The North American Prospect Expo fills Hall A at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Thursday. (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette)
James Milleson has 13,000 acres in Ohio to get off his hands.
Then step right up to Mr. Milleson's booth, set up through today on the convention center floor Downtown under cutout letters bearing his company's promise and name: Ohio Acres 4 U.
The company represents landowners across Ohio who want to lease their land to gas drillers, and Mr. Milleson found himself surrounded by potential buyers at the North America Prospect Expo, an annual gathering of oil and gas companies interested in swapping, selling or buying industry assets -- on the spot.
The NAPE East, held for the first time in the Marcellus region this week at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, is a giant bazaar for gas companies peddling their wares, be they a thousand acres in Ohio or pipeline right-of-way access in West Virginia. There are investment houses to finance the deals and law firms on hand to officiate the new pairings.
NAPE conferences maintain a special mystique in the oil and gas industry -- the concentration of so many dealmakers ready to trade millions gives the convention floor a stock exchange energy, or at least seems to foster more conversations held out of earshot.
On Thursday, the exhibition floor had become an arbiter for the larger regional market. Potential deals in Ohio outnumbered those offered in Pennsylvania, in part because the Buckeye State is home to liquids-rich parts of the Utica Shale that offer products fetching higher prices on the market. Smaller operators with maps showing heavily developed parts of Pennsylvania tried to elicit more than shoulder shrugs, while major industry players that have been shedding assets were out in full selling force.
Shoppers on the convention center floor included several private equity firms, looking to either finance drilling operations or add acreage to their portfolio. Many of the attendees were landmen who'd assembled contiguous acreage that could be added to a driller's portfolio in one fell swoop. The deal advertised by Ohio Acres 4 U LLC represented about 530 landowners across Holmes County, said Mr. Milleson.
For organizing the group, he would receive a commission of between 3.2 percent and 7 percent of the signing bonus he negotiates for the landowners. If any attendee showed interest this week, Mr. Milleson had a starting lease on hand for negotiations: $4,000 per acre as a signing bonus, with a 20 percent cut on gas royalties.
"I have some members texting me, 'Have you sold it yet? What's the news?' " he said.
Though some deals have been known to go down on the NAPE showroom floor, it's more likely the conference offers handshakes that might lead to mergers and partnerships down the road, organizers said.
"It's a mashing of a farmer's market and Wall Street," said Marty Schardt, executive vice president of the American Association of Professional Landmen, one of the four industry groups that organize the conference.
The flagship NAPE is held every year in Houston, and in February attracted more than 17,000 attendees from across the world. Pittsburgh's version had 2,000 attendees, with a majority coming from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The organization already has committed to holding a NAPE East in the city next year.
But even for a conference that one attendee was heard dismissing as "NAPE Lite," some companies pulled out all the stops.
Chesapeake Energy is divesting thousands of acres in the Marcellus and Utica region, and showed off those assets with a 1,000 square-foot, two-story display that included leather couches and several tables.
The Oklahoma City-based gas driller has tried to shed itself of major area acreage in recent months, and earlier this week announced it was selling more than 94,000 net acres in the Utica Shale.
A 16-step staircase led to the second story of Chesapeake's corner spot, though access was roped off for much of the day with a sign that said, "Acquisition Negotiations in Process." No worries -- those hanging out downstairs were treated to complimentary bottles of NRG, a Chesapeake-branded energy drink.
It was a far cry from most displays, some of which had hand-drawn signs beckoning customers.
Bringing a NAPE to the region attracts smaller operators who can't afford to make the trip to Houston each year, said Mr. Schardt.
The proximity certainly appealed to Drew Orient, ready to make a deal that was a tougher sell than most.
He was offering thousands of acres in Clarion and Venango counties that this year are on the wrong side of the formation. The acreage is on the border between the lucrative "wet" gas and the "dry" portions that have been prohibitively lower-priced in recent years.
"We're not as exciting," said Mr. Orient, a managing member of the River Valley Energy LLC. "But at least we're here, saying, 'Hey, look at us.' "
It didn't help that Mr. Orient stood in the last aisle, flanked by two empty booths. His position in the last row, away from the action of the floor, almost seemed planned, but Mr. Orient said he didn't see the placement as a commentary on what the industry considers hot right now.
"We registered late," he said.