Posted By Lyndsey Kleven, Communications Manager,
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Kevin Ellis has a unique background that brought him to Antero Resources in West Virginia. Ellis grew up in Abbeville, South Carolina, which is a small rural farm town where the primary businesses were the railroad and textile mills. Ellis’ father worked on the railroads and had a military background, as did his grandfather. After high school, Ellis joined the U.S. Army Reserves and the very night that he graduated went off to basic training. In 1990, his unit was called to active duty during Operation Desert Storm, where he was deployed to southwest Asia for almost a year. When he returned, Ellis finished an undergraduate program at The Citadel, in the military college of South Carolina.
Ellis remained in South Carolina for the next eight years, where he worked as a deputy sheriff and he held various positions in the grocery business. In 2002, Ellis and his family decided to make a major career change. He decided to attend law school at West Virginia University, graduating in 2005, and began working at Steptoe & Johnson in Morgantown.
At Steptoe & Johnson, Ellis practiced energy law, focusing on coal and oil and gas, primarily doing titles and transactions. Initially when joining the firm, he spent his first few years as a new lawyer in record rooms researching title and writing title opinions. These actions proved valuable as he learned how to properly do title work.
“It became apparent to me even back then, that energy law was the area of law you wanted to be in, in the Appalachian basin,” explained Ellis. “Timing is everything, it just so happened at the time when I joined the firm that energy law had a need and I had an interest, which made it a natural fit for me.”
Ellis left Steptoe & Johnson and ultimately went on to work for one of his clients, Bluestone Energy Partners, a small producer based in Richie County, West Virginia. Bluestone was a family run business where Ellis managed landmen, oversaw land management and obtained new leases.
“To me, the nuts and bolts of the energy business was understanding titles,” said Ellis. “It was fundamental and there is the old adage, ‘no lease, no grease,’ you have to find out who owns the rights to the lease. I wasn’t an engineer or geologist, so for me this was where I needed to be.”
Ellis enjoyed working at Bluestone and got to wear many hats, including working on the permitting, developing drilling units, business development along with doing various legal work. Bluestone held about 40,000 acres of lease holds and drilled upwards of 150 vertical conventional wells and at one point, Bluestone had the most Marcellus wells of any other operator in WV, albeit all vertical wells. Branching into the Marcellus, vertical wells progressed into a drilling a few horizontal wells, and soon Bluestone’s assets became of interest to other operators.
Antero Resources acquired Bluestone Energy in 2010. Ellis was retained by Antero to manage the land department in WV. Ellis’ background in lease negotiation, surface agreements and pipeline right of ways put him at the forefront of many deals involving conventional producer’s acreage. Ellis remained in this area for the next four years, focusing on land, growth and helping with litigation and title disputes. After this time, Ellis began to work in the area of government and community relations and expanded this work to cover both WV and OH where Antero continues to have significant operations.
Ellis helped to establish an official government relations branch within Antero and was promoted to vice president of government relations and still wears many hats. He covers government relations, community relations, landowner relations and oversees office administrative personal in the Marietta and Bridgeport offices.
“There really are major opportunities for people that grew up in this region to be able to stay here, and work in a field that they like,” explained Ellis. “The oil and gas industry provides a variety of opportunities that can be really amazing for people that are willing to roll their sleeves up and work hard to get there.”
Antero employs about 3,000 people, including all its employees and contractors. Ellis enjoys working for Antero because, even though it is a large operation, it still has a small company feel and allows him the ability to do a variety of work. He also respects the values Antero holds for its employees and the communities it operates in. Antero is heavily involved philanthropically with local food banks and among charities impacting children in need.
Ellis got into energy law on the front end of shale development in the Appalachian Basin. He described seeing the industry shift and a change in fundamental players within the Basin. Conventional producers have and will continue to play a very important role in the industry in Ohio and elsewhere. Ellis commented that “Conventional and unconventional producers are aligned in many ways including the continued production of conventional wells to maintain HBP lease status even during very difficult economic times. As has been the history of the conventional industry – most being family owned for generations – they continue to look at their business and adapt to find new innovative ways to be competitive and profitable.”
On some of the early challenges to Ohio’s unconventional shale producers, Ellis observed that, “I’ve seen the industry from the earlier stages where it was really about justifying what we were doing, that we were safe and environmentally responsible, that we were impacting the economy by hiring local people. We overcame those hurdles. We got to a place where you finally put to bed some of the myths. This translates to the messaging, while we continue to evolve operationally, we now need to look at delivering on the value-added benefits of all of this production, how do we get to the downstream opportunities.”
Ellis is optimistic that the regional alliance being built across the Appalachian Basin is in the interest of all producers and will provide new opportunities. Producers are finding ways to drill longer laterals and derive both cost and operational efficiency in their operations. Much of the positioning is starting to settle, and Ellis thinks most of the big deals are done or starting to become more predictable. He pointed to the Chesapeake announcement as a recent big event that people have to take notice of, just due to the sheer size of its footprint.
“The industry is in the middle of an infrastructure build out of pipelines that is necessary to get the region’s gas to the places that it needs to go. This is what is helping companies and operators still be able to produce in a low-cost environment, to get some production to outlets that provide a better return, which has a ripple effect on the economy of places where the gas is being produced,” described Ellis. “The end game that policy makers and residents want is now the downstream piece that encompasses manufacturing jobs, cracker plants and ethane storage hub.”
The industry has changed over the years, yet it is still vibrant and important. Ellis feels the energy industry is the most exciting business to be in, bar none. Every day is different and brings new challenges to face and problems to solve, all in ways to make things better.
Trends and Legislation to Watch
Rules and legislation impacting the industry need to be closely monitored. Ellis is currently watching the development of new rules packages from ODNR, (including simultaneous operations, waste facility rules and spacing rules).
“Anything we can do to help enable a producer to drill a well sooner is always helpful,” explained Ellis. “Streamlining unitization at the administrative level is a priority, as are timely orders. Getting a well drilled faster than you might be able to in another state or county, is really the name of the game, these companies want to get the wells put in the ground.”
Another area of particular interest to Ellis is the dormant mineral act (DMA) in Ohio. As it currently stands, the DMA creates uncertainty in business and creates confusion around its application and process. Ellis is leading the OOGA DMA workgroup to help identify the issues and put forth possible solutions, rather than intolerably continuing to react on a case-by-case basis across every shale county.
OOGA & Professional Involvement
Ellis began to interact with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association early in 2012. As Antero grew its operations, Ellis grew his participation and involvement among the Association. Ellis has been on the OOGA Board of Trustees for the past two years and looks forward to continuing to work with all the other board members to advance OOGA’s common interest.
“It all comes back to what policies and goals the Association will undertake to achieve. All of that is informed by a very experienced group of people and many of the board members have been in business in Ohio for generations,” said Ellis. “Companies like Antero that bring in people like myself, want to continue to learn from those experiences, to leverage those experiences, so we can help each other achieve our business objectives.”
Ellis likes being involved with the Association because it’s always good to have friends in the trenches. OOGA is a group of people who have and overall commonality of interest. The members are able to pursue those common goals together and show a unified front. Ellis feels OOGA has demonstrated effectiveness in this regard, in achieving successful legislative outcomes.
Ellis’ experience working with and leading other oil and gas trade associations has brought an added value to the OOGA board. Ellis has recently served as a three-term president for the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association (WVONGA), where he has served since 2013. He is currently the interim chairman of Energize West Virginia, the public education and outreach nonprofit affiliate of WVONGA. He is also in the middle of a three-year term serving as an elected board of director for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (IOGA WV), and also co-chairs its government relations committee. He is a board member of the Nature Conservancy of West Virginia, and on the board of the Chamber of Commerce, Harrison County, West Virginia.
The member spotlight series features OOGA members making an impact with their membership. If you would like to recommend someone to be highlighted, please contact Lyndsey Kleven firstname.lastname@example.org