Opposition to hydraulic fracturing in this country may stretch from upstate New York to Hollywood, but the controversial method of extracting oil and gas from sedimentary shale rock has the capacity to substantially reduce the U.S.’s reliance on oil imports by 2030—an economic fact that has kept energy lawyers at many leading Am Law 200 firms and their colleagues in related practice areas busy for the past several years.
Now, fracking is making its latest big move on the global stage.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, CMS Cameron McKenna, and leading Ukrainian firm Asters are advising on a roughly $10 billion shale gas development deal struck by Royal Dutch Shell and the government of Ukraine last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The 50-year production sharing agreement—announced in the Swiss ski resort town by Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s energy minister Eduard Stavytsky, and Shell CEO Peter Voser—comes as Europe slowly moves toward probing its own potentially lucrative shale plays. Ukraine boasts some of the continent’s largest shale reserves, particularly those near the country’s eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkov that are the subject of the production-sharing agreement.
Shell, which is one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, is fielding an in-house legal team in connection with the accord led by Polina Schelkova, Des Crichton, and Willem van der Lande. Vitali Radchenko, an energy and projects counsel at CMS in Kiev, is providing local legal advice to Shell on the agreement.
Morgan Lewis business and finance partner Jonathan Hines in Moscow and energy transactions practice leader David Asmus in Houston are leading a team from the firm advising Nadra Yuzivska, a company owned by the Ukrainian state that is entering a joint venture with Shell. Other Morgan Lewis attorneys working on the matter include London-based disputes partner Nicholas Greenwood and associates Ksenia Lopatkina, Alexander Marchenko, and Jennifer Mosley. (Hines and Greenwood joined Morgan Lewis last year from the now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, while Asmus came aboard in 2009 from Baker Botts.)
The production-sharing agreements are being negotiated on behalf of Nadra Yuzivska by independent Ukrainian firm Asters. Armen Khachaturyan, the head of the firm’s banking, finance, and securities practice, has taken the lead on the work along with corporate and natural resources partner Tamara Lukanina.
Peter Rees, a former partner at Debevoise & Plimpton and Norton Rose, joined Shell as its new in-house legal chief in 2011. Michiel Brandjes serves as company secretary and general counsel for Shell, which this month began the first review of its global outside counsel roster since 2010, according to U.K. publication Legal Week.
Linda Stuntz, a founding partner of Washington, D.C.’s Stuntz, Davis & Staffier, is a member of Shell’s board of directors. Stuntz previously served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy under former President George H.W. Bush.
A source familiar with the Davos-inked deal says the Ukrainian government did not rely on formal outside legal representation for the agreement. Regional and local authorities in the country have already approved the shale development deal with Shell, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.
Ukraine is trying to curtail its reliance on Russia to meet its natural gas needs, having gone so far as to threaten its former Soviet master with litigation over increases in the price of gas that frequently cause disputes between both nations. Last year, Ukraine announced that it would auction off shale gas tenders in a process that could prove to be a boon for firms with offices in the country, according to the Kyiv Post. (Baker & McKenzie, CMS, DLA Piper, and Salans are among the large international firms with offices in Kiev; click here for more on some of the top local shops in Ukraine, whose legal market presents potential hazards and prospects for foreign firms.)
While the U.S. has so far cornered the market on shale exploration and production—Foreign Policy looked last month at how the world’s geopolitical energy map is being redrawn as a result of the fracking revolution—opportunities abroad are increasing while the United States is seeing shale-related M&A activity slow down in some areas.
And while shale gas development has lagged behind other energy and mining projects in places like Mongolia, several companies pledged this month to invest $2 billion in exploring shale reserves in China. A Squire Sanders study last year on the Chinese M&A market found that exploiting shale gas reserves will provide key opportunities for U.S. and Canadian companies—and presumably their lawyers—that have the requisite expertise to tackle such work, according to Australasian Legal Business.
In December, Argentina’s largest energy company YPF signed a partnership deal with Chevron for a massive development of the South American nation’s potential oil and gas resources in the Dead Cow shale formation, according to news reports. Chevron, which is also intent on developing European shale gas, announced in October that it had acquired a 50 percent stake in privately held Lithuanian oil and gas exploration production company LL Investicijos.
In November, U.K. publication The Lawyer reported that British firms Herbert Smith Freehills and Travers Smith were advising on major shale licensing deal in Poland. And two years ago, K&L Gates advised Karak International Oil on a $1.8 billion deal to explore for shale gas in Jordan, according to our previous reports.
Still, the ripple effect set off by the fracking boom continues to be felt in various ways. The American Lawyer, for instance, reported last year on how North Dakota’s shale rush has thrown the state’s legal system into a constitutional crisis. Recent reports by The Guardian and The New York Times have also examined how the influx of shale-related equipment, money, and personnel has affected families and individuals living in North Dakota.