increased saltwater injection by the operators in the area caused increased seismic activity, resulted in many operators reducing activity and many capital providers discounting asset values in the region.
Recognizing the dire nature of the situation, the company’s RBL lenders effectuated a debilitating borrowing base redetermination that created a deficiency payment that the company simply couldn’t manage. This triggered a “potential” Event of Default under the facility. Thereafter, the company entered into an amendment with the RBL lenders with the hope of securing some capital to refinance the RBL. Spoiler alert: the company couldn’t get it done. The amendment also dictated that the company attempt to secure a buyer so as to repay the debt. To chapter 11 filing is meant to aid that marketing and sale process.*** To aid this process, the company has a commitment from MUFG Union Bank NA, its prepetition RBL Agent, for a DIP credit facility of $28.5mm as well as the use of cash collateral.
*We’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight that in the “AlixPartners 14th Annual Turnaround & Restructuring Experts Survey” released in February 2019, oil and gas was listed as the second most likely sector to face distress, with 36% of respondents predicting it would be a hot and heavy sector (up from 31% the in 2018).
**The company also refinanced its RBL, sold midstream and non-strategic properties and adjusted midstream pipeline commitments.
***Some trigger happy creditors beat the company to the punch here. On May 24, five “purported” creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the company in the Western District of Oklahoma. Considering Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations Inc. ($GE) is among the top 5 largest creditors, we can’t say we’re that surprised.
Jurisdiction: D. of Delaware (Judge )
Capital Structure: see above.
Legal: Sullivan & Cromwell LLP (Andrew Dietderich, Brian Glueckstein, Alexa Kranzley) & (local) Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnel LLP (Derek Abbott, Gregory Werkheiser, Tamara Mann, Joseph Barsalona)
Independent Director: Patrick Bartels Jr.
Financial Advisor: Alvarez & Marsal LLC (Ed Mosley)
Investment Banker: Guggenheim Securities LLC
Claims Agent: KCC (*click on the link above for free docket access)
Other Parties in Interest:
RBL Agent: MUFG Union Bank NA
Legal: Winston & Strawn LLP (Justin Rawlins)
TL Agent: EnLink Oklahoma Processing LP
Indenture Trustee: Wilmington Trust NA