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When Christopher Halvorson graduated from Indiana University at South Bend in 1998, it wasn’t obvious that he would ever become involved in the oil and gas industry, much less become the CEO of a company of about 30 employees and more than 700 producing wells across the Appalachian Basin.
Both of his parents came from large farming families in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where most of his extended family remains. So his parents’ decision to move to South Bend, Indiana, just a mile from Notre Dame’s campus, is something that stands out.
“We were the black sheep by moving out of the area and by not being dyed-in-the-wool Badgers and Packers fans,” Halvorson said.
Before attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance at IU, he attended the University of Toledo, where he also played baseball and eventually met his wife. Once all of his schooling was complete, he and his wife moved to the Cleveland area, where he began his professional career as a CPA with the accounting firm Hausser + Taylor, LLP.
From there, it didn’t take long for him to develop a keen interest in the oil and gas sector. Early on in his public accounting career, he began to focus on energy clients for which Hausser + Taylor provided services. “Once you develop a niche in public accounting—whether in health care, non-profits, energy, manufacturing—you start to gain more clients in that area because of your expertise,” he said. “So I had a lot of expertise in both the audit side of oil and gas, as well as on the tax side of things.”
One of those clients was northeast Ohio-based North Coast Energy, which hired him as an assistant controller in 2001. A few years later, he and some other key members of North Coast Energy sold the company to EXCO Resources, Inc. out of Dallas, Texas. In 2006, Halvorson became one of the founding members of Appalachian Basin Resources, LLC (or AB Resources), a private-equity-backed portfolio company that focused primarily on horizontal Marcellus development in Marshall County, West Virginia.
As the Chief Financial Officer at AB Resources, Halvorson led all aspects of the company’s financial management and oversaw its gas marketing function, which included procuring access into pipeline systems and the control of gas purchase agreements, as well as employing a commodity price risk management plan.
Nine years later, in March 2015, Halvorson co-founded Pin Oak Energy Partners, which is based in Akron and currently operates over 700 wells, holds 178,000 net deep acres and owns 125 miles of midstream gathering assets, primarily in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The company has acquired both conventional and unconventional wells, and it is looking to expand its midstream assets. “That’s a section of the business that we intend to grow as quickly as we’ve grown on the E&P side,” Halvorson said.
“The way we view the world is that, where we are now coming out of this boom period in the Appalachian Basin, you have a lot of companies that came into the Basin that now have assets that are non-core to either their Appalachian footprint or are non-core to their entire domestic footprint,” he said. “From our standpoint, those type of assets make attractive acquisition targets.”
One thing Halvorson finds beneficial is the wealth of information and knowledge that the industry has gained since the early phase of unconventional development, when the Marcellus and Utica were still in their infancy. “What we understand today about both geology and completion technique can inform our decisions about where we think there is still a lot of good rock remaining,” he said.
As CEO, Halvorson said his primary role is to make sure Pin Oak is looking at opportunities—either through acquisitions or development—that make the most sense on a risk-adjusted return basis. To accomplish this, he works with their engineers, geologists and pipeline experts to select the opportunities that fit company’s risk profile.
The overarching challenges for the oil and gas industry are obvious, he says: Oversupply leading to low commodity prices. “We’re one of the few industries in the world that, the better we are at things, the harder it gets for us.” However, while low prices pose serious challenges for the industry, he is proud of the fact that the growth in production of oil and natural gas has resulted in an abundance of affordable energy for American industry and families, including in our neck of the woods.
Achieving a more stable supply-demand equilibrium and settling into a better-known commodity price will strengthen the industry, he said, though he thinks that may still be five to seven years away.
Getting back to 2020, however, this year marks the beginning of Halvorson’s service on the OOGA Board of Trustees, following his election last October. How did this native of Indiana with roots in Wisconsin come to serve on the Board of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association? Halvorson’s involvement and membership with OOGA dates back about 20 years as a frequent attendee at events back in his public accounting days. In addition, the aforementioned North Coast Energy and AB Resources were each members of the Association.
Halvorson believes a major part of OOGA’s purpose and success is maintaining unity among its members and emphasizing the importance of conventional and unconventional operators working together toward the common goal of strengthening the industry as a whole.
And he believes Pin Oak’s perspective can play an important role in that effort. “I hope to bring to the Board the viewpoint of an unconventional producer that is based in the Appalachian Basin that wants to be in the Basin for the long term,” he said.
Finally, he believes it is important that those working in the industry spread the message far and wide—from citizens to lawmakers to other industries—about the value that the oil and gas sector brings to the economy and to our way of life.
“As the premier natural-gas-producing region in the world, we have to be proactive on detailing the benefits that come from our industry through working in the Statehouse and making sure that Ohioans and companies coming to Ohio achieve those benefits,” he said.