Energy Transfer Partners stock price has failed to recover after a September 9th announcement by three federal agencies halted construction of the company’s hotly contested Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
Now one of the country’s largest pipeline operators, Energy Transfer Partners is viewed by many as the successor to Enron. In the wake of the energy giant’s fall in 2001, the young company, led by Texan now-billionaire Kelcy Warren, bought up many of Enron’s assets at a discount. In the last few years, Energy Transfer Partners has embarked on an ambitious capital intensive growth plan despite the low price of oil; the company is banking on expansion in the natural gas space.
But Warren’s plans hit a snag: the 1,172 mile long Dakota Access Pipeline crosses underneath the Missouri river a scant half mile north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation boundaries in North Dakota. The tribe contends the pipeline is damaging sacred sites and argues that a spill could pollute vital water resources.
Since late August, the protests have become one of the largest gatherings of Native Americans ever. Based on the reservation at the Sacred Stone Camp, protesters, who call themselves “water protectors” have made good use of social media with slogans like “water is life” and the hashtag #NoDAPL garnering national attention.
The pipeline would transport 570,000 barrels of light, sweet crude from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota to the refineries of Illinois, immediately taking half of all production from the area which currently transports crude primarily by rail.
Until recently, the deal seemed to be moving full speed ahead. The $3.78 billion joint venture between Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics Partners (controlled by ETP) and Phillips 66 secured financing to the tune of $2 billion from an entity jointly owned by Enbridge Energy Partners and Marathon Petroleum Corporation.
And on September 9th a federal judge ruled against the Standing Rock Sioux’ request for an injunction under the National Environmental Policy Act, seemingly clearing the way for construction to move forwards.
Then hours later, the story flipped as the Army Corps of Engineers (responsible for the initial approvals), the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior issued a joint statement blocking construction until a more thorough review could be done.
Energy Transfer stocks fell almost 12 percent from $40.59 per share to their lowest point of $35.81 per share on September 13th, the weakest since early May.
That same day, CEO Kelcy Warren stepped in to halt the fall, issuing a company-wide memorandum. “We are committed to completing construction and safely operating the Dakota Access Pipeline,” wrote Warren before expounding on the strengths of DAPL from its job creation to its apparent environmental safety. “The Dakota Access Pipeline will become operational,” he concluded.
His confidence seemed to convince investors, at least at first. Since then the stock recovered half of its lost value before settling in close to its recent low point. At last market close, the stock was valued at $37 per share. Amidst the shakeup, Enbridge and Marathon hinted at pulling out if challenges to completion continue, putting Energy Transfer Partners on the line for the full cost of the project— not good news for a company with a 4.47 debt-to-EBITDA ratio.
Now the company and the assembled tribes await the results of the Army Corps of Engineers review which comes on October 11th.