SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Commission file number 1-31219
ENERGY TRANSFER OPERATING, L.P.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
(state or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
8111 Westchester Drive, Suite 600, Dallas, Texas 75225
(Address of principal executive offices) (zip code)
Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (214) 981-0700
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Series C Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
New York Stock Exchange
Series D Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
Yes ý No ¨
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.
Yes ¨ No ý
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports) and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Yes ý No ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Yes ý No ¨
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of the registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer ý Accelerated filer ¨ Non-accelerated filer ¨ Smaller reporting company ¨ Emerging growth company ¨
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
Yes ¨ No ý
The aggregate market value as of June 30, 2018, of the registrant’s Common Units held by non-affiliates of the registrant, based on the reported closing price of such Common Units on the New York Stock Exchange on such date, was $21.63 billion. Common Units held by each executive officer and director and by each person who owns 5% or more of the outstanding Common Units have been excluded in that such persons may be deemed to be affiliates. This determination of affiliate status is not necessarily a conclusive determination for other purposes.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Certain matters discussed in this report, excluding historical information, as well as some statements by Energy Transfer Operating, L.P. (the “Partnership,” or “ETO”) in periodic press releases and some oral statements of the Partnership’s officials during presentations about the Partnership, include forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are identified as any statement that does not relate strictly to historical or current facts. Statements using words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “intend,” “project,” “plan,” “expect,” “continue,” “estimate,” “goal,” “forecast,” “may,” “will” or similar expressions help identify forward-looking statements. Although the Partnership and its General Partner believe such forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions and current expectations and projections about future events, no assurance can be given that such assumptions, expectations, or projections will prove to be correct. Forward-looking statements are subject to a variety of risks, uncertainties and assumptions. If one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or if underlying assumptions prove incorrect, the Partnership’s actual results may vary materially from those anticipated, projected or expected, forecasted, estimated or expressed in forward-looking statements since many of the factors that determine these results are subject to uncertainties and risks that are difficult to predict and beyond management’s control. For additional discussion of risks, uncertainties and assumptions, see “Item 1A. Risk Factors” included in this annual report.
The following is a list of certain acronyms and terms generally used in the energy industry and throughout this document:
accumulated other comprehensive income (loss)
asset retirement obligations
billion British thermal units
billion cubic feet
British thermal unit, an energy measurement used by gas companies to convert the volume of gas used to its heat equivalent, and thus calculate the actual energy used
capacity of a pipeline, processing plant or storage facility refers to the maximum capacity under normal operating conditions and, with respect to pipeline transportation capacity, is subject to multiple factors (including natural gas injections and withdrawals at various delivery points along the pipeline and the utilization of compression) which may reduce the throughput capacity from specified capacity levels
CDM Resource Management LLC and CDM Environmental & Technical Services LLC, collectively
Citrus, LLC, which owns 100% of FGT
CrossCountry Energy, LLC
Dakota Access, LLC
United States Department of Energy
United States Department of Justice
United States Department of Transportation
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Energy Transfer LP, a publicly traded partnership and the owner of ETP LLC for the periods presented herein
ETC Fayetteville Express Pipeline, LLC
ETC Midcontinent Express Pipeline, L.L.C.
La Grange Acquisition, L.P., which conducts business under the assumed name of Energy Transfer Company
ETC Tiger Pipeline, LLC
Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, LLC
Energy Transfer Partners GP, L.P., the general partner of ETO
ETP Holdco Corporation
Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C., the general partner of ETP GP
Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended
Exxon Mobil Corporation
Fayetteville Express Pipeline LLC
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Florida Gas Transmission Company, LLC
accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America
Gulf States Transmission LLC
RIGS Haynesville Partnership Co.
incentive distribution rights
Kinder Morgan Inc.
Lake Charles LNG
Lake Charles LNG Company, LLC (previously named Trunkline LNG Company, LLC)
Lake Charles LNG Export Company, LLC
Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
London Interbank Offered Rate
liquefied natural gas
Lone Star NGL LLC
liquefied petroleum gas
Midcontinent Express Pipeline LLC
Mi Vida JV
Mi Vida JV LLC
Mid-Valley Pipeline Company
million cubic feet
methyl tertiary butyl ether
natural gas liquid, such as propane, butane and natural gasoline
New York Mercantile Exchange
New York Stock Exchange
Ohio River System LLC
federal Occupational Safety and Health Act
Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company, LP and its subsidiaries
PennTex Midstream Partners, LP
Permian Express Partners LLC
Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining and Marketing LLC
Phillips 66 Partners LP
Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Ranch Westex JV LLC
Regency Energy Partners LP
ETP Retail Holdings, LLC, a subsidiary of ETO
Regency Intrastate Gas System
Rover Pipeline LLC, a subsidiary of ETO
Sea Robin Pipeline Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Panhandle
Securities and Exchange Commission
Series A Preferred Units
6.250% Series A Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
Series B Preferred Units
6.625% Series B Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
Series C Preferred Units
7.375% Series C Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
Series D Preferred Units
7.625% Series D Fixed-to-Floating Rate Cumulative Redeemable Perpetual Preferred Units
Royal Dutch Shell plc
Sunoco Pipeline L.P.
Sunoco GP LLC, the general partner of Sunoco LP
Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P.
Sunoco Partners LLC, the general partner of Sunoco Logistics
Transwestern Pipeline Company, LLC
Texas Railroad Commission
Trunkline Gas Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Panhandle
USA Compression Partners, LP
Adjusted EBITDA is a term used throughout this document, which we define as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, depletion, amortization and other non-cash items, such as non-cash compensation expense, gains and losses on disposals of assets, the allowance for equity funds used during construction, unrealized gains and losses on commodity risk management activities, non-cash impairment charges, losses on extinguishments of debt and other non-operating income or expense items. Unrealized gains and losses on commodity risk management activities include unrealized gains and losses on commodity derivatives and inventory fair value adjustments (excluding lower of cost or market adjustments). Adjusted EBITDA reflects amounts for less than wholly-owned subsidiaries based on 100% of the subsidiaries’ results of operations and for unconsolidated affiliates based on the Partnership’s proportionate ownership.
ITEM 1. BUSINESS
We (Energy Transfer Operating, L.P., a Delaware limited partnership, “ETO” or the “Partnership”) are a consolidated subsidiary of Energy Transfer LP (“ET”). In October 2018, ET completed the merger of ETO with a wholly-owned subsidiary of ET in a unit-for-unit exchange (the “Energy Transfer Merger”), as discussed further below, at which time the Partnership changed its name from Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. to Energy Transfer Operating, L.P.
We are managed by our general partner, Energy Transfer Partners GP, L.P. (our “General Partner” or “ETP GP”), and ETP GP is managed by its general partner, Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C. (“ETP LLC”), which is owned by ET. The primary activities in which we are engaged, all of which are in the United States, are as follows:
natural gas operations, including the following:
natural gas midstream and intrastate transportation and storage;
interstate natural gas transportation and storage; and
crude oil, NGL and refined products transportation, terminalling services and acquisition and marketing activities, as well as NGL storage and fractionation services.
In addition, we own investments in other businesses, including Sunoco LP and USAC, both of which are publicly traded master limited partnerships.
The following chart summarizes our organizational structure as of February 15, 2019. For simplicity, certain immaterial entities and ownership interest have not been depicted.
Unless the context requires otherwise, the Partnership and its subsidiaries are collectively referred to in this report as “we,” “us,” “ETO,” “Energy Transfer” or “the Partnership.”
Significant Achievements in 2018 and Beyond
Our significant strategic transactions in 2018 and beyond included the following, as discussed in more detail herein:
Strategic Transactions Related to the Partnership
In October 2018, ET and ETO (previously named Energy Transfer Equity, L.P. and Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., respectively, prior to the October 2018 transactions) completed the merger of ETO with a wholly-owned subsidiary of ET in a unit-for-unit exchange (the “Energy Transfer Merger”). Immediately prior to the Energy Transfer Merger, (i) the IDRs in ETO were converted into ETO Common Units, (ii) the general partner interest in ETO was converted into ETO Common Units, (iii) ET’s interests in Sunoco LP, USAC and their respective general partners were contributed to ETO, and (iv) certain other
interests owned by ET were contributed to ETO. The Energy Transfer Merger and these related transactions are discussed further in “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.”
In April 2018, ETO contributed to USAC all of the issued and outstanding membership interests of CDM for aggregate consideration of approximately $1.7 billion, consisting of (i) 19,191,351 USAC common units, (ii) 6,397,965 units of a new class of units representing limited partner interests in USAC (“USAC Class B Units”) and (iii) $1.23 billion in cash, including customary closing adjustments (the “CDM Contribution”). The USAC Class B Units have substantially all of the rights and obligations of a USAC common unit, except the USAC Class B Units will not participate in distributions for the first four quarters following the closing date of April 2, 2018. Each USAC Class B Unit will automatically convert into one USAC common unit on the first business day following the record date attributable to the quarter ending June 30, 2019. ETO subsequently obtained control of USAC in connection with the transactions related to the Energy Transfer Merger in October 2018, as discussed above.
ETO previously owned a 49.99% interest in HPC, which owns RIGS. In April 2018, ETO acquired the remaining 50.01% interest in HPC. Prior to April 2018, HPC was reflected as an unconsolidated affiliate in ETO’s financial statements; beginning in April 2018, RIGS is reflected as a wholly-owned subsidiary in ETO’s financial statements.
On January 23, 2018, Sunoco LP closed on an asset purchase agreement with 7-Eleven, Inc., a Texas corporation (“7-Eleven”), and SEI Fuel Services, Inc., a Texas corporation and wholly-owned subsidiary of 7-Eleven. Under the agreement, Sunoco LP sold a portfolio of approximately 1,030 company-operated retail fuel outlets in 19 geographic regions, together with ancillary businesses and related assets, including the proprietary Laredo Taco Company brand, for an aggregate purchase price of $3.2 billion.
Significant Organic Growth Projects
Our significant announced organic growth projects in 2018 included the following, as discussed in more detail herein:
In September 2018, ETO, Magellan Midstream Partners, L.P., MPLX LP and Delek US Holdings, Inc. announced that they have received sufficient commitments to proceed with plans to construct a new 30-inch diameter common carrier pipeline, the Permian Gulf Coast (“PGC”) pipeline, to transport crude oil from the Permian Basin to the Texas Gulf Coast region. The transaction structure for this project has not been finalized.
In August 2018, the Partnership received approval to commence service on 100% of the long-haul contractual commitments on Rover to begin September 1, 2018, and on November 2, 2018, the Partnership announced that it received approval to commence service on the final laterals needed to complete the Rover pipeline project.
In March 2018, ETO and Satellite Petrochemical USA Corp. (“Satellite”) entered into definitive agreements to form a joint venture, Orbit Gulf Coast NGL Exports, LLC (“Orbit”), with the purpose of constructing a new export terminal on the United States Gulf Coast to provide ethane to Satellite for consumption at its ethane cracking facilities in China.
See Note 15 to our consolidated financial statements in “Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data” for additional financial information about our segments.
Intrastate Transportation and Storage Segment
Natural gas transportation pipelines receive natural gas from other mainline transportation pipelines, storage facilities and gathering systems and deliver the natural gas to industrial end-users, storage facilities, utilities, power generators and other third-party pipelines. Through our intrastate transportation and storage segment, we own and operate (through wholly-owned or through joint venture interests) approximately 9,400 miles of natural gas transportation pipelines with approximately 21 Bcf/d of transportation capacity and three natural gas storage facilities located in the state of Texas.
We own a 70% interest in the Red Bluff Express Pipeline, a 100-mile intrastate pipeline system that connects our Orla Plant, as well as third-party plants to the Waha Oasis Header.
Energy Transfer operates one of the largest intrastate pipeline systems in the United States providing energy logistics to major trading hubs and industrial consumption areas throughout the United States. Our intrastate transportation and storage segment focuses on the transportation of natural gas to major markets from various prolific natural gas producing areas (Permian, Barnett, Haynesville and Eagle Ford Shale) through our Oasis pipeline, our ETC Katy pipeline, our natural gas pipeline and storage systems that are referred to as the ET Fuel System, and our HPL System, as further described below.
Our intrastate transportation and storage segment’s results are determined primarily by the amount of capacity our customers reserve as well as the actual volume of natural gas that flows through the transportation pipelines. Under transportation contracts, our customers are charged (i) a demand fee, which is a fixed fee for the reservation of an agreed amount of capacity on the transportation pipeline for a specified period of time and which obligates the customer to pay a fee even if the customer does not transport natural gas on the respective pipeline, (ii) a transportation fee, which is based on the actual throughput of natural gas by the customer, (iii) fuel retention based on a percentage of gas transported on the pipeline, or (iv) a combination of the three, generally payable monthly.
We also generate revenues and margin from the sale of natural gas to electric utilities, independent power plants, local distribution companies, industrial end-users and marketing companies on our HPL System. Generally, we purchase natural gas from either the market (including purchases from our marketing operations) or from producers at the wellhead. To the extent the natural gas comes from producers, it is primarily purchased at a discount to a specified market price and typically resold to customers based on an index price. In addition, our intrastate transportation and storage segment generates revenues from fees charged for storing customers’ working natural gas in our storage facilities and from managing natural gas for our own account.
Interstate Transportation and Storage Segment
Natural gas transportation pipelines receive natural gas from supply sources including other transportation pipelines, storage facilities and gathering systems and deliver the natural gas to industrial end-users and other pipelines. Through our interstate transportation and storage segment, we directly own and operate approximately 12,200 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines with approximately 10.3 Bcf/d of transportation capacity and another approximately 6,750 miles and 10.5 Bcf/d of transportation capacity through joint venture interests.
Rover Pipeline, completed and available for full commercial operation since November 2018, is a new 713-mile system designed to transport 3.25 Bcf/d of domestically produced natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale production areas to markets across the United States and into Canada.
ETO’s vast interstate natural gas network spans the United States from Florida to California and Texas to Michigan, offering a comprehensive array of pipeline and storage services. Our pipelines have the capability to transport natural gas from nearly all Lower 48 onshore and offshore supply basins to customers in the Southeast, Gulf Coast, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast and Canada. Through numerous interconnections with other pipelines, our interstate systems can access virtually any supply or market in the country. As discussed further herein, our interstate segment operations are regulated by the FERC, which has broad regulatory authority over the business and operations of interstate natural gas pipelines.
Lake Charles LNG, our wholly-owned subsidiary, owns an LNG import terminal and regasification facility located on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The import terminal has approximately 9.0 Bcf of above ground storage capacity and the regasification facility has a send out capacity of 1.8 Bcf/d. Lake Charles LNG derives all of its revenue from a series of long-term contracts with a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shell.
LCL, our wholly-owned subsidiary, is currently developing a natural gas liquefaction facility for the export of LNG. In December 2015, Lake Charles LNG received authorization from the FERC to site, construct and operate facilities for the liquefaction and export of natural gas. The project would utilize existing dock and storage facilities owned by Lake Charles LNG located on the Lake Charles site.
The results from our interstate transportation and storage segment are primarily derived from the fees we earn from natural gas transportation and storage services.
The midstream industry consists of natural gas gathering, compression, treating, processing, storage, and transportation, and is generally characterized by regional competition based on the proximity of gathering systems and processing plants to natural gas producing wells and the proximity of storage facilities to production areas and end-use markets. Gathering systems generally consist of a network of small diameter pipelines and, if necessary, compression systems, that collect natural gas from points near producing wells and transports it to larger pipelines for further transportation.
Treating plants remove carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from natural gas that is higher in carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide or certain other contaminants, to ensure that it meets pipeline quality specifications. Natural gas processing involves the separation of natural gas into pipeline quality natural gas, or residue gas, and a mixed NGL stream. Some natural gas produced by a well does not meet the pipeline quality specifications established by downstream pipelines or is not suitable for commercial use and must be processed to remove the mixed NGL stream. In addition, some natural gas can be processed to take advantage of favorable margins for NGLs extracted from the gas stream.
Through our midstream segment, we own and operate natural gas gathering and NGL pipelines, natural gas processing plants, natural gas treating facilities and natural gas conditioning facilities with an aggregate processing capacity of approximately 7.9 Bcf/d. Our midstream segment focuses on the gathering, compression, treating, blending, and processing, and our operations are currently concentrated in major producing basins and shales in South Texas, West Texas, New Mexico, North Texas, East Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Louisiana. Many of our midstream assets are integrated with our intrastate transportation and storage assets.
Our midstream segment also includes a 60% interest in Edwards Lime Gathering, LLC, which operates natural gas gathering, oil pipeline and oil stabilization facilities in South Texas and a 75% membership interest in ORS, which operates a natural gas gathering system in the Utica shale in Ohio.
Our midstream segment results are derived primarily from margins we earn for natural gas volumes that are gathered, transported, purchased and sold through our pipeline systems and the natural gas and NGL volumes processed at our processing and treating facilities.
NGL and Refined Products Transportation and Services Segment
Our NGL operations transport, store and execute acquisition and marketing activities utilizing a complementary network of pipelines, storage and blending facilities, and strategic off-take locations that provide access to multiple NGL markets.
Our NGL and refined products transportation and services segment includes:
approximately 4,769 miles of NGL pipelines;
NGL and propane fractionation facilities with an aggregate capacity of 825 MBbls/d;
NGL storage facility in Mont Belvieu with a working storage capacity of approximately 45 million Bbls; and
other NGL storage assets, located at our Cedar Bayou and Hattiesburg storage facilities, and our Nederland, Marcus Hook and Inkster NGL terminals with an aggregate storage capacity of approximately 11 million Bbls.
We are currently constructing a seventh fractionator at our Mont Belvieu facility, which we expect to be operational in the first quarter of 2020. In addition, we are constructing an expansion to the Lone Star Express pipeline, which is expected to be in service early in the fourth quarter of 2020. The NGL pipelines primarily transport NGLs from the Permian and Delaware basins and the Barnett and Eagle Ford Shales to Mont Belvieu.
NGL terminalling services are facilitated by approximately 7 million Bbls of NGL storage capacity. These operations also support our liquids blending activities, including the use of our patented butane blending technology. Refined products operations provide transportation and terminalling services through the use of approximately 2,203 miles of refined products pipelines and approximately 35 active refined products marketing terminals. Our marketing terminals are located primarily in the northeast, midwest and southwest United States, with approximately 8 million Bbls of refined products storage capacity. Our refined products operations utilize our integrated pipeline and terminalling assets, as well as acquisition and marketing activities, to service refined products markets in several regions throughout the United States.
Revenues in this segment are principally generated from fees charged to customers under dedicated contracts or take-or-pay contracts. Under a dedicated contract, the customer agrees to deliver the total output from particular processing plants that are connected to the NGL pipeline. Take-or-pay contracts have minimum throughput commitments requiring the customer to pay regardless of whether a fixed volume is transported. Fees are market-based, negotiated with customers and competitive with regional regulated pipelines and fractionators. Storage revenues are derived from base storage and throughput fees. This segment also derives revenues from the marketing of NGLs and processing and fractionating refinery off-gas.
Crude Oil Transportation and Services Segment
Our crude oil operations provide transportation, terminalling and acquisition and marketing services to crude oil markets throughout the southwest, midwest and northeastern United States. Through our crude oil transportation and services segment, we own and operate (through wholly-owned subsidiaries or joint venture interests) approximately 9,524 miles of crude oil trunk and gathering pipelines in the southwest and midwest United States. This segment includes equity ownership interests in two crude oil pipelines, the Bakken Pipeline system and Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Our crude oil terminalling services operate with an aggregate storage capacity of approximately 38 million Bbls, including approximately 28 million Bbls at our Gulf Coast terminal in Nederland, Texas and approximately 4 million Bbls at our Fort Mifflin terminal complex in Pennsylvania. Our crude oil acquisition and marketing activities utilize our pipeline and terminal assets, our proprietary fleet crude oil tractor trailers and truck unloading facilities, as well as third-party assets, to service crude oil markets principally in the midcontinent United States.
Revenues throughout our crude oil pipeline systems are generated from tariffs paid by shippers utilizing our transportation services. These tariffs are filed with the FERC and other state regulatory agencies, as applicable.
Our crude oil acquisition and marketing activities include the gathering, purchasing, marketing and selling of crude oil. Specifically, the crude oil acquisition and marketing activities include:
purchasing crude oil at both the wellhead from producers, and in bulk from aggregators at major pipeline interconnections and trading locations;
storing inventory during contango market conditions (when the price of crude oil for future delivery is higher than current prices);
buying and selling crude oil of different grades, at different locations in order to maximize value;
transporting crude oil using the pipelines, terminals and trucks or, when necessary or cost effective, pipelines, terminals or trucks owned and operated by third parties; and
marketing crude oil to major integrated oil companies, independent refiners and resellers through various types of sale and exchange transactions.
Investment in Sunoco LP
Sunoco LP is engaged in the distribution of motor fuels to independent dealers, distributors, and other commercial customers and the distribution of motor fuels to end-user customers at retail sites operated by commission agents. Additionally, it receives rental income through the leasing or subleasing of real estate used in the retail distribution of motor fuel. Sunoco LP also operates 75 retail stores located in Hawaii and New Jersey.
Sunoco LP is a distributor of motor fuels and other petroleum products which Sunoco LP supplies to third-party dealers and distributors, to independent operators of commission agent locations and other commercial consumers of motor fuel. Also included in the wholesale operations are transmix processing plants and refined products terminals. Transmix is the mixture of various refined products (primarily gasoline and diesel) created in the supply chain (primarily in pipelines and terminals) when various products interface with each other. Transmix processing plants separate this mixture and return it to salable products of gasoline and diesel.
Sunoco LP is the exclusive wholesale supplier of the iconic Sunoco-branded motor fuel, supplying an extensive distribution network of approximately 5,293 Sunoco-branded company and third-party operated locations throughout the East Coast, Midwest, South Central and Southeast regions of the United States. Sunoco LP believes it is one of the largest independent motor fuel distributors of Chevron, Exxon and Valero branded motor fuel in the United States. In addition to distributing motor fuels, Sunoco LP also distributes other petroleum products such as propane and lubricating oil, and Sunoco LP receives rental income from real estate that it leases or subleases.
Sunoco LP operations primarily consist of fuel distribution and marketing.
Investment in USAC
USAC provides compression services throughout the United States, including the Utica, Marcellus, Permian Basin, Delaware Basin, Eagle Ford, Mississippi Lime, Granite Wash, Woodford, Barnett, Haynesville, Niobrara and Fayetteville shales. USAC provides compression services to its customers primarily in connection with infrastructure applications, including both allowing for the processing and transportation of natural gas through the domestic pipeline system and enhancing crude oil production through artificial lift processes. As such, USAC’s compression services play a critical role in the production, processing and transportation of both natural gas and crude oil.
USAC operates a modern fleet of compression units, with an average age of approximately five years. USAC’s standard new-build compression units are generally configured for multiple compression stages allowing USAC to operate its units across a broad range of operating conditions. As part of USAC’s services, it engineers, designs, operates, services and repairs its compression units and maintains related support inventory and equipment.
USAC provides compression services to its customers under fixed-fee contracts with initial contract terms typically between six months and five years, depending on the application and location of the compression unit. USAC typically continues to provide compression services at a specific location beyond the initial contract term, either through contract renewal or on a month-to-month or longer basis. USAC primarily enters into take-or-pay contracts whereby its customers are required to pay a monthly fee even during periods of limited or disrupted throughput, which enhances the stability and predictability of its cash flows. USAC is not directly exposed to commodity price risk because it does not take title to the natural gas or crude oil involved in its services and because the natural gas used as fuel by its compression units is supplied by its customers without cost to USAC.
USAC’s assets and operations are all located and conducted in the United States.
As of December 31, 2018, USAC had 3,597,097 horsepower in its fleet and 131,750 horsepower on order for expected delivery during 2019.
All Other Segment
Operations below the quantitative thresholds are classified as “All other.” These include the following:
Our approximately 8% non-operating interest in PES, which owns a refinery in Philadelphia.
Our marketing operations in which we market the natural gas that flows through our gathering and intrastate transportation assets, referred to as on-system gas. We also attract other customers by marketing volumes of natural gas that do not move through our assets, referred to as off-system gas. For both on-system and off-system gas, we purchase natural gas from natural gas producers and other suppliers and sell that natural gas to utilities, industrial consumers, other marketers and pipeline companies, thereby generating gross margins based upon the difference between the purchase and resale prices of natural gas, less the costs of transportation. For the off-system gas, we purchase gas or act as an agent for small independent producers that may not have marketing operations.
Our natural gas compression equipment business which has operations in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Our wholly-owned subsidiary, Dual Drive Technologies, Ltd. (“DDT”), which provides compression services to customers engaged in the transportation of natural gas, including our other segments.
Our subsidiaries are involved in the management of coal and natural resources properties and the related collection of royalties. We also earn revenues from other land management activities, such as selling standing timber, leasing coal-related infrastructure facilities, and collecting oil and gas royalties. These operations also include end-user coal handling facilities.
PEI Power LLC and PEI Power II, which own and operate a facility in Pennsylvania that generates a total of 75 megawatts of electrical power.
The descriptions below include summaries of significant assets within the Partnership’s reportable segments. Amounts, such as capacities, volumes and miles included in the descriptions below are approximate and are based on information currently available; such amounts are subject to change based on future events or additional information.
Intrastate Transportation and Storage
The following details our pipelines and storage facilities in the intrastate transportation and storage segment:
Description of Assets
Miles of Natural Gas Pipeline
Pipeline Throughput Capacity
Working Storage Capacity
ET Fuel System
Oasis Pipeline (1)
ETC Katy Pipeline
Regency Intrastate Gas
Comanche Trail Pipeline
Old Ocean Pipeline, LLC
Red Bluff Express Pipeline
Includes bi-directional capabilities
The following information describes our principal intrastate transportation and storage assets:
The ET Fuel System serves some of the most prolific production areas in the United States and is comprised of intrastate natural gas pipeline and related natural gas storage facilities. The ET Fuel System has many interconnections with pipelines
providing direct access to power plants, other intrastate and interstate pipelines, and has bi-directional capabilities. It is strategically located near high-growth production areas and provides access to the Waha Hub near Pecos, Texas, the Maypearl Hub in Central Texas and the Carthage Hub in East Texas.
The ET Fuel System also includes our Bethel natural gas storage facility, with a working capacity of 6.0 Bcf, an average withdrawal capacity of 300 MMcf/d and an injection capacity of 75 MMcf/d, and our Bryson natural gas storage facility, with a working capacity of 5.2 Bcf, an average withdrawal capacity of 120 MMcf/d and an average injection capacity of 96 MMcf/d. Storage capacity on the ET Fuel System is contracted to third parties under fee-based arrangements that extend through 2023.
In addition, the ET Fuel System is integrated with our Godley processing plant which gives us the ability to bypass the plant when processing margins are unfavorable by blending the untreated natural gas from the North Texas System with natural gas on the ET Fuel System while continuing to meet pipeline quality specifications.
The Oasis Pipeline is primarily a 36-inch natural gas pipeline. It has bi-directional capabilities with approximately 1.3 Bcf/d of throughput capacity moving west-to-east and greater than 750 MMcf/d of throughput capacity moving east-to-west. The Oasis pipeline connects to the Waha and Katy market hubs and has many interconnections with other pipelines, power plants, processing facilities, municipalities and producers.
The Oasis pipeline is integrated with our gathering system known as the Southeast Texas System and is an important component to maximizing our Southeast Texas System’s profitability. The Oasis pipeline enhances the Southeast Texas System by (i) providing access for natural gas gathered on the Southeast Texas System to other third-party supply and market points and interconnecting pipelines and (ii) allowing us to bypass our processing plants and treating facilities on the Southeast Texas System when processing margins are unfavorable by blending untreated natural gas from the Southeast Texas System with gas on the Oasis pipeline while continuing to meet pipeline quality specifications.
The HPL System is an extensive network of intrastate natural gas pipelines, an underground Bammel storage reservoir and related transportation assets. The system has access to multiple sources of historically significant natural gas supply reserves from South Texas, the Gulf Coast of Texas, East Texas and the western Gulf of Mexico, and is directly connected to major gas distribution, electric and industrial load centers in Houston, Corpus Christi, Texas City, Beaumont and other cities located along the Gulf Coast of Texas. The HPL System is well situated to gather and transport gas in many of the major gas producing areas in Texas including a strong presence in the key Houston Ship Channel and Katy Hub markets, allowing us to play an important role in the Texas natural gas markets. The HPL System also offers its shippers off-system opportunities due to its numerous interconnections with other pipeline systems, its direct access to multiple market hubs at Katy, the Houston Ship Channel, Carthage and Agua Dulce, as well as our Bammel storage facility.
The Bammel storage facility has a total working gas capacity of approximately 52.5 Bcf, a peak withdrawal rate of 1.3 Bcf/d and a peak injection rate of 0.6 Bcf/d. The Bammel storage facility is located near the Houston Ship Channel market area and the Katy Hub, and is ideally suited to provide a physical backup for on-system and off-system customers. As of December 31, 2018, we had approximately 12.8 Bcf committed under fee-based arrangements with third parties and approximately 18.7 Bcf stored in the facility for our own account.
The ETC Katy Pipeline connects three treating facilities, one of which we own, with our gathering system known as Southeast Texas System. The ETC Katy pipeline serves producers in East and North Central Texas and provided access to the Katy Hub. The ETC Katy pipeline expansions include the 36-inch East Texas extension to connect our Reed compressor station in Freestone County to our Grimes County compressor station, the 36-inch Katy expansion connecting Grimes to the Katy Hub, and the 42-inch Southeast Bossier pipeline connecting our Cleburne to Carthage pipeline to the HPL System.
RIGS is a 450-mile intrastate pipeline that delivers natural gas from northwest Louisiana to downstream pipelines and markets.
Comanche Trail is a 195-mile intrastate pipeline that delivers natural gas from the Waha Hub near Pecos, Texas to the United States/Mexico border near San Elizario, Texas. The Partnership owns a 16% membership interest in and operates Comanche Trail.
Trans-Pecos is a 143-mile intrastate pipeline that delivers natural gas from the Waha Hub near Pecos, Texas to the United States/Mexico border near Presidio, Texas. The Partnership owns a 16% membership interest in and operates Trans-Pecos.
Old Ocean is a 240-mile intrastate pipeline system that delivers natural gas from Ellis County, Texas to Brazoria County, Texas. The Partnership owns a 50% membership interest in and operates Old Ocean.
The Red Bluff Express Pipeline is an approximately 100-mile intrastate pipeline that runs through the heart of the Delaware basin and connects our Orla Plant, as well as third-party plants to the Waha Oasis Header. An expansion of the Red Bluff Express Pipeline is expected to be in service in the second half of 2019. The Partnership owns a 70% membership interest in and operates Red Bluff Express.
Interstate Transportation and Storage
The following details our pipelines in the interstate transportation and storage segment:
Description of Assets
Miles of Natural Gas Pipeline
Pipeline Throughput Capacity
Working Gas Capacity
Florida Gas Transmission
Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line (1)
Trunkline Gas Company
Fayetteville Express Pipeline
Sea Robin Pipeline
Midcontinent Express Pipeline
Natural gas storage assets are owned by Pan Gas Storage LLC (d.b.a Southwest Gas Storage Company).
The following information describes our principal interstate transportation and storage assets:
Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline (“FGT”) has mainline capacity of 3.4 Bcf/d and approximately 5,344 miles of pipelines extending from south Texas through the Gulf Coast region of the United States to south Florida. The FGT system receives natural gas from various onshore and offshore natural gas producing basins. FGT is the principal transporter of natural gas to the Florida energy market, delivering over 60% of the natural gas consumed in the state. In addition, FGT’s system operates and maintains multiple interconnects with major interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines, which provide FGT’s customers access to diverse natural gas producing regions. FGT’s customers include electric utilities, independent power producers, industrial end-users and local distribution companies. FGT is owned by Citrus, a 50/50 joint venture with KMI.
Transwestern Pipeline transports natural gas supply from the Permian Basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and the Anadarko Basin in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. The system has bi-directional capabilities and can access Texas and midcontinent connecting pipelines and natural gas market hubs, as well as major western markets in Arizona, Nevada and California. Transwestern’s customers include local distribution companies, producers, marketers, electric power generators and industrial end-users.
Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line’s transmission system consists of four large diameter pipelines with bi-directional capabilities, extending approximately 1,300 miles from producing areas in the Anadarko Basin of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and into Michigan. Panhandle contracts for over 73 Bcf of natural gas storage.
Trunkline Gas Company’s transmission system consists of one large diameter pipeline with bi-directional capabilities, extending approximately 1,400 miles from the Gulf Coast areas of Texas and Louisiana through Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Trunkline has one natural gas storage field located in Louisiana.
Tiger Pipeline is a bi-directional system that extends through the heart of the Haynesville Shale and ends near Delhi, Louisiana, with interconnects to multiple interstate pipelines.
Fayetteville Express Pipeline originates near Conway County, Arkansas and continues eastward to Panola County, Mississippi with multiple pipeline interconnections along the route. Fayetteville Express Pipeline is owned by a 50/50 joint venture with KMI.
Sea Robin Pipeline’s system consists of two offshore Louisiana natural gas supply pipelines extending 120 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
Rover Pipeline is a large diameter pipeline with total capacity to transport 3.25 Bcf/d natural gas from processing plants in West Virginia, Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania for delivery to other pipeline interconnects in Ohio and Michigan, where the gas is delivered for distribution to markets across the United States, as well as to Ontario, Canada.
Midcontinent Express Pipeline originates near Bennington, Oklahoma and traverses northern Louisiana and central Mississippi to an interconnect with the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline system in Butler, Alabama. The Midcontinent Express Pipeline is owned by a 50/50 joint venture with KMI, the operator of the system.
Gulf States Transmission is a 10-mile interstate pipeline that extends from Harrison County, Texas to Caddo Parish, Louisiana.
Lake Charles LNG, our wholly-owned subsidiary, owns a LNG import terminal and regasification facility located on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The import terminal has approximately 9.0 Bcf of above ground LNG storage capacity and the regasification facility has a send out capacity of 1.8 Bcf/d.
LCL, our wholly-owned subsidiary, is in the process of developing an LNG liquefaction project at the site of our Lake Charles LNG import terminal and regasification facility. The liquefaction facility would be constructed on 440 acres of land, of which 80 acres are owned by Lake Charles LNG and the remaining acres are to be leased by LCL under a long-term lease from the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District. The liquefaction project is expected to consist of three LNG trains with a combined design nameplate outlet capacity of 16.45 metric tonnes per annum. Once completed, the liquefaction project will enable LCL to liquefy domestically produced natural gas and export it as LNG. On June 18, 2017, LCL signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Gas Corporation and Shell to study the feasibility of a joint development of the Lake Charles liquefaction project. LCL and Shell are actively involved in a variety of activities related to the development of the project. LCL has also been marketing LNG offtake to numerous potential customers in Asia and Europe.
The export of LNG produced by the liquefaction project from the United States would be undertaken under long-term export authorizations issued by the DOE to LCL. In March 2013, LCL obtained a DOE authorization to export LNG to countries with which the United States has or will have Free Trade Agreements (“FTA”) for trade in natural gas (the “FTA Authorization”). In July 2016, LCL also obtained a conditional DOE authorization to export LNG to countries that do not have an FTA for trade in natural gas (the “Non-FTA Authorization”). The FTA Authorization and Non-FTA Authorization have 25- and 20-year terms, respectively. In addition, LCL received its wetlands permits from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) to perform wetlands mitigation work and to perform modification and dredging work for the temporary and permanent dock facilities at the Lake Charles LNG facilities.
The following details our assets in the midstream segment:
Description of Assets
Net Gas Processing Capacity
South Texas Region:
Southeast Texas System
Eagle Ford System
North Central Texas Region
The following information describes our principal midstream assets:
South Texas Region:
The Southeast Texas System is an integrated system that gathers, compresses, treats, processes, dehydrates and transports natural gas from the Austin Chalk trend and Eagle Ford shale formation. The Southeast Texas System is a large natural gas gathering system covering thirteen counties between Austin and Houston. This system is connected to the Katy Hub through the ETC Katy Pipeline and is also connected to the Oasis Pipeline. The Southeast Texas System includes two natural gas processing plants (La Grange and Alamo) with aggregate capacity of 410 MMcf/d. The La Grange and Alamo processing plants are natural gas processing plants that process the rich gas that flows through our gathering system to produce residue
gas and NGLs. Residue gas is delivered into our intrastate pipelines and NGLs are delivered into our NGL pipelines to Lone Star.
Our treating facilities remove carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from natural gas gathered into our system before the natural gas is introduced to transportation pipelines to ensure that the gas meets pipeline quality specifications.
The Eagle Ford Gathering System consists of 30-inch and 42-inch natural gas gathering pipelines with over 1.4 Bcf/d of capacity originating in Dimmitt County, Texas, and extending to both our King Ranch gas plant in Kleberg County, Texas and Jackson plant in Jackson County, Texas. The Eagle Ford Gathering System includes four processing plants (Chisholm, Kenedy, Jackson and King Ranch) with aggregate capacity of 1.92 Bcf/d. Our Chisholm, Kenedy, Jackson and King Ranch processing plants are connected to our intrastate transportation pipeline systems for deliveries of residue gas and are also connected with our NGL pipelines for delivery of NGLs to Lone Star.
Our Northern Louisiana assets are comprised of several gathering systems in the Haynesville Shale with access to multiple markets through interconnects with several pipelines, including our Tiger Pipeline. Our Northern Louisiana assets include the Bistineau, Creedence, and Tristate Systems, which collectively include three natural gas treating facilities, with aggregate capacity of 870 MMcf/d.
The Ark-La-Tex assets gather, compress, treat and dehydrate natural gas in several parishes in north and west Louisiana and several counties in East Texas. These assets also include cryogenic natural gas processing facilities, a refrigeration plant, a conditioning plant, amine treating plants, a residue gas pipeline that provides market access for natural gas from our processing plants, including connections with pipelines that provide access to the Perryville Hub and other markets in the Gulf Coast region, and an NGL pipeline that provides connections to the Mont Belvieu market for NGLs produced from our processing plants. Collectively, the ten natural gas processing facilities (Dubach, Dubberly, Lisbon, Salem, Elm Grove, Minden, Ada, Brookeland, Lincoln Parish and Mt. Olive) have an aggregate capacity of 1.3 Bcf/d.
Through the gathering and processing systems described above and their interconnections with RIGS in north Louisiana, as well as other pipelines, we offer producers wellhead-to-market services, including natural gas gathering, compression, processing, treating and transportation.
North Central Texas Region:
The North Central Texas System is an integrated system located in four counties in North Central Texas that gathers, compresses, treats, processes and transports natural gas from the Barnett and Woodford Shales. Our North Central Texas assets include our Godley and Crescent plants, which process rich gas produced from the Barnett Shale and STACK play, with aggregate capacity of 700 MMcf/d. The Godley plant is integrated with the ET Fuel System.
The Permian Basin Gathering System offers wellhead-to-market services to producers in eleven counties in West Texas, as well as two counties in New Mexico which surround the Waha Hub, one of Texas’s developing NGL-rich natural gas market areas. As a result of the proximity of our system to the Waha Hub, the Waha Gathering System has a variety of market outlets for the natural gas that we gather and process, including several major interstate and intrastate pipelines serving California, the midcontinent region of the United States and Texas natural gas markets. The NGL market outlets includes Lone Star’s liquids pipelines. The Permian Basin Gathering System includes eleven processing facilities (Waha, Coyanosa, Red Bluff, Halley, Jal, Keyston, Tippet, Orla, Panther, Rebel and Arrowhead) with an aggregate processing capacity of 2.02 Bcf/d and one natural gas conditioning facility with aggregate capacity of 200 MMcf/d.
We own a 50% membership interest in Mi Vida JV, a joint venture which owns a 200 MMcf/d cryogenic processing plant in West Texas. We operate the plant and related facilities on behalf of Mi Vida JV.
We own a 50% membership interest in Ranch JV, which processes natural gas delivered from the NGL-rich Bone Spring and Avalon Shale formations in West Texas. The joint venture owns a 25 MMcf/d refrigeration plant and a 125 MMcf/d cryogenic processing plant.
The Midcontinent Systems are located in two large natural gas producing regions in the United States, the Hugoton Basin in southwest Kansas, and the Anadarko Basin in western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle. These mature basins have continued to provide generally long-lived, predictable production volume. Our Midcontinent assets are extensive systems that gather, compress and dehydrate low-pressure gas. The Midcontinent Systems include fourteen natural gas processing facilities (Mocane, Beaver, Antelope Hills, Woodall, Wheeler, Sunray, Hemphill, Phoenix, Hamlin, Spearman, Red Deer, Lefors, Cargray and Gray) with an aggregate capacity of 860 MMcf/d.
We operate our Midcontinent Systems at low pressures to maximize the total throughput volumes from the connected wells. Wellhead pressures are therefore adequate to allow for flow of natural gas into the gathering lines without the cost of wellhead compression.
We also own the Hugoton Gathering System that has 1,900 miles of pipeline extending over nine counties in Kansas and Oklahoma. This system is operated by a third party.
The Eastern Region assets are located in eleven counties in Pennsylvania, four counties in Ohio, three counties in West Virginia, and gather natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica basins. Our Eastern Region assets include approximately 600 miles of natural gas gathering pipeline, natural gas trunklines, fresh-water pipelines, and nine gathering and processing systems, as well as the 200 MMcf/d Revolution processing plant, which feeds into our Mariner East and Rover pipeline systems.
We also own a 51% membership interest in Aqua – ETC Water Solutions LLC, a joint venture that transports and supplies fresh water to natural gas producers drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.
We own a 75% membership interest in ORS. On behalf of ORS, we operate its Ohio Utica River System, which consists of 47 miles of 36-inch, 13 miles of 30-inch and 3 miles of 24-inch gathering trunklines, that delivers up to 3.6 Bcf/d to Rockies Express Pipeline, Texas Eastern Transmission, Leach Xpress, Rover and DEO TPL-18.
NGL and Refined Products Transportation and Services
The following details the assets in our NGL and refined products transportation and services segment:
Description of Assets
Miles of Liquids Pipeline (2)
Pipeline Throughput Capacity
NGL Fractionation / Processing Capacity
Working Storage Capacity
Lone Star Express
West Texas Gateway Pipeline
Other NGL Pipelines
Liquids Fractionation and Services Facilities:
Mont Belvieu Facilities
Sea Robin Processing Plant(1)
Hattiesburg Storage Facilities
Marcus Hook Industrial Complex
Refined Products Pipelines
Refined Products Terminals:
Marcus Hook Industrial Complex
Marcus Hook Tank Farm
Additionally, the Sea Robin Processing Plant and Refinery Services have residue capacities of 850 MMcf/d and 54 MMcf/d, respectively.
Miles of pipeline as reported to PHMSA.
The following information describes our principal NGL and refined products transportation and services assets:
The Lone Star Express System is an interstate NGL pipeline consisting of 24-inch and 30-inch long-haul transportation pipeline that delivers mixed NGLs from processing plants in the Permian Basin, the Barnett Shale, and from East Texas to the Mont Belvieu NGL storage facility. An expansion of the pipeline is currently underway, which will add approximately 400 MBbls/d of NGL pipeline capacity from Lone Star’s pipeline system near Wink, Texas to the Lone Star Express 30-inch pipeline south of Fort Worth, Texas. It is expected to be in service by the fourth quarter of 2020.
The West Texas Gateway Pipeline transports NGLs produced in the Permian and Delaware Basins and the Eagle Ford Shale to Mont Belvieu, Texas.
The Mariner East pipeline transports NGLs from the Marcellus and Utica Shales areas in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Eastern Ohio to destinations in Pennsylvania, including our Marcus Hook Industrial Complex on the Delaware River, where they are processed, stored and distributed to local, domestic and waterborne markets. The first phase of the project, referred to as Mariner East 1, consisted of interstate and intrastate propane and ethane service and commenced operations in the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2016, respectively. The second phase of the project, referred to as Mariner East 2, began service in December 2018.
The Mariner South liquids pipeline delivers export-grade propane and butane products from Lone Star’s Mont Belvieu, Texas storage and fractionation complex to our marine terminal in Nederland, Texas.
The Mariner West pipeline provides transportation of ethane from the Marcellus shale processing and fractionating areas in Houston, Pennsylvania to Marysville, Michigan and the Canadian border.
Refined products pipelines include approximately 2,203 miles of refined products pipelines in several regions of the United States. The pipelines primarily provide transportation in the northeast, midwest, and southwest United States markets. These operations include our controlling financial interest in Inland Corporation (“Inland”). The mix of products delivered varies seasonally, with gasoline demand peaking during the summer months, and demand for heating oil and other distillate fuels peaking in the winter. In addition, weather conditions in the areas served by the refined products pipelines affect both the demand for, and the mix of, the refined products delivered through the pipelines, although historically, any overall impact on the total volume shipped has been short-term. The products transported in these pipelines include multiple grades of gasoline, and middle distillates, such as heating oil, diesel and jet fuel. Rates for shipments on these product pipelines are regulated by the FERC and other state regulatory agencies, as applicable.
Other NGL pipelines include the 127-mile Justice pipeline with capacity of 375 MBbls/d, the 45-mile Freedom pipeline with a capacity of 56 MBbls/d, the 20-mile Spirit pipeline with a capacity of 20 MBbls/d and a 50% interest in the 87-mile Liberty pipeline with a capacity of 140 MBbls/d.
Our Mont Belvieu storage facility is an integrated liquids storage facility with over 46 million Bbls of salt dome capacity providing 100% fee-based cash flows. The Mont Belvieu storage facility has access to multiple NGL and refined products pipelines, the Houston Ship Channel trading hub, and numerous chemical plants, refineries and fractionators.
Our Mont Belvieu fractionators handle NGLs delivered from several sources, including the Lone Star Express pipeline and the Justice pipeline. Fractionator VI was placed in service in February 2019, Fractionator VII is currently under construction and is scheduled to be operational by the first quarter of 2020.
Sea Robin is a rich gas processing plant located on the Sea Robin Pipeline in southern Louisiana. The plant is connected to nine interstate and four intrastate residue pipelines, as well as various deep-water production fields.
Refinery Services consists of a refinery off-gas processing unit and an O-grade NGL fractionation / Refinery-Grade Propylene (“RGP”) splitting complex located along the Mississippi River refinery corridor in southern Louisiana. The off-gas processing unit cryogenically processes refinery off-gas, and the fractionation / RGP splitting complex fractionates the streams into higher value components. The O-grade fractionator and RGP splitting complex, located in Geismar, Louisiana, is connected by approximately 103 miles of pipeline to the Chalmette processing plant, which has a processing capacity of 54 MMcf/d.
The Hattiesburg storage facility is an integrated liquids storage facility with approximately 3 million Bbls of salt dome capacity, providing 100% fee-based cash flows.
The Cedar Bayou storage facility is an integrated liquids storage facility with approximately 1.6 million Bbls of tank storage, generating revenues from fixed fee storage contracts, throughput fees, and revenue from blending butane into refined gasoline.
The Nederland terminal, in addition to crude oil activities, also provides approximately 1 million Bbls of storage and distribution services for NGLs in connection with the Mariner South pipeline, which provides transportation of propane and butane products from the Mont Belvieu region to the Nederland terminal, where such products can be exported via ship.
The Marcus Hook Industrial Complex includes fractionation, terminalling and storage assets, with a capacity of approximately 2 million Bbls of NGL storage capacity in underground caverns, 3 million Bbls of above-ground refrigerated storage, and related commercial agreements. The terminal has a total active refined products storage capacity of approximately 1 million Bbls. The facility can receive NGLs and refined products via marine vessel, pipeline, truck and rail, and can deliver via marine vessel, pipeline and truck. In addition to providing NGL storage and terminalling services to both affiliates and third-party customers, the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex currently serves as an off-take outlet for our Mariner East 1 pipeline system.
The Inkster terminal, located near Detroit, Michigan, consists of multiple salt caverns with a total storage capacity of approximately 800 MBbls of NGLs. We use the Inkster terminal’s storage in connection with the Toledo North pipeline system and for the storage of NGLs from local producers and a refinery in Western Ohio. The terminal can receive and ship by pipeline in both directions and has a truck loading and unloading rack.
We have approximately 35 refined products terminals with an aggregate storage capacity of approximately 8 million Bbls that facilitate the movement of refined products to or from storage or transportation systems, such as a pipeline, to other transportation systems, such as trucks or other pipelines. Each facility typically consists of multiple storage tanks and is equipped with automated truck loading equipment that is operational 24 hours a day.
In addition to crude oil service, the Eagle Point terminal can accommodate three marine vessels (ships or barges) to receive and deliver refined products to outbound ships and barges. The tank farm has a total active refined products storage capacity of approximately 6 million Bbls, and provides customers with access to the facility via ship, barge and pipeline. The terminal can deliver via ship, barge, truck or pipeline, providing customers with access to various markets. The terminal generates revenue primarily by charging fees based on throughput, blending services and storage.
The Marcus Hook Tank Farm has a total refined products storage capacity of approximately 2 million Bbls of refined products storage. The tank farm historically served ETC Sunoco Holdings LLC (“Sunoco Inc.’s”) Marcus Hook refinery and generated revenue from the related throughput and storage. In 2012, the main processing units at the refinery were idled in connection with Sunoco Inc.’s exit from its refining business. The terminal continues to receive and deliver refined products via pipeline and now primarily provides terminalling services to support movements on our refined products pipelines.
The Eastern refined products pipelines consists of approximately 561 miles of 6-inch to 24-inch diameters refined product pipelines in Eastern, Central and North Central Pennsylvania, approximately 162 miles of 8-inch refined products pipeline in western New York and approximately 183 miles of various diameters refined products pipeline in New Jersey (including 80 miles of the 16-inch diameter Harbor Pipeline).
The midcontinent refined products pipelines primarily consists of approximately 294 miles of 3-inch to 12-inch refined products pipelines in Ohio, approximately 85 miles of 6-inch to 12-inch refined products pipeline in Western Pennsylvania and approximately 52 miles of 8-inch refined products pipeline in Michigan.
The Southwest refined products pipelines is located in Eastern Texas and consists primarily of approximately 375 miles of 8-inch diameter refined products pipeline.
The Inland refined products pipeline, approximately 486 miles of pipeline in Ohio, consists of 72 miles of 12-inch diameter refined products pipeline in Northwest Ohio, 135 miles of 10-inch diameter refined products pipeline in vicinity of Columbus, Ohio, 53 miles of 8-inch diameter refined products pipeline in western Ohio and the remaining refined products pipeline primarily consists of 5 and 6-inch diameter pipeline in Northeast Ohio.
This segment also includes the following joint ventures: 15% membership interest in the Explorer Pipeline Company, a 1,850-mile pipeline which originates from refining centers in Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Houston, Texas and extends to Chicago, Illinois; 31% membership interest in the Wolverine Pipe Line Company, a 700-mile pipeline that originates from Chicago, Illinois and extends to Detroit, Grand Haven, and Bay City, Michigan; 17% membership interest in the West Shore Pipe Line Company, a 650-mile pipeline which originates in Chicago, Illinois and extends to Madison and Green Bay, Wisconsin; and a 14% membership interest in the Yellowstone Pipe Line Company, a 700-mile pipeline which originates from Billings, Montana and extends to Moses Lake, Washington.
Crude Oil Transportation and Services
The following details our pipelines and terminals in the crude oil transportation and services segment:
Description of Assets
Miles of Crude Pipeline (1)
Working Storage Capacity
Dakota Access Pipeline
Energy Transfer Crude Oil Pipeline
Bayou Bridge Pipeline
Permian Express Pipelines
Other Crude Oil Pipelines
Fort Mifflin Terminal
Eagle Point Terminal
Marcus Hook Industrial Complex
Patoka, Illinois Terminal
Miles of pipeline as reported to PHMSA.
Our crude oil operations consist of an integrated set of pipeline, terminalling, and acquisition and marketing assets that service the movement of crude oil from producers to end-user markets. The following details our assets in the crude oil transportation and services segment:
Crude Oil Pipelines
Our crude oil pipelines consist of approximately 9,524 miles of crude oil trunk and gathering pipelines in the southwest and midwest United States, including our wholly-owned interests in West Texas Gulf, Permian Express Terminal LLC, and Mid-Valley. Additionally, we have equity ownership interests in two crude oil pipelines. Our crude oil pipelines provide access to several trading hubs, including the largest trading hub for crude oil in the United States located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and other trading hubs located in Midland, Colorado City and Longview, Texas. Our crude oil pipelines also deliver to and connect with other pipelines that deliver crude oil to a number of refineries.
Bakken Pipeline. Dakota Access and ETCO are collectively referred to as the “Bakken Pipeline.” The Bakken Pipeline is a 1,918 mile pipeline with capacity of 570 MBbls/d, that transports domestically produced crude oil from the Bakken/Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to a storage and terminal hub outside of Patoka, Illinois, or to gulf coast connections including our crude terminal in Nederland Texas.
The pipeline transports light, sweet crude oil from North Dakota to major refining markets in the Midwest and Gulf Coast regions.
Dakota Access went into service on June 1, 2017 and consists of approximately 1,158 miles of 12, 20, 24 and 30-inch diameter pipeline traversing North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. Crude oil transported on the Dakota Access originates at six terminal locations in the North Dakota counties of Mountrail, Williams and McKenzie. The pipeline delivers the crude oil to a hub outside of Patoka, Illinois where it can be delivered to the ETCO Pipeline for delivery to the Gulf Coast, or can be transported via other pipelines to refining markets throughout the Midwest.
ETCO went into service on June 1, 2017 and consists of approximately 691 miles of mostly 30-inch converted natural gas pipeline and 69 miles of new 30-inch pipeline from Patoka, Illinois to Nederland, Texas, where the crude oil can be refined or further transported to additional refining markets.
Bayou Bridge Pipeline. The Bayou Bridge Pipeline is a joint venture between ETO and Phillips 66, in which ETO has a 60% ownership interest and serves as the operator of the pipeline. Phase I of the pipeline, which consists of a 30-inch pipeline from Nederland, Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, went into service in April 2016. Phase II of the pipeline, which will consist of 24-inch pipe from Lake Charles, Louisiana to St. James, Louisiana, with commercial operations expected to begin in March 2019.
When completed the Bayou Bridge Pipeline will have a capacity expandable to approximately 480 MBbls/d of light and heavy crude oil from different sources to the St. James crude oil hub, which is home to important refineries located in the Gulf Coast region.
Permian Express Pipelines. The Permian Express pipelines are part of the PEP joint venture and include Permian Express 1, Permian Express 2, Permian Express 3, which became fully operational in September 2018, Permian Longview and Louisiana Access pipelines, as well as the Longview to Louisiana and Nederland Access pipelines contributed to this joint venture by ExxonMobil. These pipelines are comprised of crude oil trunk pipelines and crude oil gathering pipelines in Texas and Oklahoma and provide takeaway capacity from the Permian Basin, which origins in multiple locations in Western Texas.
Other Crude Oil pipelines include the Mid-Valley pipeline system which originates in Longview, Texas and passes through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio and terminates in Samaria, Michigan. This pipeline provides crude oil to a number of refineries, primarily in the Midwest United States.
In addition, we own a crude oil pipeline that runs from Marysville, Michigan to Toledo, Ohio, and a truck injection point for local production at Marysville. This pipeline receives crude oil from the Enbridge pipeline system for delivery to refineries located in Toledo, Ohio and to MPLX’s Samaria, Michigan tank farm, which supplies its Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s refinery in Detroit, Michigan.
We also own and operate crude oil pipeline and gathering systems in Oklahoma. We have the ability to deliver substantially all of the crude oil gathered on our Oklahoma system to Cushing. We are one of the largest purchasers of crude oil from producers in the state, and our crude oil acquisition and marketing activities business is the primary shipper on our Oklahoma crude oil system.
Crude Oil Terminals
Nederland. The Nederland terminal, located on the Sabine-Neches waterway between Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, is a large marine terminal providing storage and distribution services for refiners and other large transporters of crude oil and NGLs. The terminal receives, stores, and distributes crude oil, NGLs, feedstocks, petrochemicals and bunker oils (used for fueling ships and other marine vessels). The terminal currently has a total storage capacity of approximately 28 million Bbls in approximately 150 above ground storage tanks with individual capacities of up to 660 MBbls.
The Nederland terminal can receive crude oil at four of its five ship docks and four barge berths. The four ship docks are capable of receiving over 2 million Bbls/d of crude oil. In addition to our crude oil pipelines, the terminal can also receive crude oil through a number of other pipelines, including the DOE. The DOE pipelines connect the terminal to the United States Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s West Hackberry caverns at Hackberry, Louisiana and Big Hill caverns near Winnie, Texas, which have an aggregate storage capacity of approximately 395 million Bbls.
The Nederland Terminal can deliver crude oil and other petroleum products via pipeline, barge and ship. The terminal has three ship docks and three barge berths that are capable of delivering crude oils for international transport. In total, the terminal is capable of delivering over 2 million Bbls/d of crude oil to our crude oil pipelines or a number of third-party pipelines including the DOE. The Nederland terminal generates crude oil revenues primarily by providing term or spot storage services and throughput capabilities to a number of customers.
Fort Mifflin. The Fort Mifflin terminal complex is located on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and includes the Fort Mifflin terminal, the Hog Island wharf, the Darby Creek tank farm and connecting pipelines. Revenues are generated from the Fort Mifflin terminal complex by charging fees based on throughput.
The Fort Mifflin terminal contains two ship docks with freshwater drafts and a total storage capacity of approximately 570 MBbls. Crude oil and some refined products enter the Fort Mifflin terminal primarily from marine vessels on the Delaware River. One Fort Mifflin dock is designed to handle crude oil from very large crude carrier-class tankers and smaller crude oil vessels. The other dock can accommodate only smaller crude oil vessels.
The Hog Island wharf is located next to the Fort Mifflin terminal on the Delaware River and receives crude oil via two ship docks, one of which can accommodate crude oil tankers and smaller crude oil vessels, and the other of which can accommodate some smaller crude oil vessels.
The Darby Creek tank farm is a primary crude oil storage terminal for the Philadelphia refinery, which is operated by PES under a joint venture with Sunoco, Inc. This facility has a total storage capacity of approximately 3 million Bbls. Darby Creek receives crude oil from the Fort Mifflin terminal and Hog Island wharf via our pipelines. The tank farm then stores the crude oil and transports it to the PES refinery via our pipelines.
Eagle Point. The Eagle Point terminal is located in Westville, New Jersey and consists of docks, truck loading facilities and a tank farm. The docks are located on the Delaware River and can accommodate three marine vessels (ships or barges) to receive and deliver crude oil, intermediate products and refined products to outbound ships and barges. The tank farm has a total active storage capacity of approximately 1 million Bbls and can receive crude oil via barge and rail and deliver via ship and barge, providing customers with access to various markets. The terminal generates revenue primarily by charging fees based on throughput, blending services and storage.
Midland. The Midland terminal is located in Midland, Texas and was acquired in November 2016 from Vitol. The facility includes approximately 2 million Bbls of crude oil storage, a combined 14 lanes of truck loading and unloading, and provides access to the Permian Express 2 transportation system.
Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. The Marcus Hook Industrial Complex can receive crude oil via marine vessel and can deliver via marine vessel and pipeline. The terminal has a total active crude oil storage capacity of approximately 1 million Bbls.
Patoka, Illinois Terminal. The Patoka, Illinois terminal is a tank farm and was contributed by ExxonMobil to the PEP joint venture and is located in Marion County, Illinois. The facility includes 234 acres of owned land and provides for approximately 2 million Bbls of crude oil storage.
Crude Oil Acquisition and Marketing
Our crude oil acquisition and marketing operations are conducted using our assets, which include approximately 370 crude oil transport trucks and approximately 150 crude oil truck unloading facilities, as well as third-party truck, rail and marine assets.
Investment in Sunoco LP
Sunoco LP is a distributor of motor fuels and other petroleum products which Sunoco LP supplies to third-party dealers and distributors, to independent operators of commission agent locations and other commercial consumers of motor fuel. Also included in the wholesale operations are transmix processing plants and refined products terminals. Transmix is the mixture of various refined products (primarily gasoline and diesel) created in the supply chain (primarily in pipelines and terminals) when various products interface with each other. Transmix processing plants separate this mixture and return it to salable products of gasoline and diesel.
Sunoco LP is the exclusive wholesale supplier of the iconic Sunoco-branded motor fuel, supplying an extensive distribution network of approximately 5,293 Sunoco-branded company and third-party operated locations throughout the East Coast, Midwest, South Central and Southeast regions of the United States. Sunoco LP believes it is one of the largest independent motor fuel distributors of Chevron, Exxon and Valero branded motor fuel in the United States. In addition to distributing motor fuels, Sunoco LP also distributes other petroleum products such as propane and lubricating oil, and Sunoco LP receives rental income from real estate that it leases or subleases.
Sunoco LP operations primarily consist of fuel distribution and marketing.
Sunoco LP’s Fuel Distribution and Marketing Operations
Sunoco LP’s fuel distribution and marketing operations are conducted by the following consolidated subsidiaries:
Sunoco, LLC (“Sunoco LLC”), a Delaware limited liability company, primarily distributes motor fuel in 30 states throughout the East Coast, Midwest, South Central and Southeast regions of the United States. Sunoco LLC also processes transmix and distributes refined product through its terminals in Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and New York;
Sunoco Retail LLC (“Sunoco Retail”), a Pennsylvania limited liability company, owns and operates retail stores that sell motor fuel and merchandise primarily in New Jersey;
Aloha Petroleum LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, distributes motor fuel and operates terminal facilities on the Hawaiian Islands; and
Aloha Petroleum, Ltd. (“Aloha”), a Hawaii corporation, owns and operates retail stores on the Hawaiian Islands.
Sunoco LP purchases motor fuel primarily from independent refiners and major oil companies and distributes it across more than 30 states throughout the East Coast, Midwest, South Central and Southeast regions of the United States, as well as Hawaii to approximately:
75 company owned and operated retail stores;
554 independently operated consignment locations where Sunoco LP sells motor fuel to customers under commission agent arrangements with such operators;
6,741 convenience stores and retail fuel outlets operated by independent operators, which are referred to as “dealers” or “distributors,” pursuant to long-term distribution agreements; and
2,714 other commercial customers, including unbranded convenience stores, other fuel distributors, school districts and municipalities and other industrial customers.
Sunoco LP’s Other Operations
Sunoco LP’s other operations include retail operations in Hawaii and New Jersey, credit card services, franchise royalties, as well as an ethanol plant that Sunoco LP recently entered into an agreement to divest.
Investment in USAC
The following details the assets of USAC:
USAC’s modern, standardized compression unit fleet is powered primarily by the Caterpillar, Inc.’s 3400, 3500 and 3600 engine classes, which range from 401 to 5,000 horsepower per unit. These larger horsepower units, which USAC defines as 400 horsepower per unit or greater, represented 85.8% of its total fleet horsepower (including compression units on order) as of December 31, 2018. In addition, a portion of its fleet consists of smaller horsepower units ranging from 40 horsepower to 399 horsepower that are primarily used in gas lift applications.
The following table provides a summary of USAC’s compression units by horsepower as of December 31, 2018:
Number of Units
Horsepower on Order (1)
Number of Units on Order
Total Number of Units
>400 and <1,000
Total large horsepower
As of December 31, 2018, USAC had 131,750 horsepower on order for delivery during 2019.
The following details our assets in the all other segment.
We have a non-controlling interest in PES, currently comprising approximately 8% of PES’ outstanding common shares. PES owns a refinery in Philadelphia.
Contract Services Operations
We own and operate a fleet of equipment used to provide treating services, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide removal, natural gas cooling, dehydration and BTU management. Our contract treating services are primarily located in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.
We own DDT, which provides compression services to customers engaged in the transportation of natural gas, including our subsidiaries in other segments.
Natural Resources Operations
Our Natural Resources operations primarily involve the management and leasing of coal properties and the subsequent collection of royalties. We also earn revenues from other land management activities, such as selling standing timber, leasing fee-based coal-related infrastructure facilities to certain lessees and end-user industrial plants, collecting oil and gas royalties and from coal transportation, or wheelage fees. As of December 31, 2018, we owned or controlled approximately 761 million tons of proven and probable coal reserves in central and northern Appalachia, properties in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia, and in the Illinois Basin, properties in southern Illinois, Indiana, and western Kentucky and as the operator of end-user coal handling facilities.
We believe we have engaged, and will continue to engage, in a well-balanced plan for growth through strategic acquisitions, internally generated expansion, measures aimed at increasing the profitability of our existing assets and executing cost control measures where appropriate to manage our operations.
We intend to continue to operate as a diversified, growth-oriented limited partnership. We believe that by pursuing independent operating and growth strategies we will be best positioned to achieve our objectives. We balance our desire for growth with our goal of preserving a strong balance sheet, ample liquidity and investment grade credit metrics.
Following is a summary of the business strategies of our core businesses:
Growth through acquisitions. We intend to continue to make strategic acquisitions that offer the opportunity for operational efficiencies and the potential for increased utilization and expansion of our existing assets while supporting our investment grade credit ratings.
Engage in construction and expansion opportunities. We intend to leverage our existing infrastructure and customer relationships by constructing and expanding systems to meet new or increased demand for midstream and transportation services.
Increase cash flow from fee-based businesses. We intend to increase the percentage of our business conducted with third parties under fee-based arrangements in order to provide for stable, consistent cash flows over long contract periods while reducing exposure to changes in commodity prices.
Enhance profitability of existing assets. We intend to increase the profitability of our existing asset base by adding new volumes under long-term producer commitments, undertaking additional initiatives to enhance utilization and reducing costs by improving operations.
The business of providing natural gas gathering, compression, treating, transportation, storage and marketing services is highly competitive. Since pipelines are generally the only practical mode of transportation for natural gas over land, the most significant competitors of our transportation and storage segment are other pipelines. Pipelines typically compete with each other based on location, capacity, price and reliability.
We face competition with respect to retaining and obtaining significant natural gas supplies under terms favorable to us for the gathering, treating and marketing portions of our business. Our competitors include major integrated oil and gas companies, interstate and intrastate pipelines and other companies that gather, compress, treat, process, transport and market natural gas. Many of our competitors, such as major oil and gas and pipeline companies, have capital resources and control supplies of natural gas substantially greater than ours.
In marketing natural gas, we have numerous competitors, including marketing affiliates of interstate pipelines, major integrated oil and gas companies, and local and national natural gas gatherers, brokers and marketers of widely varying sizes, financial resources and experience. Local utilities and distributors of natural gas are, in some cases, engaged directly, and through affiliates, in marketing activities that compete with our marketing operations.
In markets served by our NGL pipelines, we face competition with other pipeline companies, including those affiliated with major oil, petrochemical and natural gas companies, and barge, rail and truck fleet operations. In general, our NGL pipelines compete with these entities in terms of transportation fees, reliability and quality of customer service. We face competition with other storage facilities based on fees charged and the ability to receive and distribute the customer’s products. We compete with a
number of NGL fractionators in Texas and Louisiana. Competition for such services is primarily based on the fractionation fee charged.
Crude Oil and Products
In markets served by our products and crude oil pipelines, we face competition from other pipelines as well as rail and truck transportation. Generally, pipelines are the safest, lowest cost method for long-haul, overland movement of products and crude oil. Therefore, the most significant competitors for large volume shipments in the areas served by our pipelines are other pipelines. In addition, pipeline operations face competition from rail and trucks that deliver products in a number of areas that our pipeline operations serve. While their costs may not be competitive for longer hauls or large volume shipments, rail and trucks compete effectively for incremental and marginal volume in many areas served by our pipelines.
With respect to competition from other pipelines, the primary competitive factors consist of transportation charges, access to crude oil supply and market demand. Competitive factors in crude oil purchasing and marketing include price and contract flexibility, quantity and quality of services, and accessibility to end markets.
Our refined product terminals compete with other independent terminals with respect to price, versatility and services provided. The competition primarily comes from integrated petroleum companies, refining and marketing companies, independent terminal companies and distribution companies with marketing and trading operations.
Wholesale Fuel Distribution and Retail Marketing
In our wholesale fuel distribution business, we compete primarily with other independent motor fuel distributors. The markets for distribution of wholesale motor fuel and the large and growing convenience store industry are highly competitive and fragmented, which results in narrow margins. We have numerous competitors, some of which may have significantly greater resources and name recognition than we do. Significant competitive factors include the availability of major brands, customer service, price, range of services offered and quality of service, among others. We rely on our ability to provide value-added and reliable service and to control our operating costs in order to maintain our margins and competitive position.
In our retail business, we face strong competition in the market for the sale of retail gasoline and merchandise. Our competitors include service stations of large integrated oil companies, independent gasoline service stations, convenience stores, fast food stores, supermarkets, drugstores, dollar stores, club stores and other similar retail outlets, some of which are well-recognized national or regional retail systems. The number of competitors varies depending on the geographical area. It also varies with gasoline and convenience store offerings. The principal competitive factors affecting our retail marketing operations include gasoline and diesel acquisition costs, site location, product price, selection and quality, site appearance and cleanliness, hours of operation, store safety, customer loyalty and brand recognition. We compete by pricing gasoline competitively, combining our retail gasoline business with convenience stores that provide a wide variety of products, and using advertising and promotional campaigns.
Credit Risk and Customers
Credit risk refers to the risk that a counterparty may default on its contractual obligations resulting in a loss to the Partnership. Credit policies have been approved and implemented to govern the Partnership’s portfolio of counterparties with the objective of mitigating credit losses. These policies establish guidelines, controls and limits to manage credit risk within approved tolerances by mandating an appropriate evaluation of the financial condition of existing and potential counterparties, monitoring agency credit ratings, and by implementing credit practices that limit exposure according to the risk profiles of the counterparties. Furthermore, the Partnership may, at times, require collateral under certain circumstances to mitigate credit risk as necessary. The Partnership also uses industry standard commercial agreements which allow for the netting of exposures associated with transactions executed under a single commercial agreement. Additionally, we utilize master netting agreements to offset credit exposure across multiple commercial agreements with a single counterparty or affiliated group of counterparties.
The Partnership’s counterparties consist of a diverse portfolio of customers across the energy industry, including petrochemical companies, commercial and industrial end-users, oil and gas producers, municipalities, gas and electric utilities, midstream companies and independent power generators. Our overall exposure may be affected positively or negatively by macroeconomic or regulatory changes that impact our counterparties to one extent or another. Currently, management does not anticipate a material adverse effect in our financial position or results of operations as a consequence of counterparty non-performance.
Our natural gas transportation and midstream revenues are derived significantly from companies that engage in exploration and production activities. The discovery and development of new shale formations across the United States has created an abundance of natural gas and crude oil resulting in a negative impact on prices in recent years for natural gas and crude oil. As a result, some
of our exploration and production customers have been adversely impacted; however, we are monitoring these customers and mitigating credit risk as necessary.
During the year ended December 31, 2018, none of our customers individually accounted for more than 10% of our consolidated revenues.
Regulation of Interstate Natural Gas Pipelines. The FERC has broad regulatory authority over the business and operations of interstate natural gas pipelines. Under the Natural Gas Act (“NGA”), the FERC generally regulates the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce. For FERC regulatory purposes, “transportation” includes natural gas pipeline transmission (forwardhauls and backhauls), storage and other services. The Florida Gas Transmission, Transwestern, Panhandle Eastern, Trunkline Gas, Tiger, Fayetteville Express, Rover, Sea Robin, Gulf States and Midcontinent Express pipelines transport natural gas in interstate commerce and thus each qualifies as a “natural-gas company” under the NGA subject to the FERC’s regulatory jurisdiction. We also hold certain natural gas storage facilities that are subject to the FERC’s regulatory oversight under the NGA.
The FERC’s NGA authority includes the power to:
approve the siting, construction and operation of new facilities;
review and approve transportation rates;
determine the types of services our regulated assets are permitted to perform;
regulate the terms and conditions associated with these services;
permit the extension or abandonment of services and facilities;
require the maintenance of accounts and records; and
authorize the acquisition and disposition of facilities.
Under the NGA, interstate natural gas companies must charge rates that are just and reasonable. In addition, the NGA prohibits natural gas companies from unduly preferring or unreasonably discriminating against any person with respect to pipeline rates or terms and conditions of service.
The maximum rates to be charged by NGA-jurisdictional natural gas companies and their terms and conditions for service are required to be on file with the FERC. Most natural gas companies are authorized to offer discounts from their FERC-approved maximum just and reasonable rates when competition warrants such discounts. Natural gas companies are also generally permitted to offer negotiated rates different from rates established in their tariff if, among other requirements, such companies’ tariffs offer a cost-based recourse rate to a prospective shipper as an alternative to the negotiated rate. Natural gas companies must make offers of rate discounts and negotiated rates on a basis that is not unduly discriminatory. Existing tariff rates may be challenged by complaint or on the FERC’s own motion, and if found unjust and unreasonable, may be altered on a prospective basis from no earlier than the date of the complaint or initiation of a proceeding by the FERC. The FERC must also approve all rate changes. We cannot guarantee that the FERC will allow us to charge rates that fully recover our costs or continue to pursue its approach of pro-competitive policies.
For two of our NGA-jurisdictional natural gas companies, Tiger and Fayetteville Express, the large majority of capacity in those pipelines is subscribed for lengthy terms under FERC-approved negotiated rates. However, as indicated above, cost-based recourse rates are also offered under their respective tariffs.
Pursuant to the FERC’s rules promulgated under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it is unlawful for any entity, directly or indirectly, in connection with the purchase or sale of electric energy or natural gas or the purchase or sale of transmission or transportation services subject to FERC jurisdiction: (i) to defraud using any device, scheme or artifice; (ii) to make any untrue statement of material fact or omit a material fact; or (iii) to engage in any act, practice or course of business that operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) also holds authority to monitor certain segments of the physical and futures energy commodities market pursuant to the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”). With regard to our physical purchases and sales of natural gas, NGLs or other energy commodities; our transportation of these energy commodities; and any related hedging activities that we undertake, we are required to observe these anti-market manipulation laws and related regulations enforced by the FERC and/or the CFTC. These agencies hold substantial enforcement authority, including the ability to assess or seek civil penalties in excess of $1.1 million per day per violation, to order disgorgement of profits and to recommend criminal penalties. Should we violate the anti-market manipulation laws and regulations, we could also be subject to related third-party damage claims by, among others, sellers, royalty owners and taxing authorities.
Failure to comply with the NGA, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the CEA and the other federal laws and regulations governing our operations and business activities can result in the imposition of administrative, civil and criminal remedies.
Regulation of Intrastate Natural Gas and NGL Pipelines. Intrastate transportation of natural gas and NGLs is largely regulated by the state in which such transportation takes place. To the extent that our intrastate natural gas transportation systems transport natural gas in interstate commerce, the rates and terms and conditions of such services are subject to FERC jurisdiction under Section 311 of the Natural Gas Policy Act (“NGPA”). The NGPA regulates, among other things, the provision of transportation services by an intrastate natural gas pipeline on behalf of a local distribution company or an interstate natural gas pipeline. The rates and terms and conditions of some transportation and storage services provided on the Oasis pipeline, HPL System, East Texas pipeline, ET Fuel System, Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail are subject to FERC regulation pursuant to Section 311 of the NGPA. Under Section 311, rates charged for intrastate transportation must be fair and equitable, and amounts collected in excess of fair and equitable rates are subject to refund with interest. The terms and conditions of service set forth in the intrastate facility’s statement of operating conditions are also subject to FERC review and approval. Should the FERC determine not to authorize rates equal to or greater than our currently approved Section 311 rates, our business may be adversely affected. Failure to observe the service limitations applicable to transportation and storage services under Section 311, failure to comply with the rates approved by the FERC for Section 311 service, and failure to comply with the terms and conditions of service established in the pipeline’s FERC-approved statement of operating conditions could result in an alteration of jurisdictional status, and/or the imposition of administrative, civil and criminal remedies.
Our intrastate natural gas operations are also subject to regulation by various agencies in Texas, principally the TRRC. Our intrastate pipeline and storage operations in Texas are also subject to the Texas Utilities Code, as implemented by the TRRC. Generally, the TRRC is vested with authority to ensure that rates, operations and services of gas utilities, including intrastate pipelines, are just and reasonable and not discriminatory. The rates we charge for transportation services are deemed just and reasonable under Texas law unless challenged in a customer or TRRC complaint. We cannot predict whether such a complaint will be filed against us or whether the TRRC will change its regulation of these rates. Failure to comply with the Texas Utilities Code can result in the imposition of administrative, civil and criminal remedies.
Our NGL pipelines and operations are subject to state statutes and regulations which could impose additional environmental, safety and operational requirements relating to the design, siting, installation, testing, construction, operation, replacement and management of NGL transportation systems. In some jurisdictions, state public utility commission oversight may include the possibility of fines, penalties and delays in construction related to these regulations. In addition, the rates, terms and conditions of service for shipments of NGLs on our pipelines are subject to regulation by FERC under the Interstate Commerce Act ("ICA") and the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (the "EPAct of 1992") if the NGLs are transported in interstate or foreign commerce whether by our pipelines or other means of transportation. Since we do not control the entire transportation path of all NGLs shipped on our pipelines, FERC regulation could be triggered by our customers' transportation decisions.
Regulation of Sales of Natural Gas and NGLs. The price at which we buy and sell natural gas currently is not subject to federal regulation and, for the most part, is not subject to state regulation. The price at which we sell NGLs is not subject to federal or state regulation.
To the extent that we enter into transportation contracts with natural gas pipelines that are subject to FERC regulation, we are subject to FERC requirements related to the use of such capacity. Any failure on our part to comply with the FERC’s regulations and policies, or with an interstate pipeline’s tariff, could result in the imposition of civil and criminal penalties.
Our sales of natural gas are affected by the availability, terms and cost of pipeline transportation. As noted above, the price and terms of access to pipeline transportation are subject to extensive federal and state regulation. The FERC is continually proposing and implementing new rules and regulations affecting those segments of the natural gas industry. These initiatives also may affect the intrastate transportation of natural gas under certain circumstances. The stated purpose of many of these regulatory changes is to promote competition among the various sectors of the natural gas industry and these initiatives generally reflect more light-handed regulation. We cannot predict the ultimate impact of these regulatory changes to our natural gas marketing operations, and we note that some of the FERC’s regulatory changes may adversely affect the availability and reliability of interruptible transportation service on interstate pipelines. We do not believe that we will be affected by any such FERC action in a manner that is materially different from other natural gas marketers with whom we compete.
Regulation of Gathering Pipelines. Section 1(b) of the NGA exempts natural gas gathering facilities from the jurisdiction of the FERC under the NGA. We own a number of natural gas pipelines in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia that we believe meet the traditional tests the FERC uses to establish a pipeline’s status as a gathering pipeline not subject to FERC jurisdiction. However, the distinction between FERC-regulated transmission services and federally unregulated gathering services has been the subject of substantial litigation and varying interpretations, so the classification and regulation of our gathering facilities could be subject to change based on future determinations by the FERC, the courts and Congress. State regulation of gathering facilities generally includes various safety, environmental and, in some circumstances, nondiscriminatory take requirements and complaint-based rate regulation.
In Texas, our gathering facilities are subject to regulation by the TRRC under the Texas Utilities Code in the same manner as described above for our intrastate pipeline facilities. Louisiana’s Pipeline Operations Section of the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation is generally responsible for regulating intrastate pipelines and gathering facilities in Louisiana and has authority to review and authorize natural gas transportation transactions and the construction, acquisition, abandonment and interconnection of physical facilities.
Historically, apart from pipeline safety, Louisiana has not acted to exercise this jurisdiction respecting gathering facilities. In Louisiana, our Chalkley System is regulated as an intrastate transporter, and the Louisiana Office of Conservation has determined that our Whiskey Bay System is a gathering system.
We are subject to state ratable take and common purchaser statutes in all of the states in which we operate. The ratable take statutes generally require gatherers to take, without undue discrimination, natural gas production that may be tendered to the gatherer for handling. Similarly, common purchaser statutes generally require gatherers to purchase without undue discrimination as to source of supply or producer. These statutes are designed to prohibit discrimination in favor of one producer over another producer or one source of supply over another source of supply. These statutes have the effect of restricting the right of an owner of gathering facilities to decide with whom it contracts to purchase or transport natural gas.
Natural gas gathering may receive greater regulatory scrutiny at both the state and federal levels. For example, the TRRC has approved changes to its regulations governing transportation and gathering services performed by intrastate pipelines and gatherers, which prohibit such entities from unduly discriminating in favor of their affiliates. Many of the producing states have adopted some form of complaint-based regulation that generally allows natural gas producers and shippers to file complaints with state regulators in an effort to resolve grievances relating to natural gas gathering access and rate discrimination allegations. Our gathering operations could be adversely affected should they be subject in the future to the application of additional or different state or federal regulation of rates and services. Our gathering operations also may be or become subject to safety and operational regulations relating to the design, installation, testing, construction, operation, replacement and management of gathering facilities. Additional rules and legislation pertaining to these matters are considered or adopted from time to time. We cannot predict what effect, if any, such changes might have on our operations, but the industry could be required to incur additional capital expenditures and increased costs depending on future legislative and regulatory changes.
Regulation of Interstate Crude Oil, NGL and Products Pipelines. Interstate common carrier pipeline operations are subject to rate regulation by the FERC under the ICA, the EPAct of 1992, and related rules and orders. The ICA requires that tariff rates for petroleum pipelines be “just and reasonable” and not unduly discriminatory and that such rates and terms and conditions of service be filed with the FERC. This statute also permits interested persons to challenge proposed new or changed rates. The FERC is authorized to suspend the effectiveness of such rates for up to seven months, though rates are typically not suspended for the maximum allowable period. If the FERC finds that the new or changed rate is unlawful, it may require the carrier to pay refunds for the period that the rate was in effect. The FERC also may investigate, upon complaint or on its own motion, rates that are already in effect and may order a carrier to change its rates prospectively. Upon an appropriate showing, a shipper may obtain reparations for damages sustained for a period of up to two years prior to the filing of a complaint.
The FERC generally has not investigated interstate rates on its own initiative when those rates, like those we charge, have not been the subject of a protest or a complaint by a shipper. However, the FERC could investigate our rates at the urging of a third party if the third party is either a current shipper or has a substantial economic interest in the tariff rate level. Although no assurance can be given that the tariff rates charged by us ultimately will be upheld if challenged, management believes that the tariff rates now in effect for our pipelines are within the maximum rates allowed under current FERC policies and precedents.
For many locations served by our product and crude pipelines, we are able to establish negotiated rates. Otherwise, we are permitted to charge cost-based rates, or in many cases, grandfathered rates based on historical charges or settlements with our customers. To the extent we rely on cost-of-service ratemaking to establish or support our rates, the issue of the proper allowance for federal and state income taxes could arise. In 2005, FERC issued a policy statement stating that it would permit common carriers, among others, to include an income tax allowance in cost-of-service rates to reflect actual or potential tax liability attributable to a regulated entity’s operating income, regardless of the form of ownership. Under FERC’s policy, a tax pass-through entity seeking such an income tax allowance must establish that its partners or members have an actual or potential income tax liability on the regulated entity’s income. Whether a pipeline’s owners have such actual or potential income tax liability is subject to review by FERC on a case-by-case basis. Although this policy is generally favorable for common carriers that are organized as pass-through entities, it still entails rate risk due to the FERC’s case-by-case review approach. The application of this policy, as well as any decision by FERC regarding our cost of service, may also be subject to review in the courts. In July 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion in United Airlines, Inc., et al. v. FERC, finding that FERC had acted arbitrarily and capriciously when it failed to demonstrate that permitting an interstate petroleum products pipeline organized as a master limited partnership, or MLP, to include an income tax allowance in the cost of service underlying its rates, in addition to the discounted cash flow return on equity, would not result in the pipeline partnership owners double recovering their income
taxes. The court vacated FERC’s order and remanded to FERC to consider mechanisms for demonstrating that there is no double recovery as a result of the income tax allowance. In December 2016, FERC issued a Notice of Inquiry Regarding the Commission’s Policy for Recovery of Income Tax Costs. FERC requested comments regarding how to address any double recovery resulting from the Commission’s current income tax allowance and rate of return policies. The comment period with respect to the notice of inquiry ended in April 2017.
In March 2018, FERC issued a Revised Policy Statement on Treatment of Income Taxes in which FERC found that an impermissible double recovery results from granting an MLP pipeline both an income tax allowance and a return on equity pursuant to FERC’s discounted cash flow methodology. FERC revised its previous policy, stating that it would no longer permit an MLP pipeline to recover an income tax allowance in its cost of service. FERC stated it will address the application of the United Airlines decision to non-MLP partnership forms as those issues arise in subsequent proceedings. Further, FERC stated that it will incorporate the effects of the post-United Airlines policy changes and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on industry-wide crude oil pipeline costs in the 2020 five-year review of the crude oil pipeline index level. FERC will also apply the revised Policy Statement and the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to initial crude oil pipeline cost-of-service rates and cost-of-service rate changes on a going-forward basis under FERC’s existing ratemaking policies, including cost-of-service rate proceedings resulting from shipper-initiated complaints. In July 2018, FERC dismissed requests for rehearing and clarification of the March 2018 Revised Policy Statement, but provided further guidance, clarifying that a pass-through entity will not be precluded in a future proceeding from arguing and providing evidentiary support that it is entitled to an income tax allowance and demonstrating that its recovery of an income tax allowance does not result in a double recovery of investors’ income tax costs.
Effective January 2018, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changed several provisions of the federal tax code, including a reduction in the maximum corporate tax rate. With the lower tax rate, and as discussed immediately above, the maximum tariff rates allowed by FERC under its rate base methodology for master limited partnerships may be impacted by a lower income tax allowance component. Many of our interstate pipelines, such as Tiger, MEP and FEP, have negotiated market rates that were agreed to by customers in connection with long-term contracts entered into to support the construction of the pipelines. Other systems, such as FGT, Transwestern and PEPL, have a mix of tariff rate, discount rate, and negotiated rate agreements. In addition, several of these pipelines are covered by approved settlements, where rate filings will be made in the future. As such, the timing and impact of these systems of any tax change is unknown at this time.
EPAct of 1992 required FERC to establish a simplified and generally applicable methodology to adjust tariff rates for inflation for interstate petroleum pipelines. As a result, FERC adopted an indexing rate methodology which, as currently in effect, allows common carriers to change their rates within prescribed ceiling levels that are tied to changes in the Producer Price Index for Finished Goods, or PPIFG. FERC’s indexing methodology is subject to review every five years. During the five-year period commencing July 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2016, common carriers charging indexed rates are permitted to adjust their indexed ceilings annually by PPIFG plus 2.65%. Beginning July 1, 2016, the indexing method provided for annual changes equal to the change in PPIFG plus 1.23%. The indexing methodology is applicable to existing rates, including grandfathered rates, with the exclusion of market-based rates. A pipeline is not required to raise its rates up to the index ceiling, but it is permitted to do so and rate increases made under the index are presumed to be just and reasonable unless a protesting party can demonstrate that the portion of the rate increase resulting from application of the index is substantially in excess of the pipeline’s increase in costs. Under the indexing rate methodology, in any year in which the index is negative, pipelines must file to lower their rates if those rates would otherwise be above the rate ceiling. In October 2016, FERC issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on a number of proposals, including: (1) whether the Commission should deny any increase in a rate ceiling or annual index-based rate increase if a pipeline’s revenues exceed total costs by 15% for the prior two years; (2) a new percentage comparison test that would deny a proposed increase to a pipeline’s rate or ceiling level greater than 5% above the barrel-mile cost changes; and (3) a requirement that all pipelines file indexed ceiling levels annually, with the ceiling levels subject to challenge and restricting the pipeline’s ability to carry forward the full indexed increase to a future period. The comment period with respect to the proposed rules ended in March 2017. FERC has taken no further action on the proposed rule to date.
Finally, in November 2017 FERC responded to a petition for declaratory order and issued an order that may have significant impacts on the way a marketer of crude oil or petroleum products that is affiliated with an interstate pipeline can price its services if those services include transportation on an affiliate’s interstate pipeline. In particular, FERC’s November 2017 order prohibits buy/sell arrangements by a marketing affiliate if: (i) the transportation differential applicable to its affiliate’s interstate pipeline transportation service is at a discount to the affiliated pipeline’s filed rate for that service; and (ii) the pipeline affiliate subsidizes the loss. Several parties have requested that FERC clarify its November 2017 order or, in the alternative, grant rehearing of the November 2017 order. FERC extended the time frame to respond to such requests in January 2018, but has not yet taken final action. We are unable to predict how FERC will respond to such requests. Depending on how FERC responds, it could have an impact on the rates we are permitted to charge.
Regulation of Intrastate Crude Oil, NGL and Products Pipelines. Some of our crude oil, NGL and products pipelines are subject to regulation by the TRRC, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The
operations of our joint venture interests are also subject to regulation in the states in which they operate. The applicable state statutes require that pipeline rates be nondiscriminatory and provide no more than a fair return on the aggregate value of the pipeline property used to render services. State commissions generally have not initiated an investigation of rates or practices of petroleum pipelines in the absence of shipper complaints. Complaints to state agencies have been infrequent and are usually resolved informally. Although management cannot be certain that our intrastate rates ultimately would be upheld if challenged, we believe that, given this history, the tariffs now in effect are not likely to be challenged or, if challenged, are not likely to be ordered to be reduced.
In addition, as noted above, the rates, terms and conditions for shipments of crude oil, NGLs or products on our pipelines could be subject to regulation by FERC under the ICA and the EPAct of 1992 if the crude oil, NGLs or products are transported in interstate or foreign commerce whether by our pipelines or other means of transportation. Since we do not control the entire transportation path of all crude oil, NGLs or products shipped on our pipelines, FERC regulation could be triggered by our customers’ transportation decisions.
Regulation of Pipeline Safety. Our pipeline operations are subject to regulation by the DOT, through the PHMSA, pursuant to the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, as amended (“NGPSA”), with respect to natural gas and the Hazardous Liquids Pipeline Safety Act of 1979, as amended (“HLPSA”), with respect to crude oil, NGLs and condensates. The NGPSA and HLPSA, as amended, govern the design, installation, testing, construction, operation, replacement and management of natural gas as well as crude oil, NGL and condensate pipeline facilities. Pursuant to these acts, PHMSA has promulgated regulations governing pipeline wall thickness, design pressures, maximum operating pressures, pipeline patrols and leak surveys, minimum depth requirements, and emergency procedures, as well as other matters intended to ensure adequate protection for the public and to prevent accidents and failures. Additionally, PHMSA has established a series of rules requiring pipeline operators to develop and implement integrity management programs for certain gas and hazardous liquid pipelines that, in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture, could affect high consequence areas (“HCAs”), which are areas where a release could have the most significant adverse consequences, including high population areas, certain drinking water sources and unusually sensitive ecological areas. Failure to comply with the pipeline safety laws and regulations may result in the assessment of sanctions, including administrative, civil or criminal penalties, the imposition of investigatory, remedial or corrective action obligations, the occurrence of delays in permitting or the performance of projects, or the issuance of injunctions limiting or prohibiting some or all of our operations in the affected area.
The HLPSA and NGPSA have been amended by the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (“2011 Pipeline Safety Act”) and the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016 (“2016 Pipeline Safety Act”). The 2011 Pipeline Safety Act increased the penalties for safety violations, established additional safety requirements for newly constructed pipelines and required studies of safety issues that could result in the adoption of new regulatory requirements by PHMSA for existing pipelines. The 2011 Pipeline Safety Act doubled the maximum administrative fines for safety violations from $100,000 to $200,000 for a single violation and from $1 million to $2 million for a related series of violations, but provided that these maximum penalty caps do not apply to certain civil enforcement actions. In November 2018, PHMSA issued a final rule increasing those maximum civil penalties to $213,268 per day, with a maximum of $2,132,679 for a series of violations. The 2016 Pipeline Safety Act extended PHMSA’s statutory mandate through 2019 and, among other things, require PHMSA to complete certain of its outstanding mandates under the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act and develop new safety standards for natural gas storage facilities, which is expected to be finalized in 2019. The 2016 Pipeline Safety Act also empowers PHMSA to address imminent hazards by imposing emergency restrictions, prohibitions and safety measures on owners and operators of hazardous liquid or natural gas pipeline facilities without prior notice or an opportunity for a hearing. PHMSA issued interim regulations in October 2016 to implement the agency’s expanded authority to address unsafe pipeline conditions or practices that pose an imminent hazard to life, property, or the environment.
In addition, states have adopted regulations, similar to existing PHMSA regulations, for intrastate gathering and transmission lines. The states in which we conduct operations typically have developed regulatory programs that parallel the federal regulatory scheme and are applicable to intrastate pipelines. Under such state regulatory programs, states have the authority to conduct pipeline inspections, to investigate accidents and to oversee compliance and enforcement, safety programs and record maintenance and reporting. Congress, PHMSA and individual states may pass or implement additional safety requirements that could result in increased compliance costs for us and other companies in our industry. For example, federal construction, maintenance and inspection standards under the NGPSA that apply to pipelines in relatively populated areas may not apply to gathering lines running through rural regions. This “rural gathering exemption” under the NGPSA presently exempts substantial portions of our gathering facilities located outside of cities, towns or any area designated as residential or commercial from jurisdiction under the NGPSA, but does not apply to our intrastate natural gas pipelines. In recent years, the PHMSA has considered changes to this rural gathering exemption, including publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking relating to gas pipelines in 2011, in which the agency sought public comment on possible changes to the definition of “high consequence areas” and “gathering lines” and the strengthening of pipeline integrity management requirements. In April 2016, pursuant to one of the requirements of the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act, PHMSA published a proposed rulemaking that, among other things, would expand certain of PHMSA’s current
regulatory safety programs for natural gas pipelines in newly defined “moderate consequence areas” that contain as few as 5 dwellings within a potential impact area; require natural gas pipelines installed before 1970 and thus excluded from certain pressure testing obligations to be tested to determine their maximum allowable operating pressures (“MAOP”); and require certain onshore and offshore gathering lines in Class I areas to comply with damage prevention, corrosion control, public education, MAOP limits, line markers and emergency planning standards. Additional requirements proposed by this proposed rulemaking would increase PHMSA’s integrity management requirements for natural gas pipelines and also require consideration of seismicity in evaluating threats to pipelines. PHMSA has not yet finalized the March 2016 proposed rulemaking, but is expected to do so in 2019.
In January 2017, PHMSA issued a final rule amending federal safety standards for hazardous liquid pipelines. The final rule is the latest step in a lengthy rulemaking process that began in 2010 with a request for comments and continued with publication of a rulemaking proposal in October 2015. The general effective date of this final rule is six months from publication in the Federal Register, but it is currently subject to further administrative review in connection with the transition of Presidential administrations and thus, implementation of this final rule remains uncertain. The final rule addresses several areas including reporting requirements for gravity and unregulated gathering lines, inspections after weather or climatic events, leak detection system requirements, revisions to repair criteria and other integrity management revisions. In addition, PHMSA issued regulations on January 23, 2017, on operator qualification, cost recovery, accident and incident notification and other pipeline safety changes that are now effective. These regulations are also subject, however, to potential further review in connection with the transition of Presidential administrations. A final rulemaking is expected in 2019. Historically, our pipeline safety costs have not had a material adverse effect on our business or results of operations but there is no assurance that such costs will not be material in the future, whether due to elimination of the rural gathering exemption or otherwise due to changes in pipeline safety laws and regulations.
In another example of how future legal requirements could result in increased compliance costs, notwithstanding the applicability of the federal OSHA’s Process Safety Management (“PSM”) regulations and the EPA’s Risk Management Planning (“RMP”) requirements at regulated facilities, PHMSA and one or more state regulators, including the TRRC, have in recent years, expanded the scope of their regulatory inspections to include certain in-plant equipment and pipelines found within NGL fractionation facilities and associated storage facilities, in order to assess compliance of such equipment and pipelines with hazardous liquid pipeline safety requirements. To the extent that these actions are pursued by PHMSA, midstream operators of NGL fractionation facilities and associated storage facilities subject to such inspection may be required to make operational changes or modifications at their facilities to meet standards beyond current PSM and RMP requirements, which changes or modifications may result in additional capital costs, possible operational delays and increased costs of operation that, in some instances, may be significant.
General. Our operation of processing plants, pipelines and associated facilities, including compression, in connection with the gathering, processing, storage and transmission of natural gas and the storage and transportation of NGLs, crude oil and refined products is subject to stringent federal, tribal, state and local laws and regulations, including those governing, among other things, air emissions, wastewater discharges, the use, management and disposal of hazardous and nonhazardous materials and wastes, and the cleanup of contamination. Noncompliance with such laws and regulations, or incidents resulting in environmental releases, could cause us to incur substantial costs, penalties, fines and criminal sanctions, third-party claims for personal injury or property damage, capital expenditures to retrofit or upgrade our facilities and programs, or curtailment or cancellation of permits on operations. As with the industry generally, compliance with existing and anticipated environmental laws and regulations increases our overall cost of doing business, including our cost of planning, permitting, constructing and operating our plants, pipelines and other facilities. As a result of these laws and regulations, our construction and operation costs include capital, operating and maintenance cost items necessary to maintain or upgrade our equipment and facilities.
We have implemented procedures designed to ensure that governmental environmental approvals for both existing operations and those under construction are updated as circumstances require. Historically, our environmental compliance costs have not had a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition; however, there can be no assurance that such costs will not be material in the future. For example, we cannot be certain, however, that identification of presently unidentified conditions, more rigorous enforcement by regulatory agencies, enactment of more stringent environmental laws and regulations or unanticipated events will not arise in the future and give rise to environmental liabilities that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.
Hazardous Substances and Waste Materials. To a large extent, the environmental laws and regulations affecting our operations relate to the release of hazardous substances and waste materials into soils, groundwater and surface water and include measures to prevent, minimize or remediate contamination of the environment. These laws and regulations generally regulate the generation, storage, treatment, transportation and disposal of hazardous substances and waste materials and may require investigatory and remedial actions at sites where such material has been released or disposed. For example, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, as amended, (“CERCLA”), also known as the “Superfund” law, and comparable state laws, impose liability without regard to fault or the legality of the original conduct on certain classes of persons that contributed
to a release of a “hazardous substance” into the environment. These persons include the owner and operator of the site where a release occurred and companies that disposed or arranged for the disposal of the hazardous substance that has been released into the environment. Under CERCLA, these persons may be subject to strict, joint and several liability, without regard to fault, for, among other things, the costs of investigating and remediating the hazardous substances that have been released into the environment, for damages to natural resources and for the costs of certain health studies. CERCLA and comparable state law also authorize the federal EPA, its state counterparts, and, in some instances, third parties to take actions in response to threats to the public health or the environment and to seek to recover from the responsible classes of persons the costs they incur. It is not uncommon for neighboring landowners and other third parties to file claims for personal injury and property damage allegedly caused by hazardous substances or other pollutants released into the environment. Although “petroleum” as well as natural gas and NGLs are excluded from CERCLA’s definition of a “hazardous substance,” in the course of our ordinary operations we generate wastes that may fall within that definition or that may be subject to other waste disposal laws and regulations. We may be responsible under CERCLA or state laws for all or part of the costs required to clean up sites at which such substances or wastes have been disposed.
We also generate both hazardous and nonhazardous wastes that are subject to requirements of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as amended, (“RCRA”) and comparable state statutes. We are not currently required to comply with a substantial portion of the RCRA hazardous waste requirements at many of our facilities because the minimal quantities of hazardous wastes generated there make us subject to less stringent non-hazardous management standards. From time to time, the EPA has considered or third parties have petitioned the agency on the adoption of stricter handling, storage and disposal standards for nonhazardous wastes, including certain wastes associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas. For example, following the filing of a lawsuit by several non-governmental environmental groups against the EPA for the agency’s failure to timely assess its RCRA Subtitle D criteria regulations for oil and gas wastes, EPA and the environmental groups entered into an agreement that was finalized in a consent decree issued by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on December 28, 2016. Under the decree, the EPA is required to propose no later than March 15, 2019, a rulemaking for revision of certain Subtitle D criteria regulations pertaining to oil and gas wastes or sign a determination that revision of the regulations is not necessary. If EPA proposes a rulemaking for revised oil and gas waste regulations, the Consent Decree requires that the EPA take final action following notice and comment rulemaking no later than July 15, 2021. It is possible that some wastes generated by us that are currently classified as nonhazardous may in the future be designated as “hazardous wastes,” resulting in the wastes being subject to more rigorous and costly disposal requirements, or that the full complement of RCRA standards could be applied to facilities that generate lesser amounts of hazardous waste. Changes such as these examples in applicable regulations may result in a material increase in our capital expenditures or plant operating and maintenance expense and, in the case of our oil and natural gas exploration and production customers, could result in increased operating costs for those customers and a corresponding decrease in demand for our processing, transportation and storage services.
We currently own or lease sites that have been used over the years by prior owners and lessees and by us for various activities related to gathering, processing, storage and transmission of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and refined products. Waste disposal practices within the oil and gas industry have improved over the years with the passage and implementation of various environmental laws and regulations. Nevertheless, some hydrocarbons and wastes have been disposed of or otherwise released on or under various sites during the operating history of those facilities that are now owned or leased by us. Notwithstanding the possibility that these releases may have occurred during the ownership or operation of these assets by others, these sites may be subject to CERCLA, RCRA and comparable state laws. Under these laws, we could be required to remove or remediate previously disposed wastes (including wastes disposed of or released by prior owners or operators) or contamination (including soil and groundwater contamination) or to prevent the migration of contamination.
As of December 31, 2018 and 2017, accruals of $337 million and $372 million, respectively, were recorded in our consolidated balance sheets as accrued and other current liabilities and other non-current liabilities to cover estimated material environmental liabilities including, for example, certain matters assumed in connection with our acquisition of the HPL System, our acquisition of Transwestern, potential environmental liabilities for three sites that were formerly owned by Titan Energy Partners, L.P. or its predecessors, and the predecessor owner’s share of certain environmental liabilities of ETC OLP.
The Partnership is subject to extensive and frequently changing federal, tribal, state and local laws and regulations, including those relating to the discharge of materials into the environment or that otherwise relate to the protection of the environment, waste management and the characteristics and composition of fuels. These laws and regulations require environmental assessment and remediation efforts at many of Sunoco, Inc.’s facilities and at formerly owned or third-party sites. Accruals for these environmental remediation activities amounted to $263 million and $284 million at December 31, 2018 and 2017, respectively, which is included in the total accruals above. These legacy sites that are subject to environmental assessments include formerly owned terminals and other logistics assets, retail sites that are no longer operated by Sunoco, Inc., closed and/or sold refineries and other formerly owned sites. In December 2013, a wholly-owned captive insurance company was established for these legacy sites that are no longer operating. The premiums paid to the captive insurance company include estimates for environmental claims that have been incurred but not reported, based on an actuarially determined fully developed claims expense estimate. In such cases, we accrue
losses attributable to unasserted claims based on the discounted estimates that are used to develop the premiums paid to the captive insurance company. As of December 31, 2018, the captive insurance company held $183 million of cash and investments.
The Partnership’s accrual for environmental remediation activities reflects anticipated work at identified sites where an assessment has indicated that cleanup costs are probable and reasonably estimable. The accrual for known claims is undiscounted and is based on currently available information, estimated timing of remedial actions and related inflation assumptions, existing technology and presently enacted laws and regulations. It is often extremely difficult to develop reasonable estimates of future site remediation costs due to changing regulations, changing technologies and their associated costs, and changes in the economic environment. Engineering studies, historical experience and other factors are used to identify and evaluate remediation alternatives and their related costs in determining the estimated accruals for environmental remediation activities.
Under various environmental laws, including the RCRA, the Partnership has initiated corrective remedial action at certain of its facilities, formerly owned facilities and at certain third-party sites. At the Partnership’s major manufacturing facilities, we have typically assumed continued industrial use and a containment/remediation strategy focused on eliminating unacceptable risks to human health or the environment. The remediation accruals for these sites reflect that strategy. Accruals include amounts designed to prevent or mitigate off-site migration and to contain the impact on the facility property, as well as to address known, discrete areas requiring remediation within the plants. Remedial activities include, for example, closure of RCRA waste management units, recovery of hydrocarbons, handling of impacted soil, mitigation of surface water impacts and prevention or mitigation of off-site migration. A change in this approach as a result of changing the intended use of a property or a sale to a third party could result in a comparatively higher cost remediation strategy in the future.
In general, a remediation site or issue is typically evaluated on an individual basis based upon information available for the site or issue and no pooling or statistical analysis is used to evaluate an aggregate risk for a group of similar items (for example, service station sites) in determining the amount of probable loss accrual to be recorded. The estimates of environmental remediation costs also frequently involve evaluation of a range of estimates. In many cases, it is difficult to determine that one point in the range of loss estimates is more likely than any other. In these situations, existing accounting guidance allows us the minimum amount of the range to accrue. Accordingly, the low end of the range often represents the amount of loss which has been recorded. The Partnership’s consolidated balance sheet reflected $337 million in environmental accruals as of December 31, 2018.
In summary, total future costs for environmental remediation activities will depend upon, among other things, the identification of any additional sites, the determination of the extent of the contamination at each site, the timing and nature of required remedial actions, the nature of operations at each site, the technology available and needed to meet the various existing legal requirements, the nature and terms of cost-sharing arrangements with other potentially responsible parties, the availability of insurance coverage, the nature and extent of future environmental laws and regulations, inflation rates, terms of consent agreements or remediation permits with regulatory agencies and the determination of the Partnership’s liability at the sites, if any, in light of the number, participation level and financial viability of the other parties. The recognition of additional losses, if and when they were to occur, would likely extend over many years, but management can provide no assurance that it would be over many years. If changes in environmental laws or regulations occur or the assumptions used to estimate losses at multiple sites are adjusted, such changes could materially and adversely impact multiple facilities, formerly owned facilities and third-party sites at the same time. As a result, from time to time, significant charges against income for environmental remediation may occur. And while management does not believe that any such charges would have a material adverse impact on the Partnership’s consolidated financial position, it can provide no assurance.
Transwestern conducts soil and groundwater remediation at a number of its facilities. Some of the cleanup activities include remediation of several compressor sites on the Transwestern system for contamination by PCBs, and the costs of this work are not eligible for recovery in rates. The total accrued future estimated cost of remediation activities expected to continue through 2025 is $5 million, which is included in the total environmental accruals mentioned above. Transwestern received FERC approval for rate recovery of projected soil and groundwater remediation costs not related to PCBs effective April 1, 2007. Transwestern, as part of ongoing arrangements with customers, continues to incur costs associated with containing and removing potential PCB contamination. Future costs cannot be reasonably estimated because remediation activities are undertaken as potential claims are made by customers and former customers. Such future costs are not expected to have a material impact on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows, but management can provide no assurance.
Air Emissions. Our operations are subject to the federal Clean Air Act, as amended, and comparable state laws and regulations. These laws and regulations regulate emissions of air pollutants from various industrial sources, including our processing plants, and also impose various monitoring and reporting requirements. Such laws and regulations may require that we obtain pre-approval for the construction or modification of certain projects or facilities, such as our processing plants and compression facilities, expected to produce air emissions or to result in the increase of existing air emissions, that we obtain and strictly comply with air permits containing various emissions and operational limitations, or that we utilize specific emission control technologies to limit emissions. We will incur capital expenditures in the future for air pollution control equipment in connection with obtaining
and maintaining operating permits and approvals for air emissions. In addition, our processing plants, pipelines and compression facilities are subject to increasingly stringent regulations, including regulations that require the installation of control technology or the implementation of work practices to control hazardous air pollutants. Moreover, the Clean Air Act requires an operating permit for major sources of emissions and this requirement applies to some of our facilities. Historically, our costs for compliance with existing Clean Air Act and comparable state law requirements have not had a material adverse effect on our results of operations; however, there can be no assurance that such costs will not be material in the future. The EPA and state agencies are often considering, proposing or finalizing new regulations that could impact our existing operations and the costs and timing of new infrastructure development. For example, in October 2015, the EPA published a final rule under the Clean Air Act, lowering the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (“NAAQS”) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion for the 8-hour primary and secondary ozone standards. The EPA published a final rule in November 2017 that issued area designations with respect to ground-level ozone for approximately 85% of the United States counties as either “attainment/unclassifiable” or “unclassifiable.” In April 2018 and July 2018, the EPA issued area designations for all areas not addressed in the November 2017 rule. States with moderate or high nonattainment areas must submit state implementation plans to the EPA by October 2021. Reclassification of areas or imposition of more stringent standards may make it more difficult to construct new or modified sources of air pollution in newly designated non-attainment areas. Also, states are expected to implement more stringent requirements as a result of this new final rule, which could apply to our customers’ operations. Compliance with this or other new regulations could, among other things, require installation of new emission controls on some of our equipment, result in longer permitting timelines, and significantly increase our capital expenditures and operating costs, which could adversely impact our business.
Clean Water Act. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, as amended, (“Clean Water Act”) and comparable state laws impose restrictions and strict controls regarding the discharge of pollutants, including hydrocarbon-bearing wastes, into state waters and waters of the United States. Pursuant to the Clean Water Act and similar state laws, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or state permit, or both, must be obtained to discharge pollutants into federal and state waters. In addition, the Clean Water Act and comparable state laws require that individual permits or coverage under general permits be obtained by subject facilities for discharges of storm water runoff. The Clean Water Act also prohibits the discharge of dredge and fill material in regulated waters, including wetlands, unless authorized by permit. In May 2015, the EPA issued a final rule that attempts to clarify the federal jurisdictional reach over waters of the United States but this rule has been stayed nationwide by the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals as that appellate court and numerous district courts ponder lawsuits opposing implementation of the rule. In June 2015, the EPA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) published a final rule attempting to clarify the federal jurisdictional reach over waters of the United States, but legal challenges to this rule followed. The 2015 rule was stayed nationwide to determine whether federal district or appellate courts had jurisdiction to hear cases in the matter and, in January 2017, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The EPA and USACE proposed a rulemaking in June 2017 to repeal the June 2015 rule, announced their intent to issue a new rule defining the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction, and published a proposed rule in November 2017 specifying that the contested May 2015 rule would not take effect until two years after the November 2017 proposed rule was finalized and published in the Federal Register. In January 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision finding that jurisdiction resides with the federal district courts. Also in January 2018, the EPA and USACE finalized a rule that would delay applicability of the rule to two years from the rule’s publication in the Federal Register. The EPA and USACE formally proposed a rule revising the definition of “waters of the United States” in December 2018. The proposed definition would substantially reduce the scope of waters that fall within the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction, in part by excluding ephemeral streams. The EPA and USACE had previously determined that ephemeral streams could potentially qualify as “waters of the United States,” which would not be possible under the proposed definition. As a result of these developments, future implementation of the June 2015 rule or any replacement rule is uncertain at this time, but to the extent any rule expands the scope of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction, our operations as well as our exploration and production customers’ drilling programs could incur increased costs and delays with respect to obtaining permits for dredge and fill activities in wetland areas.
Spills. Our operations can result in the discharge of regulated substances, including NGLs, crude oil or other products. The Clean Water Act, as amended by the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, as amended, (“OPA”), and comparable state laws impose restrictions and strict controls regarding the discharge of regulated substances into state waters or waters of the United States. The Clean Water Act and comparable state laws can impose substantial administrative, civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance including spills and other non-authorized discharges. The OPA subjects owners of covered facilities to strict joint and potentially unlimited liability for removal costs and other consequences of a release of oil, where the release is into navigable waters, along shorelines or in the exclusive economic zone of the United States. Spill prevention control and countermeasure requirements of the Clean Water Act and some state laws require that containment dikes and similar structures be installed to help prevent the impact on navigable waters in the event of a release of oil. The PHMSA, the EPA, or various state regulatory agencies, has approved our oil spill emergency response plans that are to be used in the event of a spill incident.
In addition, some states maintain groundwater protection programs that require permits for discharges or operations that may impact groundwater conditions. Our management believes that compliance with existing permits and compliance with foreseeable
new permit requirements will not have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial position or expected cash flows.
Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act, as amended, restricts activities that may affect endangered or threatened species or their habitat. Similar protections are offered to migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We may operate in areas that are currently designated as a habitat for endangered or threatened species or where the discovery of previously unidentified endangered species, or the designation of additional species as endangered or threatened may occur in which event such one or more developments could cause us to incur additional costs, to develop habitat conservation plans, to become subject to expansion or operating restrictions, or bans in the affected areas. Moreover, such designation of previously unprotected species as threatened or endangered in areas where our oil and natural gas exploration and production customers operate could cause our customers to incur increased costs arising from species protection measures and could result in delays or limitations in our customers’ performance of operations, which could reduce demand for our services.
Climate Change. Climate change continues to attract considerable public, governmental and scientific attention. As a result, numerous proposals have been made and are likely to continue to be made at the international, national, regional and state levels of government to monitor and limit emissions of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). These efforts have included consideration of cap-and-trade programs, carbon taxes and GHG reporting and tracking programs, and regulations that directly limit GHG emissions from certain sources. At the federal level, no comprehensive climate change legislation has been implemented to date. The EPA has, however, adopted rules under authority of the Clean Air Act that, among other things, establish Potential for Significant Deterioration (“PSD”) construction and Title V operating permit reviews for GHG emissions from certain large stationary sources that are also potential major sources of certain principal, or criteria, pollutant emissions, which reviews could require securing PSD permits at covered facilities emitting GHGs and meeting “best available control technology” standards for those GHG emissions. In addition, the EPA has adopted rules requiring the monitoring and annual reporting of GHG emissions from certain petroleum and natural gas system sources in the United States, including, among others, onshore processing, transmission, storage and distribution facilities. In October 2015, the EPA amended and expanded the GHG reporting requirements to all segments of the oil and natural gas industry, including gathering and boosting facilities and blowdowns of natural gas transmission pipelines.
Federal agencies also have begun directly regulating emissions of methane, a GHG, from oil and natural gas operations. In June 2016, the EPA published New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”), known as Subpart OOOOa, that require certain new, modified or reconstructed facilities in the oil and natural gas sector to reduce these methane gas and volatile organic compound emissions. These Subpart OOOOa standards expand previously issued NSPS published by the EPA in 2012 and known as Subpart OOOO, by using certain equipment-specific emissions control practices, requiring additional controls for pneumatic controllers and pumps as well as compressors, and imposing leak detection and repair requirements for natural gas compressor and booster stations. However, the Subpart OOOOa standards have been subject to attempts by the EPA to stay portions of those standards, and the agency proposed rulemaking in June 2017 to stay the requirements for a period of two years and revisit implementation of Subpart OOOOa in its entirety. In September 2018, the EPA proposed amendments to Subpart OOOOa that would reduce the 2016 standards’ fugitive emissions monitoring requirements and expand exceptions to controlling methane emissions from pneumatic pumps, among other changes. Various industry and environmental groups have separately challenged both the original 2016 standards and the EPA’s attempts to delay the implementation of the rule. This rule, should it remain in effect, and any other new methane emission standards imposed on the oil and gas sector could result in increased costs to our operations as well as result in delays or curtailment in such operations, which costs, delays or curtailment could adversely affect our business. Additionally, in December 2015, the United States joined the international community at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France preparing an agreement requiring member countries to review and “represent a progression” in their intended nationally determined contributions, which set GHG emission reduction goals every five years beginning in 2020. This “Paris Agreement” was signed by the United States in April 2016 and entered into force in November 2016; however, this agreement does not create any binding obligations for nations to limit their GHG emissions, but rather includes pledges to voluntarily limit or reduce future emissions. In August 2017, the United States State Department informed the United Nations of the intent of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement provides for a four-year exit process beginning when it took effect in November 2016, which would result in an effective exit date of November 2020. The United States’ adherence to the exit process and/or the terms on which the United States may re-enter the Paris Agreement or a separately negotiated agreement are unclear at this time.
The adoption and implementation of any international, federal or state legislation or regulations that require reporting of GHGs or otherwise restrict emissions of GHGs could result in increased compliance costs or additional operating restrictions, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, demand for our services, results of operations, and cash flows. Recently, activists concerned about the potential effects of climate change have directed their attention at sources of funding for fossil-fuel energy companies, which has resulted in certain financial institutions, funds and other sources of capital restricting or eliminating their investment in oil and natural gas activities. Ultimately, this could make it more difficult to secure funding for exploration and production or midstream activities. Notwithstanding potential risks related to climate change, the International Energy Agency estimates that global energy demand will continue to rise and will not peak until after 2040 and that oil and natural
gas will continue to represent a substantial percentage of global energy use over that time. Finally, some scientists have concluded that increasing concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere may produce climate changes that have significant physical effects, such as increased frequency and severity of storms, droughts, and floods and other climate events that could have an adverse effect on our assets.
Some have suggested that one consequence of climate change could be increased severity of extreme weather, such as increased hurricanes and floods. If such effects were to occur, our operations could be adversely affected in various ways, including damages to our facilities from powerful winds or rising waters, or increased costs for insurance. Another possible consequence of climate change is increased volatility in seasonal temperatures. The market for our NGLs and natural gas is generally improved by periods of colder weather and impaired by periods of warmer weather, so any changes in climate could affect the market for the fuels that we produce. Despite the use of the term “global warming” as a shorthand for climate change, some studies indicate that climate change could cause some areas to experience temperatures substantially colder than their historical averages. As a result, it is difficult to predict how the market for our products could be affected by increased temperature volatility, although if there is an overall trend of warmer temperatures, it would be expected to have an adverse effect on our business.
Employee Health and Safety. We are subject to the requirements of the federal OSHA and comparable state laws that regulate the protection of the health and safety of workers. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s hazard communication standard requires that information be maintained about hazardous materials used or produced in operations and that this information be provided to employees, state and local government authorities and citizens. Historically, our costs for OSHA required activities, including general industry standards, recordkeeping requirements, and monitoring of occupational exposure to regulated substances, have not had a material adverse effect on our results of operations but there is no assurance that such costs will not be material in the future.
As of December 31, 2018, ETO and its consolidated subsidiaries employed an aggregate of 11,768 persons, 1,434 of which are represented by labor unions. We believe that our relations with our employees are satisfactory.
We file or furnish annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and any related amendments and supplements thereto with the SEC. From time to time, we may also file registration and related statements pertaining to equity or debt offerings. The SEC maintains an Internet website at http://www.sec.gov that contains reports, proxy and information statements and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC.
We provide electronic access, free of charge, to our periodic and current reports, and amendments to these reports, on our internet website located at http://www.energytransfer.com. These reports are available on our website as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such materials with the SEC. Information contained on our website is not part of this report.
ITEM 1A. RISK FACTORS
In addition to risks and uncertainties in the ordinary course of business that are common to all businesses, important factors that are specific to our structure as a limited partnership, our industry and our company could materially impact our future performance and results of operations. We have provided below a list of these risk factors that should be reviewed when considering an investment in our securities. Panhandle files Annual Reports on Form 10-K that include risk factors that can be reviewed for further information. The risk factors set forth below, and those included in Panhandle’s Annual Report on Form 10-K, are not all the risks we face and other factors currently considered immaterial or unknown to us may impact our future operations.
Risks Inherent in an Investment in Us
Cash distributions are not guaranteed and may fluctuate with our performance and other external factors.
The amount of cash we can distribute to our Series A Preferred Units, Series B Preferred Units, Series C Preferred Units and Series D Preferred Units and our common unitholder, ET (collectively, “Unitholders”) depends upon the amount of cash we generate from our operations and from our subsidiaries, Sunoco LP and USAC. The amount of cash we generate from our operations will fluctuate from quarter to quarter and will depend upon, among other things:
the amount of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and refined products transported in our pipelines;
the level of throughput in our processing and treating operations;
the fees we charge and the margins we realize for our services;
the price of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and refined products;
the relationship between natural gas, NGL and crude oil prices;
the weather in our operating areas;
the level of competition from other midstream, transportation and storage and other energy providers;
the level of our operating costs;
prevailing economic conditions; and
the level and results of our derivative activities.
In addition, the actual amount of cash we and our subsidiaries, including Sunoco LP and USAC, will have available for distribution will also depend on other factors, such as:
the level of capital expenditures we make;
the level of costs related to litigation and regulatory compliance matters;
the cost of acquisitions, if any;
the levels of any margin calls that result from changes in commodity prices;
our debt service requirements;
fluctuations in our working capital needs;
our ability to borrow under our revolving credit facility;
our ability to access capital markets;
restrictions on distributions contained in our debt agreements; and
the amount of cash reserves established by our General Partner in its discretion for the proper conduct of our business.
Because of all these factors, we cannot guarantee that we will have sufficient available cash to pay a specific level of cash distributions to holders of our Unitholders.
Furthermore, our Unitholders should be aware that the amount of cash we have available for distribution depends primarily upon our cash flow and is not solely a function of profitability, which is affected by non-cash items. As a result, we may declare and/or pay cash distributions during periods when we record net losses.
Sunoco LP and USAC may issue additional common units, which may increase the risk that Sunoco LP or USAC will not have sufficient available cash to maintain or increase its per unit distribution level.
The partnership agreements of Sunoco LP and USAC allow each partnership to issue an unlimited number of additional limited partner interests. The issuance of additional common units or other equity securities by each respective partnership will have the following effects:
Unitholders’ current proportionate ownership interest in each partnership will decrease;
the amount of cash available for distribution on each common unit or partnership security may decrease;
the ratio of taxable income to distributions may increase;
the relative voting strength of each previously outstanding common unit may be diminished; and
the market price of each partnership’s common units may decline.
The payment of distributions on any additional units issued by Sunoco LP and USAC may increase the risk that either partnership may not have sufficient cash available to maintain or increase its per unit distribution level, which in turn may impact the available cash that we have to meet our obligations.
Our debt level and debt agreements may limit our ability to make distributions to Unitholders and may limit our future financial and operating flexibility.
As of December 31, 2018, we had approximately $40.51 billion of consolidated debt, excluding the debt of our unconsolidated joint ventures. Our level of indebtedness affects our operations in several ways, including, among other things:
a significant portion of our and our subsidiaries’ cash flow from operations will be dedicated to the payment of principal and interest on outstanding debt and will not be available for other purposes, including payment of distributions;
covenants contained in our and our subsidiaries’ existing debt agreements require us and them, as applicable, to meet financial tests that may adversely affect our flexibility in planning for and reacting to changes in our business;
our and our subsidiaries’ ability to obtain additional financing for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and general partnership, corporate or limited liability company purposes, as applicable, may be limited;
we may be at a competitive disadvantage relative to similar companies that have less debt;
we may be more vulnerable to adverse economic and industry conditions as a result of our significant debt level; and
failure by us or our subsidiaries to comply with the various restrictive covenants of our respective debt agreements could negatively impact our ability to incur additional debt, including our ability to utilize the available capacity under our revolving credit facility, and our ability to pay our distributions.
Capital projects will require significant amounts of debt and equity financing, which may not be available to us on acceptable terms, or at all.
We plan to fund our growth capital expenditures, including any new pipeline construction projects and improvements or repairs to existing facilities that we may undertake, with proceeds from sales of our debt and equity securities and borrowings under our revolving credit facility; however, we cannot be certain that we will be able to issue our debt and equity securities on terms satisfactory to us, or at all. If we are unable to finance our expansion projects as expected, we could be required to seek alternative financing, the terms of which may not be attractive to us, or to revise or cancel our expansion plans.
A significant increase in our indebtedness that is proportionately greater than our issuance of equity could negatively impact our and our subsidiaries’ credit ratings or our ability to remain in compliance with the financial covenants under our revolving credit agreement, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Increases in interest rates could adversely affect our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
In addition to our exposure to commodity prices, we have exposure to changes in interest rates. Approximately $8.54 billion of our consolidated debt as of December 31, 2018 bears interest at variable interest rates and the remainder bears interest at fixed rates. To the extent that we have debt with floating interest rates, our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition could be materially adversely affected by increases in interest rates. We manage a portion of our interest rate exposures by utilizing interest rate swaps.
The credit and risk profile of our General Partner and its owners could adversely affect our credit ratings and profile.
The credit and business risk profiles of our General Partner, and of ET as the indirect owner of our General Partner, may be factors in credit evaluations of us due to the significant influence of our General Partner and ET over our business activities, including our cash distributions, acquisition strategy and business risk profile. Another factor that may be considered is the financial condition of our General Partner and its owners, including the degree of their financial leverage and their dependence on cash flow from the Partnership to service their indebtedness.
ET has significant indebtedness outstanding and is dependent principally on the cash distributions from its general and limited partner equity interests in us to service such indebtedness. Any distributions by us to ET will be made only after satisfying our then current obligations to our creditors. Although we have taken certain steps in our organizational structure, financial reporting and contractual relationships to reflect the separateness of us, ETP GP and ETP LLC from the entities that control ETP GP (ET and its general partner), our credit ratings and business risk profile could be adversely affected if the ratings and risk profiles of such entities were viewed as substantially lower or riskier than ours.
Our General Partner may, in its sole discretion, approve the issuance of partnership securities and specify the terms of such partnership securities.
Pursuant to our partnership agreement, our General Partner has the ability, in its sole discretion and without the approval of the Unitholders, to approve the issuance of securities by the Partnership at any time and to specify the terms and conditions of such securities. The securities authorized to be issued may be issued in one or more classes or series, with such designations, preferences, rights, powers and duties (which may be senior to existing classes and series of partnership securities), as shall be determined by our General Partner, including:
the right to share in the Partnership’s profits and losses;
the right to share in the Partnership’s distributions;
the rights upon dissolution and liquidation of the Partnership;
whether, and the terms upon which, the Partnership may redeem the securities;
whether the securities will be issued, evidenced by certificates and assigned or transferred; and
the right, if any, of the security to vote on matters relating to the Partnership, including matters relating to the relative rights, preferences and privileges of such security.
The control of our General Partner may be transferred to a third party without Unitholder consent.
The General Partner may transfer its general partner interest to a third party without the consent of the Unitholders. Furthermore, the general partner of our General Partner may transfer its general partner interest in our General Partner to a third party without the consent of the Unitholders. Any new owner of the General Partner or the general partner of the General Partner would be in a position to replace the officers of the General Partner with its own choices and to control the decisions taken by such officers.
The interruption of distributions to us from our operating subsidiaries and equity investees may affect our ability to satisfy our obligations and to make distributions to our partners.
We are a holding company with no business operations other than that of our operating subsidiaries. Our only significant assets are the equity interests we own in our operating subsidiaries and equity investees. As a result, we depend upon the earnings and cash flow of our operating subsidiaries and equity investees and any interruption of distributions to us may affect our ability to meet our obligations, including any obligations under our debt agreements, and to make distributions to our partners.
Cost reimbursements due to our General Partner may be substantial and may reduce our ability to pay the distributions to Unitholders.
Prior to making any distributions to our Unitholders, we will reimburse our General Partner for all expenses it has incurred on our behalf. In addition, our General Partner and its affiliates may provide us with services for which we will be charged reasonable fees as determined by the General Partner. The reimbursement of these expenses and the payment of these fees could adversely affect our ability to make distributions to the Unitholders. Our General Partner has sole discretion to determine the amount of these expenses and fees.
A reduction in Sunoco LP’s distributions will disproportionately affect the amount of cash distributions to which ETO is entitled.
ETO indirectly owns all of the IDRs of Sunoco LP. These IDRs entitle the holder to receive increasing percentages of total cash distributions made by Sunoco LP as such entity reaches established target cash distribution levels as specified in its partnership agreement. ETO currently receives its pro rata share of cash distributions from Sunoco LP based on the highest sharing level of 50% in respect of the Sunoco LP IDRs.
A decrease in the amount of distributions by Sunoco LP to less than $0.6563 per unit per quarter would reduce ETO’s percentage of the incremental cash distributions from Sunoco LP above $0.5469 per unit per quarter from 50% to 25%. As a result, any such reduction in quarterly cash distributions from Sunoco LP would have the effect of disproportionately reducing the amount of all distributions that ETO receives, based on its ownership interest in the IDRs as compared to cash distributions received from its Sunoco LP common units.
Unitholders may have liability to repay distributions.
Under certain circumstances, Unitholders may have to repay us amounts wrongfully distributed to them. Under Delaware law, we may not make a distribution to Unitholders if the distribution causes our liabilities to exceed the fair value of our assets. Liabilities to partners on account of their partnership interests and non-recourse liabilities are not counted for purposes of determining whether a distribution is permitted. Delaware law provides that a limited partner who receives such a distribution and knew at the time of the distribution that the distribution violated Delaware law, will be liable to the limited partnership for the distribution amount for three years from the distribution date. Under Delaware law, an assignee who becomes a substituted limited partner of a limited partnership is liable for the obligations of the assignor to make contributions to the partnership. However, such an assignee is not obligated for liabilities unknown to him at the time he or she became a limited partner if the liabilities could not be determined from the partnership agreement.
We have a holding company structure in which our subsidiaries conduct our operations and own our operating assets.
We are a holding company, and our subsidiaries conduct all of our operations and own all of our operating assets. We do not have significant assets other than the partnership interests and the equity in our subsidiaries. As a result, our ability to pay distributions to our Unitholders and to service our debt depends on the performance of our subsidiaries and their ability to distribute funds to us. The ability of our subsidiaries to make distributions to us may be restricted by, among other things, credit facilities and applicable
state partnership laws and other laws and regulations. If we are unable to obtain funds from our subsidiaries we may not be able to pay distributions to our Unitholders or to pay interest or principal on our debt when due.
We do not have the same flexibility as other types of organizations to accumulate cash, which may limit cash available to service our debt or to repay debt at maturity.
Unlike a corporation, our partnership agreement requires us to distribute, on a quarterly basis, 100% of our Available Cash (as defined in our partnership agreement) to our Unitholders of record and our General Partner. Available Cash is generally all of our cash on hand as of the end of a quarter, adjusted for cash distributions and net changes to reserves. Our General Partner will determine the amount and timing of such distributions and has broad discretion to establish and make additions to our reserves or the reserves of our operating subsidiaries in amounts it determines in its reasonable discretion to be necessary or appropriate:
to provide for the proper conduct of our business and the businesses of our operating subsidiaries (including reserves for future capital expenditures and for our anticipated future credit needs);
to provide funds for distributions to our preferred unitholders; or
to comply with applicable law or any of our loan or other agreements.
A downgrade of our credit ratings could impact our and our subsidiaries’ liquidity, access to capital and costs of doing business, and maintaining credit ratings is under the control of independent third parties.
A downgrade of our credit ratings might increase our and our subsidiaries’ cost of borrowing and could require us to post collateral with third parties, negatively impacting our available liquidity. Our and our subsidiaries’ ability to access capital markets could also be limited by a downgrade of our credit ratings and other disruptions. Such disruptions could include:
deteriorating capital market conditions;
declining market prices for natural gas, NGLs and other commodities;
terrorist attacks or threatened attacks on our facilities or those of other energy companies; and
the overall health of the energy industry, including the bankruptcy or insolvency of other companies.
Credit rating agencies perform independent analysis when assigning credit ratings. The analysis includes a number of criteria including, but not limited to, business composition, market and operational risks, as well as various financial tests. Credit rating agencies continue to review the criteria for industry sectors and various debt ratings and may make changes to those criteria from time to time. Credit ratings are not recommendations to buy, sell or hold investments in the rated entity. Ratings are subject to revision or withdrawal at any time by the rating agencies, and we cannot assure you that we will maintain our current credit ratings.
Risks Related to Conflicts of Interest
Although we control Sunoco LP and USAC through our ownership of Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s general partners, Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s general partners owe fiduciary duties to Sunoco LP and Sunoco LP’s unitholders and USAC and USAC’s unitholders, respectively, which may conflict with our interests.
Conflicts of interest exist and may arise in the future as a result of the relationships between us and our affiliates, on the one hand, and Sunoco LP and USAC and their respective limited partners, on the other hand. The directors and officers of Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s general partners have fiduciary duties to manage Sunoco LP and USAC, respectively, in a manner beneficial to us. At the same time, the general partners have fiduciary duties to manage Sunoco LP and USAC in a manner beneficial to Sunoco LP and USAC and their respective limited partners. The boards of directors of Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s general partner will resolve any such conflict and have broad latitude to consider the interests of all parties to the conflict. The resolution of these conflicts may not always be in our best interest.
For example, conflicts of interest with Sunoco LP and USAC may arise in the following situations:
the allocation of shared overhead expenses to Sunoco LP, USAC and us;
the interpretation and enforcement of contractual obligations between us and our affiliates, on the one hand, and Sunoco LP and USAC, on the other hand;
the determination of the amount of cash to be distributed to Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s partners and the amount of cash to be reserved for the future conduct of Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s businesses;
the determination whether to make borrowings under Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s revolving credit facilities to pay distributions to their respective partners;
the determination of whether a business opportunity (such as a commercial development opportunity or an acquisition) that we may become aware of independently of Sunoco LP and USAC is made available for Sunoco LP and USAC to pursue; and
any decision we make in the future to engage in business activities independent of Sunoco LP and USAC.
The fiduciary duties of our General Partner’s officers and directors may conflict with those of Sunoco LP’s or USAC’s respective general partners.
Conflicts of interest may arise because of the relationships among Sunoco LP, USAC, their general partners and us. Our General Partner’s directors and officers have fiduciary duties to manage our business in a manner beneficial to us and our Unitholders. Some of our General Partner’s directors or officers are also directors and/or officers of Sunoco LP’s general partner or USAC’s general partner, and have fiduciary duties to manage the respective businesses of Sunoco LP and USAC in a manner beneficial to Sunoco LP, USAC and their respective Unitholders. The resolution of these conflicts may not always be in our best interest or that of our Unitholders.
Potential conflicts of interest may arise among our General Partner, its affiliates and us. Our General Partner and its affiliates have limited fiduciary duties to us, which may permit them to favor their own interests to the detriment of us.
Conflicts of interest may arise among our General Partner and its affiliates, on the one hand, and us, on the other hand. As a result of these conflicts, our General Partner may favor its own interests and the interests of its affiliates over our interests. These conflicts include, among others, the following:
our General Partner is allowed to take into account the interests of parties other than us, including Sunoco LP and USAC, and their respective affiliates and any general partners and limited partnerships acquired in the future, in resolving conflicts of interest, which has the effect of limiting its fiduciary duties to us.
our General Partner has limited its liability and reduced its fiduciary duties under the terms of our partnership agreement, while also restricting the remedies available for actions that, without these limitations, might constitute breaches of fiduciary duty. As a result of purchasing our units, Unitholders consent to various actions and conflicts of interest that might otherwise constitute a breach of fiduciary or other duties under applicable state law.
our General Partner determines the amount and timing of our investment transactions, borrowings, issuances of additional partnership securities and reserves, each of which can affect the amount of cash that is available for distribution.
our General Partner determines which costs it and its affiliates have incurred are reimbursable by us.
our partnership agreement does not restrict our General Partner from causing us to pay it or its affiliates for any services rendered, or from entering into additional contractual arrangements with any of these entities on our behalf, so long as the terms of any such payments or additional contractual arrangements are fair and reasonable to us.
our General Partner controls the enforcement of obligations owed to us by it and its affiliates.
our General Partner decides whether to retain separate counsel, accountants or others to perform services for us.
Our partnership agreement limits our General Partner’s fiduciary duties to our Unitholders and restricts the remedies available to Unitholders for actions taken by our General Partner that might otherwise constitute breaches of fiduciary duty.
Our partnership agreement contains provisions that waive or consent to conduct by our General Partner and its affiliates and reduce the obligations to which our General Partner would otherwise be held by state-law fiduciary duty standards. The following is a summary of the material restrictions contained in our partnership agreement on the duties owed by our General Partner, and our officers and directors, to the limited partners. Our partnership agreement:
eliminates all standards of care and duties other than those set forth in our partnership agreement, including fiduciary duties, to the fullest extent permitted by law;
permits our General Partner to make a number of decisions in its “sole discretion,” which standard entitles our General Partner to consider only the interests and factors that it desires, and it has no duty or obligation to give any consideration to any interest of, or factors affecting, us, our affiliates or any limited partner;
provides that our General Partner is entitled to make other decisions in its “reasonable discretion;”
generally provides that affiliated transactions and resolutions of conflicts of interest must be “fair and reasonable” to us and that, in determining whether a transaction or resolution is “fair and reasonable,” our General Partner may consider the interests of all parties involved, including its own;
provides that unless our General Partner has acted in bad faith, the action taken by our General Partner shall not constitute a breach of its fiduciary duty;
provides that our General Partner may resolve any conflicts of interest involving us and our General Partner and its affiliates, and any resolution of a conflict of interest by our General Partner that is “fair and reasonable” to us will be deemed approved by all partners, including the Unitholders, and will not constitute a breach of the partnership agreement;
provides that our General Partner may, but is not required, in connection with its resolution of a conflict of interest, to seek “special approval” of such resolution by appointing a conflicts committee of the General Partner’s board of directors composed of two or more independent directors to consider such conflicts of interest and to recommend action to the board of directors, and any resolution of the conflict of interest by the conflicts committee shall be conclusively deemed “fair and reasonable” to us;
provides that our General Partner may consult with consultants and advisors and, subject to certain restrictions, is conclusively deemed to have acted in good faith when it acts in reliance on the opinion of such consultants and advisors; and
provides that our General Partner and its officers and directors will not be liable for monetary damages to us, our limited partners or assignees for errors of judgment or for any acts or omissions if our General Partner and those other persons acted in good faith.
In order to become a limited partner of our partnership, a Unitholder is required to agree to be bound by the provisions in our partnership agreement, including the provisions discussed above.
Some of our executive officers and directors face potential conflicts of interest in managing our business.
Certain of our executive officers and directors are also officers and/or directors of ET. These relationships may create conflicts of interest regarding corporate opportunities and other matters. The resolution of any such conflicts may not always be in our or our Unitholders’ best interests. In addition, these overlapping executive officers and directors allocate their time among us and ET. These officers and directors face potential conflicts regarding the allocation of their time, which may adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The General Partner’s absolute discretion in determining the level of cash reserves may adversely affect our ability to make cash distributions to our Unitholders.
Our partnership agreement requires the General Partner to deduct from operating surplus cash reserves that in its reasonable discretion are necessary to fund our future operating expenditures. In addition, our partnership agreement permits the General Partner to reduce available cash by establishing cash reserves for the proper conduct of our business, to comply with applicable law or agreements to which we are a party or to provide funds for future distributions to partners. These cash reserves will affect the amount of cash available for distribution to Unitholders.
Our General Partner has conflicts of interest and limited fiduciary responsibilities that may permit our General Partner to favor its own interests to the detriment of Unitholders.
ET indirectly owns our General Partner and as a result controls us. The directors and officers of our General Partner and its affiliates have fiduciary duties to manage our General Partner in a manner that is beneficial to ET, the sole owner of our General Partner. At the same time, our General Partner has contractually-limited fiduciary duties to our Unitholders. Therefore, our General Partner’s duties to us may conflict with the duties of its officers and directors to ET as its sole owner. As a result of these conflicts of interest, our General Partner may favor its own interest or those of ET or their owners or affiliates over the interest of our Unitholders.
Such conflicts may arise from, among others, the following:
our partnership agreement limits the liability and reduces the fiduciary duties of our General Partner while also restricting the remedies available to our Unitholders for actions that, without these limitations, might constitute breaches of fiduciary duty. Unitholders are deemed to have consented to some actions and conflicts of interest that might otherwise be deemed a breach of fiduciary or other duties under applicable state law. Our General Partner is allowed to take into account the interests of parties in addition to us in resolving conflicts of interest, thereby limiting its fiduciary duties to us.
our General Partner is allowed to take into account the interests of parties in addition to us, including ET, in resolving conflicts of interest, thereby limiting its fiduciary duties to us.
our General Partner’s affiliates, including ET, are not prohibited from engaging in other businesses or activities, including those in direct competition with us.
our General Partner determines the amount and timing of our asset purchases and sales, capital expenditures, borrowings, repayments of debt, issuances of equity and debt securities and cash reserves, each of which can affect the amount of cash that is distributed to Unitholders and to ET.
neither our partnership agreement nor any other agreement requires ET or its affiliates to pursue a business strategy that favors us. The directors and officers of the general partners of ET have a fiduciary duty to make decisions in the best interest of their members, limited partners and Unitholders, which may be contrary to our best interests.
some of the directors and officers of ET who provide advice to us also may devote significant time to the businesses of ET and will be compensated by them for their services.
our General Partner determines which costs, including allocated overhead costs, are reimbursable by us.
our General Partner is allowed to resolve any conflicts of interest involving us and our General Partner and its affiliates, and any resolution of a conflict of interest by our General Partner that is fair and reasonable to us will be deemed approved by all partners and will not constitute a breach of the partnership agreement.
our General Partner controls the enforcement of obligations owed to us by it.
our General Partner decides whether to retain separate counsel, accountants or others to perform services for us.
our General Partner is not restricted from causing us to pay it or its affiliates for any services rendered on terms that are fair and reasonable to us or entering into additional contractual arrangements with any of these entities on our behalf.
our General Partner intends to limit its liability regarding our contractual and other obligations and, in some circumstances, may be entitled to be indemnified by us.
in some instances, our General Partner may cause us to borrow funds in order to permit the payment of distributions, even if the purpose or effect of the borrowing is to make incentive distributions.
Affiliates of our General Partner may compete with us.
Except as provided in our partnership agreement, affiliates and related parties of our General Partner are not prohibited from engaging in other businesses or activities, including those that might be in direct competition with us.
Risks Related to Our Business
We do not control, and therefore may not be able to cause or prevent certain actions by, certain of our joint ventures.
Certain of our joint ventures have their own governing boards, and we may not control all of the decisions of those boards. Consequently, it may be difficult or impossible for us to cause the joint venture entity to take actions that we believe would be in our or the joint venture’s best interests. Likewise, we may be unable to prevent actions of the joint venture.
We and our subsidiaries, including Sunoco LP and USAC, are exposed to the credit risk of our customers and derivative counterparties, and an increase in the nonpayment and nonperformance by our customers or derivative counterparties could reduce our ability to make distributions to our Unitholders.
The risks of nonpayment and nonperformance by our, Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s customers are a major concern in our business. Participants in the energy industry have been subjected to heightened scrutiny from the financial markets in light of past collapses and failures of other energy companies. We, Sunoco LP and USAC are subject to risks of loss resulting from nonpayment or nonperformance by our, Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s customers. Commodity price volatility and/or the tightening of credit in the financial markets may make it more difficult for customers to obtain financing and, depending on the degree to which this occurs, there may be a material increase in the nonpayment and nonperformance by our customers. To the extent one or more of our customers is in financial distress or commences bankruptcy proceedings, contracts with these customers may be subject to renegotiation or rejection under applicable provisions of the United States Bankruptcy Code. In addition, our risk management activities are subject to the risks that a counterparty may not perform its obligation under the applicable derivative instrument, the terms of the derivative instruments are imperfect, and our risk management policies and procedures are not properly followed. Any material nonpayment or nonperformance by our customers or our derivative counterparties could reduce our ability to make distributions to our Unitholders. Any substantial increase in the nonpayment and nonperformance by our customers could have a material effect on our, Sunoco LP’s and USAC’s results of operations and operating cash flows.
We compete with other businesses in our market with respect to attracting and retaining qualified employees.
Our continued success depends on our ability to attract and retain qualified personnel in all areas of our business. We compete with other businesses in our market with respect to attracting and retaining qualified employees. A tight labor market, increased
overtime and a higher full-time employee ratio may cause labor costs to increase. A shortage of qualified employees may require us to enhance wage and benefits packages in order to compete effectively in the hiring and retention of such employees or to hire more expensive temporary employees. No assurance can be given that our labor costs will not increase, or that such increases can be recovered through increased prices charged to customers. We are especially vulnerable to labor shortages in oil and gas drilling areas when energy prices drive higher exploration and production activity.
Income from our midstream, transportation, terminalling and storage operations is exposed to risks due to fluctuations in the demand for and price of natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and refined products that are beyond our control.
The prices for natural gas, NGLs, crude oil and refined products reflect market demand that fluctuates with changes in global and United States economic conditions and other factors, including:
the level of domestic natural gas, NGL, and oil production;
the level of natural gas, NGL, and oil imports and exports, including liquefied natural gas;
actions taken by natural gas and oil producing nations;
instability or other events affecting natural gas and oil producing nations;
the impact of weather and other events of nature on the demand for natural gas, NGLs and oil;
the availability of storage, terminal and transportation systems, and refining, processing and treating facilities;
the price, availability and marketing of competitive fuels;
the demand for electricity;
activities by non-governmental organizations to limit certain sources of funding for the energy sector or restrict the exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas;
the cost of capital needed to maintain or increase production levels and to construct and expand facilities
the impact of energy conservation and fuel efficiency efforts; and
the extent of governmental regulation, taxation, fees and duties.
In the past, the prices of natural gas, NGLs and oil have been extremely volatile, and we expect this volatility to continue.
Any loss of business from existing customers or our inability to attract new customers due to a decline in demand for natural gas, NGLs, or oil could have a material adverse effect on our revenues and results of operations. In addition, significant price fluctuations for natural gas, NGL and oil commodities could materially affect our profitability.
We are affected by competition from other midstream, transportation, terminalling and storage companies.
We experience competition in all of our business segments. With respect to our midstream operations, we compete for both natural gas supplies and customers for our services. Our competitors include major integrated oil companies, interstate and intrastate pipelines and companies that gather, compress, treat, process, transport, store and market natural gas.
Our natural gas and NGL transportation pipelines and storage facilities compete with other interstate and intrastate pipeline companies and storage providers in the transportation and storage of natural gas and NGLs. The principal elements of competition among pipelines are rates, terms of service, access to sources of supply and the flexibility and reliability of service. Natural gas and NGLs also competes with other forms of energy, including electricity, coal, fuel oils and renewable or alternative energy. Competition among fuels and energy supplies is primarily based on price; however, non-price factors, including governmental regulation, environmental impacts, efficiency, ease of use and handling, and the availability of subsidies and tax benefits also affects competitive outcomes.
In markets served by our NGL pipelines, we compete with other pipeline companies and barge, rail and truck fleet operations. We also face competition with other storage and fractionation facilities based on fees charged and the ability to receive, distribute and/or fractionate the customer’s products.
Our crude oil and refined petroleum products pipelines face significant competition from other pipelines for large volume shipments. These operations also face competition from trucks for incremental and marginal volumes in the areas we serve. Further, our crude and refined product terminals compete with terminals owned by integrated petroleum companies, refining and marketing companies, independent terminal companies and distribution companies with marketing and trading operations.
We may be unable to retain or replace existing midstream, transportation, terminalling and storage customers or volumes due to declining demand or increased competition in crude oil, refined products, natural gas and NGL markets, which would reduce our revenues and limit our future profitability.
The retention or replacement of existing customers and the volume of services that we provide at rates sufficient to maintain or increase current revenues and cash flows depends on a number of factors beyond our control, including the price of and demand for crude oil, refined products, natural gas and NGLs in the markets we serve and competition from other service providers.
A significant portion of our sales of natural gas are to industrial customers and utilities. As a consequence of the volatility of natural gas prices and increased competition in the industry and other factors, industrial customers, utilities and other gas customers are increasingly reluctant to enter into long-term purchase contracts. Many customers purchase natural gas from more than one supplier and have the ability to change suppliers at any time. Some of these customers also have the ability to switch between gas and alternate fuels in response to relative price fluctuations in the market. Because there are many companies of greatly varying size and financial capacity that compete with us in the marketing of natural gas, we often compete in natural gas sales markets primarily on the basis of price.
We also receive a substantial portion of our revenues by providing natural gas gathering, processing, treating, transportation and storage services. While a substantial portion of our services are sold under long-term contracts for reserved service, we also provide service on an unreserved or short-term basis. Demand for our services may be substantially reduced due to changing market prices. Declining prices may result in lower rates of natural gas production resulting in less use of services, while rising prices may diminish consumer demand and also limit the use of services. In addition, our competitors may attract our customers’ business. If demand declines or competition increases, we may not be able to sustain existing levels of unreserved service or renew or extend long-term contracts as they expire or we may reduce our rates to meet competitive pressures.
Revenue from our NGL transportation systems and refined products storage is also exposed to risks due to fluctuations in demand for transportation and storage service as a result of unfavorable commodity prices, competition from nearby pipelines, and other factors. We receive substantially all of our transportation revenues through dedicated contracts under which the customer agrees to deliver the total output from particular processing plants that are connected only to our transportation system. Reduction in demand for natural gas or NGLs due to unfavorable prices or other factors, however, may result lower rates of production under dedicated contracts and lower demand for our services. In addition, our refined products storage revenues are primarily derived from fixed capacity arrangements between us and our customers, a portion of our revenue is derived from fungible storage and throughput arrangements, under which our revenue is more dependent upon demand for storage from our customers.
The volume of crude oil and refined products transported through our crude oil and refined products pipelines and terminal facilities depends on the availability of attractively priced crude oil and refined products in the areas serviced by our assets. A period of sustained price reductions for crude oil or refined products could lead to a decline in drilling activity, production and refining of crude oil or import levels in these areas. A period of sustained increases in the price of crude oil or refined products supplied from or delivered to any of these areas could materially reduce demand for crude oil or refined products in these areas. In either case, the volumes of crude oil or refined products transported in our crude oil and refined products pipelines and terminal facilities could decline.
The loss of existing customers by our midstream, transportation, terminalling and storage facilities or a reduction in the volume of the services our customers purchase from us, or our inability to attract new customers and service volumes would negatively affect our revenues, be detrimental to our growth, and adversely affect our results of operations.
Our midstream facilities and transportation pipelines provide services related to natural gas wells that experience production declines over time, which we may not be able to replace with natural gas production from newly drilled wells in the same natural gas basins or in other new natural gas producing areas.
In order to maintain or increase throughput levels on our gathering systems and transportation pipeline systems and asset utilization rates at our treating and processing plants, we must continually contract for new natural gas supplies and natural gas transportation services.
A substantial portion of our assets, including our gathering systems and our processing and treating plants, are connected to natural gas reserves and wells that experience declining production over time. Our gas transportation pipelines are also dependent upon natural gas production in areas served by our gathering systems or in areas served by other gathering systems or transportation pipelines that connect with our transportation pipelines. We may not be able to obtain additional contracts for natural gas supplies for our natural gas gathering systems, and we may be unable to maintain or increase the levels of natural gas throughput on our transportation pipelines. The primary factors affecting our ability to connect new supplies of natural gas to our gathering systems include our success in contracting for existing natural gas supplies that are not committed to other systems and the level of drilling activity and production of natural gas near our gathering systems or in areas that provide access to our transportation pipelines or
markets to which our systems connect. We have no control over the level of drilling activity in our areas of operation, the amount of reserves underlying the wells and the rate at which production from a well will decline. In addition, we have no control over producers or their production and contracting decisions.
While a substantial portion of our services are provided under long-term contracts for reserved service, we also provide service on an unreserved basis. The reserves available through the supply basins connected to our gathering, processing, treating, transportation and storage facilities may decline and may not be replaced by other sources of supply. A decrease in development or production activity could cause a decrease in the volume of unreserved services we provide and a decrease in the number and volume of our contracts for reserved transportation service over the long run, which in each case would adversely affect our revenues and results of operations.
If we are unable to replace any significant volume declines with additional volumes from other sources, our results of operations and cash flows could be materially and adversely affected.
The profitability of certain activities in our natural gas gathering, processing, transportation and storage operations are largely dependent upon natural gas commodity prices, price spreads between two or more physical locations and market demand for natural gas and NGLs.
For a portion of the natural gas gathered on our systems, we purchase natural gas from producers at the wellhead and then gather and deliver the natural gas to pipelines where we typically resell the natural gas under various arrangements, including sales at index prices. Generally, the gross margins we realize under these arrangements decrease in periods of low natural gas prices.
We also enter into percent-of-proceeds arrangements, keep-whole arrangements, and processing fee agreements pursuant to which we agree to gather and process natural gas received from the producers.
Under percent-of-proceeds arrangements, we generally sell the residue gas and NGLs at market prices and remit to the producers an agreed upon percentage of the proceeds based on an index price. In other cases, instead of remitting cash payments to the producer, we deliver an agreed upon percentage of the residue gas and NGL volumes to the producer and sell the volumes we keep to third parties at market prices. Under these arrangements, our revenues and gross margins decline when natural gas prices and NGL prices decrease. Accordingly, a decrease in the price of natural gas or NGLs could have an adverse effect on our revenues and results of operations.
Under keep-whole arrangements, we generally sell the NGLs produced from our gathering and processing operations at market prices. Because the extraction of the NGLs from the natural gas during processing reduces the Btu content of the natural gas, we must either purchase natural gas at market prices for return to producers or make a cash payment to producers equal to the value of this natural gas. Under these arrangements, our gross margins generally decrease when the price of natural gas increases relative to the price of NGLs.
When we process the gas for a fee under processing fee agreements, we may guarantee recoveries to the producer. If recoveries are less than those guaranteed to the producer, we may suffer a loss by having to supply liquids or its cash equivalent to keep the producer whole.
We also receive fees and retain gas in kind from our natural gas transportation and storage customers. Our fuel retention fees and the value of gas that we retain in kind are directly affected by changes in natural gas prices. Decreases in natural gas prices tend to decrease our fuel retention fees and the value of retained gas.
In addition, we receive revenue from our off-gas processing and fractionating system in south Louisiana primarily through customer agreements that are a combination of keep-whole and percent-of-proceeds arrangements, as well as from transportation and fractionation fees. Consequently, a large portion of our off-gas processing and fractionation revenue is exposed to risks due to fluctuations in commodity prices. In addition, a decline in NGL prices could cause a decrease in demand for our off-gas processing and fractionation services and could have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
For our midstream segment, we generally analyze gross margin based on fee-based margin (which includes revenues from processing fee arrangements) and non-fee based margin (which includes gross margin earned on percent-of-proceeds and keep-whole arrangements). For the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, gross margin from our midstream segment totaled $2.38 billion, $2.18 billion and $1.80 billion, respectively, of which fee-based revenues constituted 76%, 77% and 86%, respectively, and non-fee based margin constituted 24%, 23% and 14%, respectively. The amount of gross margin earned by our midstream segment from fee-based and non-fee based arrangements (individually and as a percentage of total revenues) will be impacted by the volumes associated with both types of arrangements, as well as commodity prices; therefore, the dollar amounts and the relative magnitude of gross margin from fee-based and non-fee based arrangements in future periods may be significantly different from results reported in previous periods.
A material decrease in demand or distribution of crude oil available for transport through our pipelines or terminal facilities could materially and adversely affect our results of operations, financial position, or cash flows.
The volume of crude oil transported through our crude oil pipelines and terminal facilities depends on the availability of attractively priced crude oil produced or received in the areas serviced by our assets. A period of sustained crude oil price declines could lead to a decline in drilling activity, production and import levels in these areas. Similarly, a period of sustained increases in the price of crude oil supplied from any of these areas, as compared to alternative sources of crude oil available to our customers, could materially reduce demand for crude oil in these areas. In either case, the volumes of crude oil transported in our crude oil pipelines and terminal facilities could decline, and it could likely be difficult to secure alternative sources of attractively priced crude oil supply in a timely fashion or at all. If we are unable to replace any significant volume declines with additional volumes from other sources, our results of operations, financial position, or cash flows could be materially and adversely affected.
An interruption of supply of crude oil to our facilities could materially and adversely affect our results of operations and revenues.
While we are well positioned to transport and receive crude oil by pipeline, marine transport and trucks, rail transportation also serves as a critical link in the supply of domestic crude oil production to United States refiners, especially for crude oil from regions such as the Bakken that are not sourced near pipelines or waterways that connect to all of the major United States refining centers. Federal regulators have issued a safety advisory warning that Bakken crude oil may be more volatile than many other North American crude oils and reinforcing the requirement to properly test, characterize, classify, and, if applicable, sufficiently degasify hazardous materials prior to and during transportation. The domestic crude oil received by our facilities, especially from the Bakken region, may be transported by railroad. If the ability to transport crude oil by rail is disrupted because of accidents, weather interruptions, governmental regulation, congestion on rail lines, terrorism, other third-party action or casualty or other events, then we could experience an interruption of supply or delivery or an increased cost of receiving crude oil, and could experience a decline in volumes received. Recent railcar accidents in Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia, in each case involving trains carrying crude oil from the Bakken region, have led to increased legislative and regulatory scrutiny over the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. In 2015, the DOT, through the PHMSA, issued a rule implementing new rail car standards and railroad operating procedures. Changing operating practices, as well as new regulations on tank car standards and shipper classifications, could increase the time required to move crude oil from production areas of facilities, increase the cost of rail transportation, and decrease the efficiency of transportation of crude oil by rail, any of which could materially reduce the volume of crude oil received by rail and adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.
A significant decrease in demand for motor fuel, including increased consumer preference for alternative motor fuels or improvements in fuel efficiency, in the areas Sunoco LP serves would reduce their ability to make distributions to unitholders.
Sales of refined motor fuels account for approximately 97% of Sunoco LP’s total revenues and 71% of continuing operations gross profit. A significant decrease in demand for motor fuel in the areas Sunoco LP serves could significantly reduce revenues and Sunoco LP’s ability to make distributions to its unitholders. Sunoco LP revenues are dependent on various trends, such as trends in commercial truck traffic, travel and tourism in their areas of operation, and these trends can change. Regulatory action, including government imposed fuel efficiency standards, may also affect demand for motor fuel. Because certain of Sunoco LP’s operating costs and expenses are fixed and do not vary with the volumes of motor fuel distributed, their costs and expenses might not decrease ratably or at all should they experience such a reduction. As a result, Sunoco LP may experience declines in their profit margin if fuel distribution volumes decrease.
Any technological advancements, regulatory changes or changes in consumer preferences causing a significant shift toward alternative motor fuels could reduce demand for the conventional petroleum based motor fuels Sunoco LP currently sells. Additionally, a shift toward electric, hydrogen, natural gas or other alternative-power vehicles could fundamentally change customers' shopping habits or lead to new forms of fueling destinations or new competitive pressures.
New technologies have been developed and governmental mandates have been implemented to improve fuel efficiency, which may result in decreased demand for petroleum-based fuel. Any of these outcomes could result in fewer visits to Sunoco LP’s convenience stores or independently operated commission agents and dealer locations, a reduction in demand from their wholesale customers, decreases in both fuel and merchandise sales revenue, or reduced profit margins, any of which could have a material adverse effect on Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
The industries in which Sunoco LP operates are subject to seasonal trends, which may cause its operating costs to fluctuate, affecting its cash flow.
Sunoco LP relies in part on customer travel and spending patterns, and may experience more demand for gasoline in the late spring and summer months than during the fall and winter. Travel, recreation and construction are typically higher in these months in the geographic areas in which Sunoco LP or its commission agents and dealers operate, increasing the demand for motor fuel that
they sell and distribute. Therefore, Sunoco LP’s revenues and cash flows are typically higher in the second and third quarters of our fiscal year. As a result, Sunoco LP’s results from operations may vary widely from period to period, affecting Sunoco LP’s cash flow.
Sunoco LP’s financial condition and results of operations are influenced by changes in the prices of motor fuel, which may adversely impact margins, customers’ financial condition and the availability of trade credit.
Sunoco LP’s operating results are influenced by prices for motor fuel. General economic and political conditions, acts of war or terrorism and instability in oil producing regions, particularly in the Middle East and South America, could significantly impact crude oil supplies and petroleum costs. Significant increases or high volatility in petroleum costs could impact consumer demand for motor fuel and convenience merchandise. Such volatility makes it difficult to predict the impact that future petroleum costs fluctuations may have on Sunoco LP’s operating results and financial condition. Sunoco LP is subject to dealer tank wagon pricing structures at certain locations further contributing to margin volatility. A significant change in any of these factors could materially impact both wholesale and retail fuel margins, the volume of motor fuel distributed or sold at retail, and overall customer traffic, each of which in turn could have a material adverse effect on Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
Significant increases in wholesale motor fuel prices could impact Sunoco LP as some of their customers may have insufficient credit to purchase motor fuel from us at their historical volumes. Higher prices for motor fuel may also reduce access to trade credit support or cause it to become more expensive.
The dangers inherent in the storage and transportation of motor fuel could cause disruptions in Sunoco LP’s operations and could expose them to potentially significant losses, costs or liabilities.
Sunoco LP stores motor fuel in underground and aboveground storage tanks. Sunoco LP transports the majority of its motor fuel in its own trucks, instead of by third-party carriers. Sunoco LP’s operations are subject to significant hazards and risks inherent in transporting and storing motor fuel. These hazards and risks include, but are not limited to, traffic accidents, fires, explosions, spills, discharges, and other releases, any of which could result in distribution difficulties and disruptions, environmental pollution, governmentally-imposed fines or clean-up obligations, personal injury or wrongful death claims, and other damage to its properties and the properties of others. Any such event not covered by Sunoco LP’s insurance could have a material adverse effect on its business, financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
Sunoco LP’s fuel storage terminals are subject to operational and business risks which may adversely affect their financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and ability to make distributions to unitholders.
Sunoco LP’s fuel storage terminals are subject to operational and business risks, the most significant of which include the following:
the inability to renew a ground lease for certain of their fuel storage terminals on similar terms or at all;
the dependence on third parties to supply their fuel storage terminals;
outages at their fuel storage terminals or interrupted operations due to weather-related or other natural causes;
the threat that the nation’s terminal infrastructure may be a future target of terrorist organizations;
the volatility in the prices of the products stored at their fuel storage terminals and the resulting fluctuations in demand for storage services;
the effects of a sustained recession or other adverse economic conditions;
the possibility of federal and/or state regulations that may discourage their customers from storing gasoline, diesel fuel, ethanol and jet fuel at their fuel storage terminals or reduce the demand by consumers for petroleum products;
competition from other fuel storage terminals that are able to supply their customers with comparable storage capacity at lower prices; and
climate change legislation or regulations that restrict emissions of GHGs could result in increased operating and capital costs and reduced demand for our storage services.
The occurrence of any of the above situations, amongst others, may affect operations at their fuel storage terminals and may adversely affect Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and ability to make distributions to unitholders.
Negative events or developments associated with Sunoco LP’s branded suppliers could have an adverse impact on its revenues.
Sunoco LP believes that the success of its operations is dependent, in part, on the continuing favorable reputation, market value, and name recognition associated with the motor fuel brands sold at Sunoco LP’s convenience stores and at stores operated by its independent, branded dealers and commission agents. Erosion of the value of those brands could have an adverse impact on the volumes of motor fuel Sunoco LP distributes, which in turn could have a material adverse effect on its business, financial condition, results of operations and ability to make distributions to its unitholders.
The wholesale motor fuel distribution industry and convenience store industry are characterized by intense competition and fragmentation and impacted by new entrants. Failure to effectively compete could result in lower margins.
The market for distribution of wholesale motor fuel is highly competitive and fragmented, which results in narrow margins. Sunoco LP has numerous competitors, some of which may have significantly greater resources and name recognition than it does. Sunoco LP relies on its ability to provide value-added, reliable services and to control its operating costs in order to maintain our margins and competitive position. If Sunoco LP fails to maintain the quality of its services, certain of its customers could choose alternative distribution sources and margins could decrease. While major integrated oil companies have generally continued to divest retail sites and the corresponding wholesale distribution to such sites, such major oil companies could shift from this strategy and decide to distribute their own products in direct competition with Sunoco LP, or large customers could attempt to buy directly from the major oil companies. The occurrence of any of these events could have a material adverse effect on Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
The geographic areas in which Sunoco LP operates and supplies independently operated commission agent and dealer locations are highly competitive and marked by ease of entry and constant change in the number and type of retailers offering products and services of the type we and our independently operated commission agents and dealers sell in stores. Sunoco LP competes with other convenience store chains, independently owned convenience stores, motor fuel stations, supermarkets, drugstores, discount stores, dollar stores, club stores, mass merchants and local restaurants. Over the past two decades, several non-traditional retailers, such as supermarkets, hypermarkets, club stores and mass merchants, have impacted the convenience store industry, particularly in the geographic areas in which Sunoco LP operates, by entering the motor fuel retail business. These non-traditional motor fuel retailers have captured a significant share of the motor fuels market, and Sunoco LP expects their market share will continue to grow.
In some of Sunoco LP’s markets, its competitors have been in existence longer and have greater financial, marketing, and other resources than they or their independently operated commission agents and dealers do. As a result, Sunoco LP’s competitors may be able to better respond to changes in the economy and new opportunities within the industry. To remain competitive, Sunoco LP must constantly analyze consumer preferences and competitors’ offerings and prices to ensure that they offer a selection of convenience products and services at competitive prices to meet consumer demand. Sunoco LP must also maintain and upgrade our customer service levels, facilities and locations to remain competitive and attract customer traffic to our stores. Sunoco LP may not be able to compete successfully against current and future competitors, and competitive pressures faced by Sunoco LP could have a material adverse effect on its business, results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
Sunoco LP currently depends on a limited number of principal suppliers in each of its operating areas for a substantial portion of its merchandise inventory and its products and ingredients for its food service facilities. A disruption in supply or a change in either relationship could have a material adverse effect on its business.
Sunoco LP currently depends on a limited number of principal suppliers in each of its operating areas for a substantial portion of its merchandise inventory and its products and ingredients for its food service facilities. If any of Sunoco LP’s principal suppliers elect not to renew their contracts, Sunoco LP may be unable to replace the volume of merchandise inventory and products and ingredients currently purchased from them on similar terms or at all in those operating areas. Further, a disruption in supply or a significant change in Sunoco LP’s relationship with any of these suppliers could have a material adverse effect on Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition and results of operations and cash available for distribution to unitholders.
Sunoco LP may be subject to adverse publicity resulting from concerns over food quality, product safety, health or other negative events or developments that could cause consumers to avoid its retail locations or independently operated commission agent or dealer locations.
Sunoco LP may be the subject of complaints or litigation arising from food-related illness or product safety which could have a negative impact on its business. Negative publicity, regardless of whether the allegations are valid, concerning food quality, food safety or other health concerns, food service facilities, employee relations or other matters related to its operations may materially adversely affect demand for its food and other products and could result in a decrease in customer traffic to its retail stores or independently operated commission agent or dealer locations.
It is critical to Sunoco LP’s reputation that they maintain a consistent level of high quality at their food service facilities and other franchise or fast food offerings. Health concerns, poor food quality or operating issues stemming from one store or a limited number of stores could materially and adversely affect the operating results of some or all of their stores and harm the company-owned brands, continuing favorable reputation, market value and name recognition.
USAC’s customers may choose to vertically integrate their operations by purchasing and operating their own compression fleet, increasing the number of compression units they currently own or using alternative technologies for enhancing crude oil production.
USAC’s customers that are significant producers, processors, gatherers and transporters of natural gas and crude oil may choose to vertically integrate their operations by purchasing and operating their own compression fleets in lieu of using USAC’s compression services. The historical availability of attractive financing terms from financial institutions and equipment manufacturers facilitates this possibility by making the purchase of individual compression units increasingly affordable to USAC's customers. In addition, there are many technologies available for the artificial enhancement of crude oil production, and USAC's customers may elect to use these alternative technologies instead of the gas lift compression services USAC provides. Such vertical integration, increases in vertical integration or use of alternative technologies could result in decreased demand for USAC's compression services, which may have a material adverse effect on its business, results of operations, financial condition and reduce its cash available for distribution.
A significant portion of USAC's services are provided to customers on a month-to-month basis, and USAC cannot be sure that such customers will continue to utilize its services.
USAC's contracts typically have an initial term of between six months and five years, depending on the application and location of the compression unit. After the expiration of the initial term, the contract continues on a month-to-month or longer basis until terminated by USAC or USAC's customers upon notice as provided for in the applicable contract. As of December 31, 2018, approximately 47% of USAC's compression services on a revenue basis were provided on a month-to-month basis to customers who continue to utilize its services following expiration of the primary term of their contracts. These customers can generally terminate their month-to-month compression services contracts on 30-days’ written notice. If a significant number of these customers were to terminate their month-to-month services, or attempt to renegotiate their month-to-month contracts at substantially lower rates, it could have a material adverse effect on USAC's business, results of operations, financial condition and cash available for distribution.
USAC’s Preferred Units have rights, preferences and privileges that are not held by, and are preferential to the rights of, holders of its common units.
USAC’s Preferred Units rank senior to all of its other classes or series of equity securities with respect to distribution rights and rights upon liquidation. These preferences could adversely affect the market price for its common units, or could make it more difficult for USAC to sell its common units in the future.
In addition, distributions on USAC’s Preferred Units accrue and are cumulative, at the rate of 9.75% per annum on the original issue price, which amounts to a quarterly distribution of $24.375 per Preferred Unit. If USAC does not pay the required distributions on its Preferred Units, USAC will be unable to pay distributions on its common units. Additionally, because distributions on USAC’s Preferred Units are cumulative, USAC will have to pay all unpaid accumulated distributions on the Preferred Units before USAC can pay any distributions on its common units. Also, because distributions on USAC’s common units are not cumulative, if USAC does not pay distributions on its common units with respect to any quarter, USAC’s common unitholders will not be entitled to receive distributions covering any prior periods if USAC later recommences paying distributions on its common units.
USAC’s Preferred Units are convertible into common units by the holders of USAC’s Preferred Units or by USAC in certain circumstances. USAC’s obligation to pay distributions on USAC’s Preferred Units, or on the common units issued following the conversion of USAC’s Preferred Units, could impact USAC’s liquidity and reduce the amount of cash flow available for working capital, capital expenditures, growth opportunities, acquisitions and other general Partnership purposes. USAC’s obligations to the holders of USAC’s Preferred Units could also limit its ability to obtain additional financing or increase its borrowing costs, which could have an adverse effect on its financial condition.
The use of derivative financial instruments could result in material financial losses by us.
From time to time, we and/or our subsidiaries have sought to reduce our exposure to fluctuations in commodity prices and interest rates by using derivative financial instruments and other risk management mechanisms and by our trading, marketing and/or system optimization activities. To the extent that we hedge our commodity price and interest rate exposures, we forgo the benefits we would otherwise experience if commodity prices or interest rates were to change in our favor.
The accounting standards regarding hedge accounting are very complex, and even when we engage in hedging transactions that are effective economically (whether to mitigate our exposure to fluctuations in commodity prices, or to balance our exposure to fixed and variable interest rates), these transactions may not be considered effective for accounting purposes. Accordingly, our consolidated financial statements may reflect some volatility due to these hedges, even when there is no underlying economic impact at that point. It is also not always possible for us to engage in a hedging transaction that completely mitigates our exposure to commodity prices. Our consolidated financial statements may reflect a gain or loss arising from an exposure to commodity prices for which we are unable to enter into a completely effective hedge.
In addition, our derivatives activities can result in losses. Such losses could occur under various circumstances, including if a counterparty does not perform its obligations under the derivative arrangement, the hedge is imperfect, commodity prices move unfavorably related to our physical or financial positions or hedging policies and procedures are not followed.
Our revenues depend on our customers’ ability to use our pipelines and third-party pipelines over which we have no control.
Our natural gas transportation, storage and NGL businesses depend, in part, on our customers’ ability to obtain access to pipelines to deliver gas to us and receive gas from us. Many of these pipelines are owned by parties not affiliated with us. Any interruption of service on our pipelines or third-party pipelines due to testing, line repair, reduced operating pressures, or other causes or adverse change in terms and conditions of service could have a material adverse effect on our ability, and the ability of our customers, to transport natural gas to and from our pipelines and facilities and a corresponding material adverse effect on our transportation and storage revenues. In addition, the rates charged by interconnected pipelines for transportation to and from our facilities affect the utilization and value of our storage services. Significant changes in the rates charged by those pipelines or the rates charged by other pipelines with which the interconnected pipelines compete could also have a material adverse effect on our storage revenues.
Shippers using our oil pipelines and terminals are also dependent upon our pipelines and connections to third-party pipelines to receive and deliver crude oil and products. Any interruptions or reduction in the capabilities of these pipelines due to testing, line repair, reduced operating pressures, or other causes could result in reduced volumes transported in our pipelines or through our terminals. Similarly, if additional shippers begin transporting volume over interconnecting oil pipelines, the allocations of pipeline capacity to our existing shippers on these interconnecting pipelines could be reduced, which also could reduce volumes transported in its pipelines or through our terminals. Allocation reductions of this nature are not infrequent and are beyond our control. Any such interruptions or allocation reductions that, individually or in the aggregate, are material or continue for a sustained period of time could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, financial position, or cash flows.
The inability to continue to access lands owned by third parties could adversely affect our ability to operate and our financial results.
Our ability to operate our pipeline systems on certain lands owned by third parties, will depend on our success in maintaining existing rights-of-way and obtaining new rights-of-way on those lands. We are parties to rights-of-way agreements, permits and licenses authorizing land use with numerous parties, including, private land owners, governmental entities, Native American tribes, rail carriers, public utilities and others. Our ability to secure extensions of existing agreements, permits and licenses is essential to our continuing business operations, and securing additional rights-of-way will be critical to our ability to pursue expansion projects. We cannot provide any assurance that we will be able to maintain access to existing rights-of-way upon the expiration of the current grants, that all of the rights-of-way will be obtained in a timely fashion or that we will acquire new rights-of-way as needed.
Further, whether we have the power of eminent domain for our pipelines varies from state to state, depending upon the type of pipeline and the laws of the particular state and the ownership of the land to which we seek access. When we exercise eminent down rights or negotiate private agreements cases, we must compensate landowners for the use of their property and, in eminent domain actions, such compensation may be determined by a court. The inability to exercise the power of eminent domain could negatively affect our business if we were to lose the right to use or occupy the property on which our pipelines are located. For example, following a recent decision issued in May 2017 by the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, tribal ownership of even a very small fractional interest in an allotted land, that is, tribal land owned or at one time owned by an individual Indian landowner, bars condemnation of any interest in the allotment. Consequently, the inability to condemn such allotted lands under circumstances where an existing pipeline rights-of-way may soon lapse or terminate serves as an additional impediment for pipeline operators. Any loss of rights with respect to our real property, through our inability to renew right-of-way contracts or otherwise, could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
Sunoco LP does not own all of the land on which its retail service stations are located, and Sunoco LP leases certain facilities and equipment, and Sunoco LP is subject to the possibility of increased costs to retain necessary land use which could disrupt its operations.
Sunoco LP does not own all of the land on which its retail service stations are located. Sunoco LP has rental agreements for approximately 38.1% of the company, commission agent or dealer operated retail service stations where Sunoco LP currently controls the real estate. Sunoco LP also has rental agreements for certain logistics facilities. As such, Sunoco LP is subject to the possibility of increased costs under rental agreements with landowners, primarily through rental increases and renewals of expired agreements. Sunoco LP is also subject to the risk that such agreements may not be renewed. Additionally, certain facilities and equipment (or parts thereof) used by Sunoco LP are leased from third parties for specific periods. Sunoco LP’s inability to renew leases or otherwise maintain the right to utilize such facilities and equipment on acceptable terms, or the increased costs to maintain such rights, could have a material adverse effect on its financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
We, Sunoco LP and USAC may not be able to fully execute our growth strategy if we encounter increased competition for qualified assets.
Our strategy contemplates growth through the development and acquisition of a wide range of midstream, transportation, storage and other energy infrastructure assets while maintaining a strong balance sheet. This strategy includes constructing and acquiring additional assets and businesses to enhance our ability to compete effectively and diversify our asset portfolio, thereby providing more stable cash flow. We regularly consider and enter into discussions regarding the acquisition of additional assets and businesses, stand-alone development projects or other transactions that we believe will present opportunities to realize synergies and increase our cash flow.
Consistent with our strategy, we may, from time to time, engage in discussions with potential sellers regarding the possible acquisition of additional assets or businesses. Such acquisition efforts may involve our participation in processes that involve a number of potential buyers, commonly referred to as “auction” processes, as well as situations in which we believe we are the only party or one of a very limited number of potential buyers in negotiations with the potential seller. We cannot give assurance that our acquisition efforts will be successful or that any acquisition will be completed on terms considered favorable to us.
In addition, we are experiencing increased competition for the assets we purchase or contemplate purchasing. Increased competition for a limited pool of assets could result in us losing to other bidders more often or acquiring assets at higher prices, both of which would limit our ability to fully execute our growth strategy. Inability to execute our growth strategy may materially adversely impact our results of operations.
An impairment of goodwill and intangible assets could reduce our earnings.
As of December 31, 2018, our consolidated balance sheet reflected $4.89 billion of goodwill and $6.00 billion of intangible assets. Goodwill is recorded when the purchase price of a business exceeds the fair value of the tangible and separately measurable intangible net assets. Accounting principles generally accepted in the United States require us to test goodwill for impairment on an annual basis or when events or circumstances occur, indicating that goodwill might be impaired. Long-lived assets such as intangible assets with finite useful lives are reviewed for impairment whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount may not be recoverable. If we determine that any of our goodwill or intangible assets were impaired, we would be required to take an immediate charge to earnings with a correlative effect on partners’ capital and balance sheet leverage as measured by debt to total capitalization.
During the fourth quarter of 2018, the Partnership recognized goodwill impairments of $378 million related to our Northeast operations within the midstream segment primarily due to changes in assumptions related to projected future revenues and cash flows from the dates the goodwill was originally recorded. These changes in assumptions reflect delays in the construction of third-party takeaway capacity in the Northeast. During 2018, Sunoco LP recognized a $30 million impairment charge on its contractual rights.
During the fourth quarter of 2017, the Partnership recognized goodwill impairments of $262 million in the interstate transportation and storage segment, $79 million in the NGL and refined products transportation and services segment and $452 million in the all other segment primarily due to changes in assumptions related to projected future revenues and cash flows from the dates the goodwill was originally recorded. During 2017, Sunoco LP recognized goodwill an impairment of $102 million on its retail reporting unit.
During the fourth quarter of 2016, we performed goodwill impairment tests on our reporting units and recognized goodwill impairments of $638 million in the interstate transportation and storage segment and $32 million in the midstream segment. These goodwill impairments were primarily due to decreases in projected future revenues and cash flows driven by declines in commodity prices and changes in the markets that these assets serve.
If we and our subsidiaries do not make acquisitions on economically acceptable terms, our future growth could be limited.
Our results of operations and our ability to grow and to make distributions to Unitholders will depend in part on our ability to make acquisitions that are accretive to our distributable cash flow per unit.
We may be unable to make accretive acquisitions for any of the following reasons, among others:
because we are unable to identify attractive acquisition candidates or negotiate acceptable purchase contracts with them;
because we are unable to raise financing for such acquisitions on economically acceptable terms; or
because we are outbid by competitors, some of which are substantially larger than us and have greater financial resources and lower costs of capital then we do.
Furthermore, even if we consummate acquisitions that we believe will be accretive, those acquisitions may in fact adversely affect our results of operations or result in a decrease in distributable cash flow per unit. Any acquisition involves potential risks, including the risk that we may:
fail to realize anticipated benefits, such as new customer relationships, cost-savings or cash flow enhancements;
decrease our liquidity by using a significant portion of our available cash or borrowing capacity to finance acquisitions;
significantly increase our interest expense or financial leverage if we incur additional debt to finance acquisitions;
encounter difficulties operating in new geographic areas or new lines of business;
incur or assume unanticipated liabilities, losses or costs associated with the business or assets acquired for which we are not indemnified or for which the indemnity is inadequate;
be unable to hire, train or retrain qualified personnel to manage and operate our growing business and assets;
less effectively manage our historical assets, due to the diversion of management’s attention from other business concerns; or
incur other significant charges, such as impairment of goodwill or other intangible assets, asset devaluation or restructuring charges.
If we consummate future acquisitions, our capitalization and results of operations may change significantly. As we determine the application of our funds and other resources, Unitholders will not have an opportunity to evaluate the economic, financial and other relevant information that we will consider.
Integration of assets acquired in past acquisitions or future acquisitions with our existing business will be a complex and time-consuming process. A failure to successfully integrate the acquired assets with our existing business in a timely manner may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash available for distribution to our unitholders.
The difficulties of integrating past and future acquisitions with our business include, among other things:
operating a larger combined organization in new geographic areas and new lines of business;
hiring, training or retaining qualified personnel to manage and operate our growing business and assets;
integrating management teams and employees into existing operations and establishing effective communication and information exchange with such management teams and employees;
diversion of management’s attention from our existing business;
assimilation of acquired assets and operations, including additional regulatory programs;
loss of customers or key employees;
maintaining an effective system of internal controls in compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 as well as other regulatory compliance and corporate governance matters; and
integrating new technology systems for financial reporting.
If any of these risks or other unanticipated liabilities or costs were to materialize, then desired benefits from past acquisitions and future acquisitions resulting in a negative impact to our future results of operations. In addition, acquired assets may perform at levels below the forecasts used to evaluate their acquisition, due to factors beyond our control. If the acquired assets perform at levels below the forecasts, then our future results of operations could be negatively impacted.
Also, our reviews of proposed business or asset acquisitions are inherently imperfect because it is generally not feasible to perform an in-depth review of each such proposal given time constraints imposed by sellers. Even if performed, a detailed review of assets and businesses may not reveal existing or potential problems, and may not provide sufficient familiarity with such business or assets to fully assess their deficiencies and potential. Inspections may not be performed on every asset, and environmental problems, may not be observable even when an inspection is undertaken.
If we do not continue to construct new pipelines, our future growth could be limited.
Our results of operations and ability to grow and to increase distributable cash flow per unit will depend, in part, on our ability to construct pipelines that are accretive to our distributable cash flow. We may be unable to construct pipelines that are accretive to distributable cash flow for any of the following reasons, among others:
we are unable to identify pipeline construction opportunities with favorable projected financial returns;
we are unable to obtain necessary governmental approvals and contracts with qualified contractors and vendors on acceptable terms;
we are unable to raise financing for our identified pipeline construction opportunities; or
we are unable to secure sufficient transportation commitments from potential customers due to competition from other pipeline construction projects or for other reasons.
Furthermore, even if we construct a pipeline that we believe will be accretive, the pipeline may in fact adversely affect our results of operations or results from those projected prior to commencement of construction and other factors.
Expanding our business by constructing new pipelines and related facilities subjects us to risks.
One of the ways that we have grown our business is through the construction of additions to our existing gathering, compression, treating, processing and transportation systems. The construction of new pipelines and related facilities (or the improvement and repair of existing facilities) involves numerous regulatory, environmental, political and legal uncertainties beyond our control and requires the expenditure of significant amounts of capital that we will be required to finance through borrowings, the issuance of additional equity or from operating cash flow. If we undertake these projects, they may not be completed on schedule, at all, or at the budgeted cost. A variety of factors outside our control, such as weather, natural disasters and difficulties in obtaining permits and rights-of-way or other regulatory approvals, as well as the performance by third-party contractors, may result in increased costs or delays in construction. Cost overruns or delays in completing a project could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and cash flows. Moreover, our revenues may not increase immediately following the completion of a particular project. For instance, if we build a new pipeline, the construction will occur over an extended period of time, but we may not materially increase our revenues until long after the project’s completion. In addition, the success of a pipeline construction project will likely depend upon the level of oil and natural gas exploration and development drilling activity and the demand for pipeline transportation in the areas proposed to be serviced by the project as well as our ability to obtain commitments from producers in the area to utilize the newly constructed pipelines. In this regard, we may construct facilities to capture anticipated future growth in oil or natural gas production in a region in which such growth does not materialize. As a result, new facilities may be unable to attract enough throughput or contracted capacity reservation commitments to achieve our expected investment return, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We depend on certain key producers for our supply of natural gas and the loss of any of these key producers could adversely affect our financial results.
Certain producers who are connected to our systems represent a material source of our supply of natural gas. We are not the only option available to these producers for disposition of the natural gas they produce. To the extent that these and other producers may reduce the volumes of natural gas that they supply us, we would be adversely affected unless we were able to acquire comparable supplies of natural gas from other producers.
Our intrastate transportation and storage and interstate transportation and storage operations depend on key customers to transport natural gas through our pipelines and the pipelines of our joint ventures.
During 2018, Trafigura US Inc. accounted for approximately 32% of our intrastate transportation and storage revenues. During 2018, Shell, Ascent Resources LLC and Antero Resources Corporation collectively accounted for 38% of our interstate transportation and storage revenues.
Our joint ventures, FEP and Citrus, also depend on key customers for the transport of natural gas through their pipelines. FEP has a small number of major shippers with one shipper accounting for approximately 64% of its revenues in 2018 while Citrus
has long-term agreements with its top two customers which accounted for 59% of its 2018 revenue. For Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail, CFE International LLC is the sole shipper.
The failure of the major shippers on our and our joint ventures’ intrastate and interstate transportation and storage pipelines to fulfill their contractual obligations could have a material adverse effect on our cash flow and results of operations if we or our joint ventures were unable to replace these customers under arrangements that provide similar economic benefits as these existing contracts.
Our interstate natural gas pipelines are subject to laws, regulations and policies governing the rates they are allowed to charge for their services, which may prevent us from fully recovering our costs.
Laws, regulations and policies governing interstate natural gas pipeline rates could affect the ability of our interstate pipelines to establish rates, to charge rates that would cover future increases in its costs, or to continue to collect rates that cover current costs.
We are required to file tariff rates (also known as recourse rates) with the FERC that shippers may pay for interstate natural gas transportation services. We may also agree to discount these rates on a not unduly discriminatory basis or negotiate rates with shippers who elect not to pay the recourse rates. The FERC must approve or accept all rate filings for us to be allowed to charge such rates.
The FERC may review existing tariff rates on its own initiative or upon receipt of a complaint filed by a third party. The FERC may, on a prospective basis, order refunds of amounts collected if it finds the rates to have been shown not to be just and reasonable or to have been unduly discriminatory. The FERC has recently exercised this authority with respect to several other pipeline companies. If the FERC were to initiate a proceeding against us and find that our rates were not just and reasonable or unduly discriminatory, the maximum rates we are permitted to charge may be reduced and the reduction could have an adverse effect on our revenues and results of operations.
The costs of our interstate pipeline operations may increase and we may not be able to recover all of those costs due to FERC regulation of our rates. If we propose to change our tariff rates, our proposed rates may be challenged by the FERC or third parties, and the FERC may deny, modify or limit our proposed changes if we are unable to persuade the FERC that changes would result in just and reasonable rates that are not unduly discriminatory. We also may be limited by the terms of rate case settlement agreements or negotiated rate agreements with individual customers from seeking future rate increases, or we may be constrained by competitive factors from charging our tariff rates.
To the extent our costs increase in an amount greater than our revenues increase, or there is a lag between our cost increases and our ability to file for and obtain rate increases, our operating results would be negatively affected. Even if a rate increase is permitted by the FERC to become effective, the rate increase may not be adequate. We cannot guarantee that our interstate pipelines will be able to recover all of our costs through existing or future rates.
The ability of interstate pipelines held in tax-pass-through entities, like us, to include an allowance for income taxes as a cost-of-service element in their regulated rates has been subject to extensive litigation before the FERC and the courts for a number of years. Effective January 2018, the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act (the “Tax Act”) changed several provisions of the federal tax code, including a reduction in the maximum corporate tax rate. On March 15, 2018, in a set of related proposals, the FERC addressed treatment of federal income tax allowances in regulated entity rates. The FERC issued a Revised Policy Statement on Treatment of Income Taxes (“Revised Policy Statement”) stating that it will no longer permit master limited partnerships to recover an income tax allowance in their cost of service rates. The FERC issued the Revised Policy Statement in response to a remand from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in United Airlines v. FERC, in which the court determined that the FERC had not justified its conclusion that a pipeline organized as a master limited partnership would not “double recover” its taxes under the current policy by both including an income-tax allowance in its cost of service and earning a return on equity calculated using the discounted cash flow methodology. On July 18, 2018, the FERC issued an order denying requests for rehearing and clarification of its Revised Policy Statement because it is a non-binding policy and parties will have the opportunity to address the policy as applied in future cases. In the rehearing order, the FERC clarified that a pipeline organized as a master limited partnership will not be precluded in a future proceeding from arguing and providing evidentiary support that it is entitled to an income tax allowance and demonstrating that its recovery of an income tax allowance does not result in a double-recovery of investors’ income tax costs.
Included in the March 15, 2018 proposals is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NOPR”) proposing rules for implementation of the Revised Policy Statement and the corporate income tax rate reduction with respect to natural gas pipeline rates. On July 18, 2018, the FERC issued a Final Rule (Order No. 849) adopting procedures that are generally the same as proposed in the NOPR with a few clarifications and modifications. With limited exceptions, the Final Rule requires all FERC regulated natural gas pipelines that have cost-based rates for service to make a one-time Form No. 501-G filing providing certain financial information and to make an election on how to treat its existing rates. The Final Rule suggests that this information will allow the FERC and
other stakeholders to evaluate the impacts of the Tax Act and the Revised Policy Statement on each individual pipeline’s rates. The Final Rule also requires that each FERC regulated natural gas pipeline select one of four options: file a limited Natural Gas Act (“NGA”) Section 4 filing reducing its rates only as required related to the Tax Act and the Revised Policy Statement, commit to filing a general NGA Section 4 rate case in the near future, file a statement explaining why an adjustment to rates is not needed, or take no other action. For the limited NGA Section 4 option, the FERC clarified that, notwithstanding the Revised Policy Statement, a pipeline organized as a master limited partnership does not need to eliminate its income tax allowance but, instead, can reduce its rates to reflect the reduction in the maximum corporate tax rate. Trunkline, ETC Tiger Pipeline, LLC and Panhandle filed their respective FERC Form No. 501-Gs on October 11, 2018. FEP, Lake Charles LNG and certain other operating subsidiaries filed their respective FERC Form No. 501-Gs on or about November 8, 2018. Rover, FGT, Transwestern and MEP filed their respective FERC Form No. 501-Gs on or about December 6, 2018. Because our existing jurisdictional rates were established based on a higher corporate tax rate, FERC or our shippers may challenge these rates in the future, and the resulting new rate may be lower than the rates we currently charge. For example, the FERC has recently initiated reviews of Panhandle’s and Southwest Gas Storage Company’s existing rates pursuant to Section 5 of the Natural Gas Act to determine whether the rates currently charged are just and reasonable. These reviews will require the filing of a cost and revenue study prior to the FERC issuing a decision.
Our interstate natural gas pipelines are subject to laws, regulations and policies governing terms and conditions of service, which could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
In addition to rate oversight, the FERC’s regulatory authority extends to many other aspects of the business and operations of our interstate natural gas pipelines, including:
terms and conditions of service;
the types of services interstate pipelines may or must offer their customers;
construction of new facilities;
acquisition, extension or abandonment of services or facilities;
reporting and information posting requirements;
accounts and records; and
relationships with affiliated companies involved in all aspects of the natural gas and energy businesses.
Compliance with these requirements can be costly and burdensome. In addition, we cannot guarantee that the FERC will authorize tariff changes and other activities we might propose and to undertake in a timely manner and free from potentially burdensome conditions. Future changes to laws, regulations, policies and interpretations thereof may impair our access to capital markets or may impair the ability of our interstate pipelines to compete for business, may impair their ability to recover costs or may increase the cost and burden of operation.
The current FERC Chairman announced in December 2017 that FERC will review its policies on certification of natural gas pipelines, including an examination of its long-standing Policy Statement on Certification of New Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Facilities, issued in 1999, that is used to determine whether to grant certificates for new pipeline projects. We are unable to predict what, if any, changes may be proposed that will affect our natural gas pipeline business or when such proposals, if any, might become effective. We do not expect that any change in this policy would affect us in a materially different manner than any other similarly sized natural gas pipeline company operating in the United States.
Rate regulation or market conditions may not allow us to recover the full amount of increases in the costs of our crude oil, NGL and refined products pipeline operations.
Transportation provided on our common carrier interstate crude oil, NGL and refined products pipelines is subject to rate regulation by the FERC, which requires that tariff rates for transportation on these oil pipelines be just and reasonable and not unduly discriminatory. If we propose new or changed rates, the FERC or interested persons may challenge those rates and the FERC is authorized to suspend the effectiveness of such rates for up to seven months and to investigate such rates. If, upon completion of an investigation, the FERC finds that the proposed rate is unjust or unreasonable, it is authorized to require the carrier to refund revenues in excess of the prior tariff during the term of the investigation. The FERC also may investigate, upon complaint or on its own motion, rates that are already in effect and may order a carrier to change its rates prospectively. Upon an appropriate showing, a shipper may obtain reparations for damages sustained for a period of up to two years prior to the filing of a complaint.
The primary ratemaking methodology used by the FERC to authorize increases in the tariff rates of petroleum pipelines is price indexing. The FERC’s ratemaking methodologies may limit our ability to set rates based on our costs or may delay the use of rates that reflect increased costs. In October 2016, FERC issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on a number of proposals, including: (1) whether the Commission should deny any increase in a rate ceiling or annual index-
based rate increase if a pipeline’s revenues exceed total costs by 15% for the prior two years; (2) a new percentage comparison test that would deny a proposed increase to a pipeline’s rate or ceiling level greater than 5% above the barrel-mile cost changes; and (3) a requirement that all pipelines file indexed ceiling levels annually, with the ceiling levels subject to challenge and restricting the pipeline’s ability to carry forward the full indexed increase to a future period. The comment period with respect to the proposed rules ended March 17, 2017. FERC has not yet taken any further action on the proposed rule. If the FERC’s indexing methodology changes, the new methodology could materially and adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.
Under the Energy Policy Act of 1992, certain interstate pipeline rates were deemed just and reasonable or “grandfathered.” Revenues are derived from such grandfathered rates on most of our FERC-regulated pipelines. A person challenging a grandfathered rate must, as a threshold matter, establish a substantial change since the date of enactment of the Energy Policy Act, in either the economic circumstances or the nature of the service that formed the basis for the rate. If the FERC were to find a substantial change in circumstances, then the existing rates could be subject to detailed review and there is a risk that some rates could be found to be in excess of levels justified by the pipeline’s costs. In such event, the FERC could order us to reduce pipeline rates prospectively and to pay refunds to shippers.
If the FERC’s petroleum pipeline ratemaking methodologies procedures changes, the new methodology or procedures could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
State regulatory measures could adversely affect the business and operations of our midstream and intrastate pipeline and storage assets.
Our midstream and intrastate transportation and storage operations are generally exempt from FERC regulation under the NGA, but FERC regulation still significantly affects our business and the market for our products. The rates, terms and conditions of service for the interstate services we provide in our intrastate gas pipelines and gas storage are subject to FERC regulation under Section 311 of the NGPA. Our HPL System, East Texas pipeline, Oasis pipeline and ET Fuel System provide such services. Under Section 311, rates charged for transportation and storage must be fair and equitable. Amounts collected in excess of fair and equitable rates are subject to refund with interest, and the terms and conditions of service, set forth in the pipeline’s statement of operating conditions, are subject to FERC review and approval. Should the FERC determine not to authorize rates equal to or greater than our costs of service, our cash flow would be negatively affected.
Our midstream and intrastate gas and oil transportation pipelines and our intrastate gas storage operations are subject to state regulation. All of the states in which we operate midstream assets, intrastate pipelines or intrastate storage facilities have adopted some form of complaint-based regulation, which allow producers and shippers to file complaints with state regulators in an effort to resolve grievances relating to the fairness of rates and terms of access. The states in which we operate have ratable take statutes, which generally require gatherers to take, without undue discrimination, production that may be tendered to the gatherer for handling. Similarly, common purchaser statutes generally require gatherers to purchase without undue discrimination as to source of supply or producer. These statutes have the effect of restricting our right as an owner of gathering facilities to decide with whom we contract to purchase or transport natural gas. Should a complaint be filed in any of these states or should regulation become more active, our business may be adversely affected.
Our intrastate transportation operations located in Texas are also subject to regulation as gas utilities by the TRRC. Texas gas utilities must publish the rates they charge for transportation and storage services in tariffs filed with the TRRC, although such rates are deemed just and reasonable under Texas law unless challenged in a complaint.
We are subject to other forms of state regulation, including requirements to obtain operating permits, reporting requirements, and safety rules (see description of federal and state pipeline safety regulation below). Violations of state laws, regulations, orders and permit conditions can result in the modification, cancellation or suspension of a permit, civil penalties and other relief.
Certain of our assets may become subject to regulation.
The distinction between federally unregulated gathering facilities and FERC-regulated transmission pipelines under the NGA has been the subject of extensive litigation and may be determined by the FERC on a case-by-case basis, although the FERC has made no determinations as to the status of our facilities. Consequently, the classification and regulation of our gathering facilities could change based on future determinations by the FERC, the courts or Congress. If our gas gathering operations become subject to FERC jurisdiction, the result may adversely affect the rates we are able to charge and the services we currently provide, and may include the potential for a termination of our gathering agreements with our customers.
Intrastate transportation of NGLs is largely regulated by the state in which such transportation takes place. Lone Star’s NGL Pipeline transports NGLs within the state of Texas and is subject to regulation by the TRRC. This NGLs transportation system offers services pursuant to an intrastate transportation tariff on file with the TRRC. In 2013, Lone Star’s NGL pipeline also commenced the interstate transportation of NGLs, which is subject to FERC’s jurisdiction under the Interstate Commerce Act and
the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Both intrastate and interstate NGL transportation services must be provided in a manner that is just, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. The tariff rates established for interstate services were based on a negotiated agreement; however, if FERC’s ratemaking methodologies were imposed, they may, among other things, delay the use of rates that reflect increased costs and subject us to potentially burdensome and expensive operational, reporting and other requirements. In addition, the rates, terms and conditions for shipments of crude oil, petroleum products and NGLs on our pipelines are subject to regulation by FERC if the NGLs are transported in interstate or foreign commerce, whether by our pipelines or other means of transportation. Since we do not control the entire transportation path of all crude oil, petroleum products and NGLs on our pipelines, FERC regulation could be triggered by our customers’ transportation decisions.
In addition, if any of our pipelines were found to have provided services or otherwise operated in violation of the NGA, NGPA, or ICA, this could result in the imposition of administrative and criminal remedies and civil penalties, as well as a requirement to disgorge charges collected for such services in excess of the rate established by the FERC. Any of the foregoing could adversely affect revenues and cash flow related to these assets.
We may incur significant costs and liabilities resulting from performance of pipeline integrity programs and related repairs.
Pursuant to authority under the NGPSA and HLPSA, PHMSA has established a series of rules requiring pipeline operators to develop and implement integrity management programs for natural gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines that, in the event of a pipeline leak or rupture, could affect HCAs which are areas where a release could have the most significant adverse consequences, including high population areas, certain drinking water sources, and unusually sensitive ecological areas. These regulations require operators of covered pipelines to:
perform ongoing assessments of pipeline integrity;
identify and characterize applicable threats to pipeline segments that could impact a high consequence area;
improve data collection, integration and analysis;
repair and remediate the pipeline as necessary; and
implement preventive and mitigating actions.
In addition, states have adopted regulations similar to existing PHMSA regulations for intrastate gathering and transmission lines. At this time, we cannot predict the ultimate cost of compliance with applicable pipeline integrity management regulations, as the cost will vary significantly depending on the number and extent of any repairs found to be necessary as a result of the pipeline integrity testing. We will continue our pipeline integrity testing programs to assess and maintain the integrity of our pipelines. The results of these tests could cause us to incur significant and unanticipated capital and operating expenditures for repairs or upgrades deemed necessary to ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of our pipelines. Any changes to pipeline safety laws by Congress and regulations by PHMSA that result in more stringent or costly safety standards could have a significant adverse effect on us and similarly situated midstream operators. For example, in January 2017, PHMSA issued a final rule for hazardous liquid pipelines that significantly expands the reach of certain PHMSA integrity management requirements, such as, for example, periodic assessments, leak detection and repairs, regardless of the pipeline’s proximity to a HCA. The final rule also imposes new reporting requirements for certain unregulated pipelines, including all hazardous liquid gathering lines. However, the date of implementation of this final rule by publication in the Federal Register is uncertain given the recent change in Presidential administrations. In a second example, in April 2016, PHMSA published a proposed rulemaking that would impose new or more stringent requirements for certain natural gas lines and gathering lines including, among other things, expanding certain of PHMSA’s current regulatory safety programs for natural gas pipelines in newly defined “moderate consequence areas” that contain as few as 5 dwellings within a potential impact area; requiring gas pipelines installed before 1970 and thus excluded from certain pressure testing obligations to be tested to determine their maximum allowable operating pressure (“MAOP”); and requiring certain onshore and offshore gathering lines in Class I areas to comply with damage prevention, corrosion control, public education, MAOP limits, line markers and emergency planning standards. Additional requirements proposed by this proposed rulemaking would increase PHMSA’s integrity management requirements and also require consideration of seismicity in evaluating threats to pipelines. In 2018, PHMSA announced its intention to divide the original proposed rulemaking into three parts and issue three separate final rulemakings in 2019. PHMSA indicated that the first of the three final rulemakings could come as early as March 2019, although that timing is likely to be impacted by the federal government shutdown. The changes adopted or proposed by these rulemakings or made in future legal requirements could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and costs of transportation services.
Federal and state legislative and regulatory initiatives relating to pipeline safety that require the use of new or more stringent safety controls or result in more stringent enforcement of applicable legal requirements could subject us to increased capital costs, operational delays and costs of operation.
The NGPSA and HLPSA were amended by the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act. Among other things, the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act increased the penalties for safety violations and directed the Secretary of Transportation to promulgate rules or standards relating
to expanded integrity management requirements, automatic or remote-controlled valve use, excess flow valve use, leak detection system installation, testing to confirm that the material strength of certain pipelines are above 30% of specified minimum yield strength, and operator verification of records confirming the MAOP of certain interstate natural gas transmission pipelines. In November 2018, PHMSA issued a final rule increasing the maximum administrative fines for safety violations were increased to account for inflation, with maximum civil penalties set at $213,268 per day, with a maximum of $2,132,679 for a series of violations. In June 2016, the 2016 Pipeline Safety Act was passed, extending PHMSA’s statutory mandate through 2019 and, among other things, requiring PHMSA to complete certain of its outstanding mandates under the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act and developing new safety standards for natural gas storage facilities, which are expected in 2019. The 2016 Pipeline Safety Act also empowers PHMSA to address imminent hazards by imposing emergency restrictions, prohibitions and safety measures on owners and operators of natural gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facilities without prior notice or an opportunity for a hearing. PHMSA issued interim regulations in October 2016 to implement the agency’s expanded authority to address unsafe pipeline conditions or practices that pose an imminent hazard to life, property, or the environment. In 2018, PHMSA announced its intention to divide the original proposed rulemaking into three parts and issue three separate final rulemakings in 2019. PHMSA indicated that the first of the three final rulemakings could come as early as March 2019, although that timing is likely to be impacted by the federal government shutdown from December 2018 through January 2019. The safety enhancement requirements and other provisions of the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act, as further amended by the 2016 Pipeline Safety Act, as well as any implementation of PHMSA rules thereunder or any issuance or reinterpretation of guidance by PHMSA or any state agencies with respect thereto, could require us to install new or modified safety controls, pursue additional capital projects, or conduct maintenance programs on an accelerated basis, any or all of which tasks could result in our incurring increased operating costs that could be significant and have a material adverse effect on our results of operations or financial condition.
Our business involves the generation, handling and disposal of hazardous substances, hydrocarbons and wastes which activities are subject to environmental and worker health and safety laws and regulations that may cause us to incur significant costs and liabilities.
Our business is subject to stringent federal, tribal state, and local laws and regulations governing the discharge of materials into the environment, worker health and safety and protection of the environment. These laws and regulations may require the acquisition of permits for the construction and operation of our pipelines, plants and facilities, result in capital expenditures to manage, limit or prevent emissions, discharges or releases of various materials from our pipelines, plants and facilities, impose specific health and safety standards addressing worker protection, and impose substantial liabilities for pollution resulting from our construction and operations activities. Several governmental authorities, such as the EPA and analogous state agencies have the power to enforce compliance with these laws and regulations and the permits issued under them and frequently mandate difficult and costly remediation measures and other actions. Failure to comply with these laws, regulations and permits may result in the assessment of significant administrative, civil and criminal penalties, the imposition of investigatory remedial and corrective action obligations, the occurrence of delays in permitting and completion of projects, and the issuance of injunctive relief. Certain environmental laws impose strict, joint and several liability for costs required to clean up and restore sites where hazardous substances, hydrocarbons or wastes have been disposed or released, even under circumstances where the substances, hydrocarbons or wastes have been released by a predecessor operator. Moreover, it is not uncommon for neighboring landowners and other third parties to file claims for personal injury and property and natural resource damage allegedly caused by noise, odor or the release of hazardous substances, hydrocarbons or wastes into the environment.
We may incur substantial environmental costs and liabilities because of the underlying risk arising out of our operations. Although we have established financial reserves for our estimated environmental remediation liabilities, additional contamination or conditions may be discovered, resulting in increased remediation costs, liabilities or natural resource damages that could substantially increase our costs for site remediation projects. Accordingly, we cannot assure you that our current reserves are adequate to cover all future liabilities, even for currently known contamination.
Changes in environmental laws and regulations occur frequently, and any such changes that result in more stringent and costly waste handling, emission standards, or storage, transport, disposal or remediation requirements could have a material adverse effect on our operations or financial position. For example, in October 2015, the EPA published a final rule under the Clean Air Act, lowering the NAAQS for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion for the 8-hour primary and secondary ozone standards. The EPA published a final rule in November 2017 that issued area designations with respect to ground-level ozone for approximately 85% of the United States counties as either “attainment/unclassifiable” or “unclassifiable.” The EPA finalized its non-attainment designations for the remaining areas of the United States not addressed under the November 2017 final rule in April and July of 2018. Reclassification of areas or imposition of more stringent standards may make it more difficult to construct new or modified sources of air pollution in newly designated non-attainment areas. Also, states are expected to implement more stringent requirements as a result of this new final rule, which could apply to our customers’ operations. Compliance with this final rule or any other new regulations could, among other things, require installation of new emission controls on some of our equipment, result in longer permitting timelines or new restrictions or prohibitions with respect to permits or projects, and significantly increase our capital expenditures and operating costs, which could adversely impact our business. Historically, we have been able to satisfy
the more stringent nitrogen oxide emission reduction requirements that affect our compressor units in ozone non-attainment areas at reasonable cost, but there is no assurance that we will not incur material costs in the future to meet the new, more stringent ozone standard.
Regulations under the Clean Water Act, OPA and state laws impose regulatory burdens on terminal operations. Spill prevention control and countermeasure requirements of federal and state laws require containment to mitigate or prevent contamination of waters in the event of a refined product overflow, rupture, or leak from above-ground pipelines and storage tanks. The Clean Water Act also requires us to maintain spill prevention control and countermeasure plans at our terminal facilities with above-ground storage tanks and pipelines. In addition, OPA requires that most fuel transport and storage companies maintain and update various oil spill prevention and oil spill contingency plans. Facilities that are adjacent to water require the engagement of Federally Certified Oil Spill Response Organizations (“OSRO”s) to be available to respond to a spill on water from above-ground storage tanks or pipelines.
Transportation and storage of refined products over and adjacent to water involves risk and potentially subjects us to strict, joint, and potentially unlimited liability for removal costs and other consequences of an oil spill where the spill is into navigable waters, along shorelines or in the exclusive economic zone of the United States. In the event of an oil spill into navigable waters, substantial liabilities could be imposed upon us. The Clean Water Act imposes restrictions and strict controls regarding the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, with the potential of substantial liability for the violation of permits or permitting requirements.
Terminal operations and associated facilities are subject to the Clean Air Act as well as comparable state and local statutes. Under these laws, permits may be required before construction can commence on a new source of potentially significant air emissions, and operating permits may be required for sources that are already constructed. If regulations become more stringent, additional emission control technologies
Product liability claims and litigation could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Product liability is a significant commercial risk. Substantial damage awards have been made in certain jurisdictions against manufacturers and resellers based upon claims for injuries caused by the use of or exposure to various products. There can be no assurance that product liability claims against us would not have a material adverse effect on our business or results of operations.
Along with other refiners, manufacturers and sellers of gasoline, Sunoco, Inc. is a defendant in numerous lawsuits that allege MTBE contamination in groundwater. Plaintiffs, who include water purveyors and municipalities responsible for supplying drinking water and private well owners, are seeking compensatory damages (and in some cases injunctive relief, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees) for claims relating to the alleged manufacture and distribution of a defective product (MTBE-containing gasoline) that contaminates groundwater, and general allegations of product liability, nuisance, trespass, negligence, violation of environmental laws and deceptive business practices. There has been insufficient information developed about the plaintiffs’ legal theories or the facts that would be relevant to an analysis of the ultimate liability to Sunoco, Inc. An adverse determination of liability related to these allegations or other product liability claims against Sunoco, Inc. could have a material adverse effect on our business or results of operations.
Climate change legislation or regulations restricting emissions of GHGs could result in increased operating costs and reduced demand for the services we provide.
Climate change continues to attract considerable public, governmental and scientific attention. As a result, numerous proposals have been made and are likely to continue to be made at the international, national, regional and state levels of government to monitor and limit emissions of GHGs. These efforts have included consideration of cap-and-trade programs, carbon taxes and GHG reporting and tracking programs, and regulations that directly limit GHG emissions from certain sources. At the federal level, no comprehensive climate change legislation has been implemented to date. The EPA has, however, adopted rules under authority of the Clean Air Act that, among other things, establish PSD construction and Title V operating permit reviews for GHG emissions from certain large stationary sources that are also potential major sources of certain principal, or criteria, pollutant emissions, which reviews could require securing PSD permits at covered facilities emitting GHGs and meeting “best available control technology” standards for those GHG emissions. In addition, the EPA has adopted rules requiring the monitoring and annual reporting of GHG emissions from certain petroleum and natural gas system sources in the United States, including, among others, onshore processing, transmission, storage and distribution facilities. In October 2015, the EPA amended and expanded the GHG reporting requirements to all segments of the oil and natural gas industry, including gathering and boosting facilities and blowdowns of natural gas transmission pipelines.
Federal agencies also have begun directly regulating emissions of methane, a GHG, from oil and natural gas operations. In June 2016, the EPA published New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”), known as Subpart OOOOa, that require certain new, modified or reconstructed facilities in the oil and natural gas sector to reduce these methane gas and volatile organic compound emissions. These Subpart OOOOa standards expand previously issued NSPS published by the EPA in 2012 and known as Subpart
OOOO, by using certain equipment-specific emissions control practices, requiring additional controls for pneumatic controllers and pumps as well as compressors, and imposing leak detection and repair requirements for natural gas compressor and booster stations. However, the Subpart OOOOa standards have been subject to attempts by the EPA to stay portions of those standards, and the agency proposed rulemaking in June 2017 to stay the requirements for a period of two years and revisit implementation of Subpart OOOOa in its entirety. In September 2018, the EPA proposed amendments to Subpart OOOOa that would reduce the 2016 standards’ fugitive emissions monitoring requirements and expand exceptions to controlling methane emissions from pneumatic pumps, among other changes. Various industry and environmental groups have separately challenged both the original 2016 standards and the EPA’s attempts to delay the implementation of the rule. This rule, should it remain in effect, and any other new methane emission standards imposed on the oil and gas sector could result in increased costs to our operations as well as result in delays or curtailment in such operations, which costs, delays or curtailment could adversely affect our business. Additionally, in December 2015, the United States joined the international community at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, France preparing an agreement requiring member countries to review and “represent a progression” in their intended nationally determined contributions, which set GHG emission reduction goals every five years beginning in 2020. This “Paris Agreement” was signed by the United States in April 2016 and entered into force in November 2016; however, this agreement does not create any binding obligations for nations to limit their GHG emissions, but rather includes pledges to voluntarily limit or reduce future emissions. In August 2017, the United States State Department informed the United Nations of the intent of the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement provides for a four-year exit process beginning when it took effect in November 2016, which would result in an effective exit date of November 2020. The United States’ adherence to the exit process and/or the terms on which the United States may re-enter the Paris Agreement or a separately negotiated agreement are unclear at this time.
The adoption and implementation of any international, federal or state legislation or regulations that require reporting of GHGs or otherwise restrict emissions of GHGs could result in increased compliance costs or additional operating restrictions, and could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, demand for our services, results of operations, and cash flows. Recently, activists concerned about the potential effects of climate change have directed their attention at sources of funding for fossil-fuel energy companies, which has resulted in certain financial institutions, funds and other sources of capital restricting or eliminating their investment in oil and natural gas activities. Ultimately, this could make it more difficult to secure funding for exploration and production or midstream activities. Notwithstanding potential risks related to climate change, the International Energy Agency estimates that global energy demand will continue to rise and will not peak until after 2040 and that oil and natural gas will continue to represent a substantial percentage of global energy use over that time. Finally, some scientists have concluded that increasing concentrations of GHG in the atmosphere may produce climate changes that have significant physical effects, such as increased frequency and severity of storms, droughts, and floods and other climate events that could have an adverse effect on our assets.
The swaps regulatory provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act and the rules adopted thereunder could have an adverse effect on our ability to use derivative instruments to mitigate the risks of changes in commodity prices and interest rates and other risks associated with our business.
Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) and rules adopted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”), the SEC and other prudential regulators establish federal regulation of the physical and financial derivatives, including OTC derivatives market and entities, such as us, participating in that market. While most of these regulations are already in effect, the implementation process is still ongoing and the CFTC continues to review and refine its initial rulemakings through additional interpretations and supplemental rulemakings. As a result, any new regulations or modifications to existing regulations could significantly increase the cost of derivative contracts, materially alter the terms of derivative contracts, reduce the availability and/or liquidity of derivatives to protect against risks we encounter, reduce our ability to monetize or restructure our existing derivative contracts, and increase our exposure to less creditworthy counterparties. Any of these consequences could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to our unitholders.
The CFTC has re-proposed speculative position limits for certain futures and option contracts in the major energy markets and for swaps that are their economic equivalents, although certain bona fide hedging transactions would be exempt from these position limits provided that various conditions are satisfied. The CFTC has also finalized a related aggregation rule that requires market participants to aggregate their positions with certain other persons under common ownership and control, unless an exemption applies, for purposes of determining whether the position limits have been exceeded. If adopted, the revised position limits rule and its finalized companion rule on aggregation may create additional implementation or operational exposure. In addition to the CFTC federal speculative position limit regime, designated contract markets (“DCMs”) also maintain speculative position limit and accountability regimes with respect to contracts listed on their platform as well as aggregation requirements similar to the CFTC’s final aggregation rule. Any speculative position limit regime, whether imposed at the federal-level or at the DCM-level may impose added operating costs to monitor compliance with such position limit levels, addressing accountability level concerns and maintaining appropriate exemptions, if applicable.
The Dodd-Frank Act requires that certain classes of swaps be cleared on a derivatives clearing organization and traded on a DCM or other regulated exchange, unless exempt from such clearing and trading requirements, which could result in the application of certain margin requirements imposed by derivatives clearing organizations and their members. The CFTC and prudential regulators have also adopted mandatory margin requirements for uncleared swaps entered into between swap dealers and certain other counterparties. We currently qualify for and rely upon an end-user exception from such clearing and margin requirements for the swaps we enter into to hedge our commercial risks. However, the application of the mandatory clearing and trade execution requirements and the uncleared swaps margin requirements to other market participants, such as swap dealers, may adversely affect the cost and availability of the swaps that we use for hedging.
In addition to the Dodd-Frank Act, the European Union and other foreign regulators have adopted and are implementing local reforms generally comparable with the reforms under the Dodd-Frank Act. Implementation and enforcement of these regulatory provisions may reduce our ability to hedge our market risks with non-U.S. counterparties and may make transactions involving cross-border swaps more expensive and burdensome. Additionally, the lack of regulatory equivalency across jurisdictions may increase compliance costs and make it more difficult to satisfy our regulatory obligations.
The NYSE does not require a publicly traded partnership like us to comply with certain corporate governance requirements.
We have preferred units that are listed on the NYSE. Because we are a publicly traded partnership, the NYSE does not require us to have a majority of independent directors on our general partner’s board of directors or to establish a compensation committee or a nominating and corporate governance committee. Accordingly, unitholders do not have the same protections afforded to stockholders of corporations that are subject to all of the corporate governance requirements of the applicable stock exchange.
A natural disaster, catastrophe or other event could result in severe personal injury, property damage and environmental damage, which could curtail our operations and otherwise materially adversely affect our cash flow and, accordingly, affect the market price of our Common Units.
Some of our operations involve risks of personal injury, property damage and environmental damage, which could curtail our operations and otherwise materially adversely affect our cash flow. For example, natural gas pipeline and other facilities operate at high pressures. Virtually all of our operations are exposed to potential natural disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, floods and/or earthquakes.
If one or more facilities that are owned by us, or that deliver natural gas or other products to us, are damaged by severe weather or any other disaster, accident, catastrophe or event, our operations could be significantly interrupted. Similar interruptions could result from damage to production or other facilities that supply our facilities or other stoppages arising from factors beyond our control. These interruptions might involve significant damage to people, property or the environment, and repairs might take from a week or less for a minor incident to six months or more for a major interruption. Any event that interrupts the revenues generated by our operations, or which causes us to make significant expenditures not covered by insurance, could reduce our cash available for paying distributions to our Unitholders.
As a result of market conditions, premiums and deductibles for certain insurance policies can increase substantially, and in some instances, certain insurance may become unavailable or available only for reduced amounts of coverage. As a result, we may not be able to renew existing insurance policies or procure other desirable insurance on commercially reasonable terms, if at all. If we were to incur a significant liability for which we were not fully insured, it could have a material adverse effect on our financial position and results of operations. In addition, the proceeds of any such insurance may not be paid in a timely manner and may be insufficient if such an event were to occur.
Terrorist attacks aimed at our facilities could adversely affect our business, results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
The United States government has issued warnings that energy assets, including our nation’s pipeline infrastructure, may be the future target of terrorist organizations. Some of our facilities are subject to standards and procedures required by the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards. We believe we are in compliance with all material requirements; however, such compliance may not prevent a terrorist attack from causing material damage to our facilities or pipelines. Any such terrorist attack on our facilities or pipelines, those of our customers, or in some cases, those of other pipelines could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Additional deepwater drilling laws and regulations, delays in the processing and approval of drilling permits and exploration, development, oil spill-response and decommissioning plans, and other related developments may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, or results of operations.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), each agencies of the United States Department of the Interior, have imposed more stringent permitting procedures and regulatory safety and performance requirements for new wells to be drilled in federal waters. Compliance with these more stringent regulatory requirements and with existing environmental and oil spill regulations, together with any uncertainties or inconsistencies in decisions and rulings by governmental agencies, delays in the processing and approval of drilling permits or exploration, development, oil spill-response and decommissioning plans, and possible additional regulatory initiatives could result in difficult and more costly actions and adversely affect or delay new drilling and ongoing development efforts.
In addition, new regulatory initiatives may be adopted or enforced by the BOEM or the BSEE in the future that could result in additional costs, delays, restrictions, or obligations with respect to oil and natural gas exploration and production operations conducted offshore by certain of our customers. For example, in April 2016, the BOEM published a proposed rule that would update existing air-emissions requirements relating to offshore oil and natural-gas activity on federal Outer Continental Shelf waters. However, in May 2017, Order 3350 was issued by the Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, directing the BOEM to reconsider a number of regulatory initiatives governing oil and gas exploration in offshore waters, including, among other things, a cessation of all activities to promulgate the April 2016 proposed rulemaking (“Order 3350”). In an unrelated legal initiative, BOEM issued a Notice to Lessees and Operators (“NTL #2016-N01”) that became effective in September 2016 and imposes more stringent requirements relating to the provision of financial assurance to satisfy decommissioning obligations. Together with a recent re-assessment by BSEE in 2016 in how it determines the amount of financial assurance required, the revised BOEM-administered offshore financial assurance program that is currently being implemented is expected to result in increased amounts of financial assurance being required of operators on the OCS, which amounts may be significant. However, as directed under Order 3350, the BOEM has delayed implementation of NTL #2016-N01 so that it may reconsider this regulatory initiative and, currently, this NTL’s implementation timeline has been extended indefinitely beyond June 30, 2017, except in certain circumstances where there is a substantial risk of nonperformance of the interest holder’s decommissioning liabilities. The April 2016 proposed rule and NTL #2016-N01, should they be finalized and/or implemented, as well as any new rules, regulations, or legal initiatives could delay or disrupt our customers operations, increase the risk of expired leases due to the time required to develop new technology, result in increased supplemental bonding and costs, limit activities in certain areas, or cause our customers’ to incur penalties, or shut-in production or lease cancellation. Also, if material spill events were to occur in the future, the United States or other countries could elect to issue directives to temporarily cease drilling activities offshore and, in any event, may from time to time issue further safety and environmental laws and regulations regarding offshore oil and gas exploration and development. The overall costs imposed on our customers to implement and complete any such spill response activities or any decommissioning obligations could exceed estimated accruals, insurance limits, or supplemental bonding amounts, which could result in the incurrence of additional costs to complete. We cannot predict with any certainty the full impact of any new laws or regulations on our customers’ drilling operations or on the cost or availability of insurance to cover some or all of the risks associated with such operations. The occurrence of any one or more of these developments could result in decreased demand for our services, which could have a material adverse effect on our business as well as our financial position, results of operation and liquidity.
Our business is subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations that govern the product quality specifications of the petroleum products that we store and transport.
The petroleum products that we store and transport are sold by our customers for consumption into the public market. Various federal, state and local agencies have the authority to prescribe specific product quality specifications to commodities sold into the public market. Changes in product quality specifications could reduce our throughput volume, require us to incur additional handling costs or require the expenditure of significant capital. In addition, different product specifications for different markets impact the fungibility of products transported and stored in our pipeline systems and terminal facilities and could require the construction of additional storage to segregate products with different specifications. We may be unable to recover these costs through increased revenues.
In addition, our patented butane blending services are reliant upon gasoline vapor pressure specifications. Significant changes in such specifications could reduce butane blending opportunities, which would affect our ability to market our butane blending service licenses and which would ultimately affect our ability to recover the costs incurred to acquire and integrate our butane blending assets.
Our business could be affected adversely by union disputes and strikes or work stoppages by unionized employees.
As of December 31, 2018, approximately 12% of our workforce is covered by a number of collective bargaining agreements with various terms and dates of expiration. There can be no assurances that we will not experience a work stoppage in the future as a
result of labor disagreements. Any work stoppage could, depending on the affected operations and the length of the work stoppage, have a material adverse effect on our business, financial position, results of operations or cash flows.
Our operations could be disrupted if our information systems fail, causing increased expenses and loss of sales.
Our business is highly dependent on financial, accounting and other data processing systems and other communications and information systems, including our enterprise resource planning tools. We process a large number of transactions on a daily basis and rely upon the proper functioning of computer systems. If a key system was to fail or experience unscheduled downtime for any reason, even if only for a short period, our operations and financial results could be affected adversely. Our systems could be damaged or interrupted by a security breach, fire, flood, power loss, telecommunications failure or similar event. We have a formal disaster recovery plan in place, but this plan may not entirely prevent delays or other complications that could arise from an information systems failure. Our business interruption insurance may not compensate us adequately for losses that may occur.
Cybersecurity breaches and other disruptions could compromise our information and operations, and expose us to liability, which would cause our business and reputation to suffer.
In the ordinary course of our business, we collect and store sensitive data, including intellectual property, our proprietary business information and that of our customers, suppliers and business partners, and personally identifiable information of our employees, in our data centers and on our networks. The secure processing, maintenance and transmission of this information is critical to our operations and business strategy. Despite our security measures, our information technology and infrastructure may be vulnerable to attacks by hackers or breached due to employee error, malfeasance or other disruptions. Any such breach could compromise our networks and the information stored there could be accessed, publicly disclosed, lost or stolen. Any such access, disclosure or other loss of information could result in legal claims or proceedings, liability under laws that protect the privacy of personal information, regulatory penalties for divulging shipper information, disruption of our operations, damage to our reputation, and loss of confidence in our products and services, which could adversely affect our business.
Our information technology infrastructure is critical to the efficient operation of our business and essential to our ability to perform day-today operations. Breaches in our information technology infrastructure or physical facilities, or other disruptions, could result in damage to our assets, safety incidents, damage to the environment, potential liability or the loss of contracts, and have a material adverse effect on our operations, financial position and results of operations.
The costs of providing pension and other postretirement health care benefits and related funding requirements are subject to changes in pension fund values, changing demographics and fluctuating actuarial assumptions and may have a material adverse effect on our financial results.
Certain of our subsidiaries provide pension plan and other postretirement healthcare benefits to certain of their employees. The costs of providing pension and other postretirement health care benefits and related funding requirements are subject to changes in pension and other postretirement fund values, changing demographics and fluctuating actuarial assumptions that may have a material adverse effect on the Partnership’s future consolidated financial results. While certain of the costs incurred in providing such pension and other postretirement healthcare benefits are recovered through the rates charged by the Partnership’s regulated businesses, the Partnership’s subsidiaries may not recover all of the costs and those rates are generally not immediately responsive to current market conditions or funding requirements. Additionally, if the current cost recovery mechanisms are changed or eliminated, the impact of these benefits on operating results could significantly increase.
Our contract compression operations depend on particular suppliers and are vulnerable to parts and equipment shortages and price increases, which could have a negative impact on results of operations.
The substantial majority of the components for our natural gas compression equipment are supplied by Caterpillar Inc., Cummins Inc. and Arrow Engine Company for engines, Air-X-Changers and Alfa Laval (US) for coolers, and Ariel Corporation, GE Oil & Gas Gemini products and Arrow Engine Company for compressor frames and cylinders. Our reliance on these suppliers involves several risks, including price increases and a potential inability to obtain an adequate supply of required components in a timely manner. We also rely primarily on four vendors, A G Equipment Company, Alegacy Equipment, LLC, Standard Equipment Corp. and Genis Holdings LLC, to package and assemble our compression units. We do not have long-term contracts with these suppliers or packagers, and a partial or complete loss of any of these sources could have a negative impact on our results of operations and could damage our customer relationships. Some of these suppliers manufacture the components we purchase in a single facility, and any damage to that facility could lead to significant delays in delivery of completed compression units to us.
Mergers among customers and competitors could result in lower volumes being shipped on our pipelines or products stored in or distributed through our terminals, or reduced crude oil marketing margins or volumes.
Mergers between existing customers could provide strong economic incentives for the combined entities to utilize their existing systems instead of our systems in those markets where the systems compete. As a result, we could lose some or all of the volumes and associated revenues from these customers and could experience difficulty in replacing those lost volumes and revenues, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations, financial position, or cash flows.
Fraudulent activity or misuse of proprietary data involving its outsourcing partners could expose us to additional liability.
We utilize both affiliated entities and third parties in the processing of our information and data. Breaches of security measures or the accidental loss, inadvertent disclosure or unapproved dissemination of proprietary information, or sensitive or confidential data about us or our customers, including the potential loss or disclosure of such information or data as a result of fraud or other forms of deception, could expose us to a risk of loss, or misuse of this information, result in litigation and potential liability, lead to reputational damage, increase our compliance costs, or otherwise harm its business.
The liquefaction project is dependent upon securing long-term contractual arrangements for the off-take of LNG on terms sufficient to support the financial viability of the project.
LCL, our wholly-owned subsidiary, is in the process of developing a liquefaction project at the site of our existing regasification facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The project development agreement previously entered into in September 2013 with BG Group plc, a subsidiary of Shell, related to this project expired in February 2017. On June 28, 2017, LCL signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Gas Corporation and Shell to study the feasibility of a joint development of the Lake Charles liquefaction project. The project would utilize existing dock and storage facilities owned by us located on the Lake Charles site. The parties’ determination as to the feasibility of the project will be particularly dependent upon the prospects for securing long-term contractual arrangements for the off-take of LNG which in turn will be dependent upon supply and demand factors affecting the price of LNG in foreign markets. The financial viability of the project will also be dependent upon a number of other factors, including the expected cost to construct the liquefaction facility, the terms and conditions of the financing for the construction of the liquefaction facility, the cost of the natural gas supply, the costs to transport natural gas to the liquefaction facility, the costs to operate the liquefaction facility and the costs to transport LNG from the liquefaction facility to customers in foreign markets (particularly Europe and Asia). Some of these costs fluctuate based on a variety of factors, including supply and demand factors affecting the price of natural gas in the United States, supply and demand factors affecting the costs for construction services for large infrastructure projects in the United States, and general economic conditions, there can be no assurance that the parties will determine to proceed to develop this project.
The construction of the liquefaction project remains subject to further approvals and some approvals may be subject to further conditions, review and/or revocation.
While LCL has received authorization from the DOE to export LNG to non-FTA countries, the non-FTA authorization is subject to review, and the DOE may impose additional approval and permit requirements in the future or revoke the non-FTA authorization should the DOE conclude that such export authorization is inconsistent with the public interest. The FERC order (issued December 17, 2015) authorizing LCL to site, construct and operate the liquefaction project contains a condition requiring all phases of the liquefaction project to be completed and in-service within five years of the date of the order. The order also requires the modifications to our Trunkline pipeline facilities that connect to our Lake Charles facility be complete by December 17, 2019 and additionally requires execution of a transportation contract for natural gas supply to the liquefaction facility prior to the initiation of construction of the liquefaction facility. Although we intend to file an application with the FERC to seek an extension of these completion dates for the project, the FERC may not grant this extension.
Legal actions related to the Dakota Access Pipeline could cause an interruption to operations, which could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
On July 25, 2016, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE”) issued permits to Dakota Access consistent with environmental and historic preservation statutes for the pipeline to make two crossings of the Missouri River in North Dakota, including a crossing of the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. The USACE also issued easements to allow the pipeline to cross land owned by the USACE adjacent to the Missouri River in two locations. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (“SRST”) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (the “Court”) against the USACE that challenged the legality of the permits issued for the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline and claimed violations of the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”). Dakota Access intervened in the case.
In February 2017, the Department of the Army delivered an easement to Dakota Access allowing the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe. The SRST and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (“CRST”) (which had intervened in the lawsuit brought by SRST), amended their
complaints to incorporate religious freedom and other claims related to treaties and use of government property. The Oglala and Yankton Sioux tribes, and various individual members, filed related lawsuits in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. These lawsuits have been consolidated into the action initiated by the SRST.
On June 14, 2017, the Court ruled that the USACE substantially complied with all relevant statutes in connection with the issuance of the permits and easement, but remanded to the USACE three discrete issues for further analysis and explanation of its prior determination under certain of these statutes. On October 11, 2017, the Court ruled that the pipeline could continue to transport crude oil during the pendency of the remand, but requested briefing from the parties as to whether any conditions on the continued operation of the pipeline during this period. On December 4, 2017, the Court determined to impose three conditions on continued operation of the pipeline during the remand process. First, Dakota Access must retain an independent auditor to review its compliance with the conditions and regulations governing its easements and to assess integrity threats to the pipeline. Second, the Court directed Dakota Access to continue its work with the tribes and the USACE to revise and finalize its response planning for the section of the pipeline crossing Lake Oahe. Third, the Court directed Dakota Access to submit bi-monthly reports during the remand period disclosing certain inspection and maintenance information recommended by PHMSA.
While we believe that the pending lawsuits are unlikely to adversely affect the continued operation of the pipeline, we cannot assure this outcome. At this time, we cannot determine when or how these lawsuits will be resolved or the impact they may have on the Dakota Access project.
In addition, lawsuits of this nature could result in interruptions to construction or operations of future projects, delays in completing those projects and/or increased project costs, all of which could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Sunoco LP is subject to federal laws related to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
New laws, new interpretations of existing laws, increased governmental enforcement of existing laws or other developments could require us to make additional capital expenditures or incur additional liabilities. For example, certain independent refiners have initiated discussions with the EPA to change the way the Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”) is administered in an attempt to shift the burden of compliance from refiners and importers to blenders and distributors. Under the RFS, which requires an annually increasing amount of biofuels to be blended into the fuels used by U.S. drivers, refiners/importers are obligated to obtain renewable identification numbers (“RINS”) either by blending biofuel into gasoline or through purchase in the open market. If the obligation was shifted from the importer/refiner to the blender/distributor, the Partnership would potentially have to utilize the RINS it obtains through its blending activities to satisfy a new obligation and would be unable to sell RINS to other obligated parties, which may cause an impact on the fuel margins associated with Sunoco LP’s sale of gasoline.
The occurrence of any of the events described above could have a material adverse effect on Sunoco LP’s business, financial condition, results of operations and cash available for distribution to its unitholders.
Sunoco LP is subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations that govern the product quality specifications of refined petroleum products it purchases, stores, transports, and sells to its distribution customers.
Various federal, state, and local government agencies have the authority to prescribe specific product quality specifications for certain commodities, including commodities that Sunoco LP distributes. Changes in product quality specifications, such as reduced sulfur content in refined petroleum products, or other more stringent requirements for fuels, could reduce Sunoco LP’s ability to procure product, require it to incur additional handling costs and/or require the expenditure of capital. If Sunoco LP is unable to procure product or recover these costs through increased selling price, it may not be able to meet its financial obligations. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in substantial penalties for Sunoco LP.
Tax Risks to Unitholders
Our tax treatment depends on our status as a partnership for federal income tax purposes, as well as our not being subject to a material amount of entity-level taxation by individual states. If the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) were to treat us as a corporation for federal income tax purposes or if we become subject to a material amount of entity-level taxation for state tax purposes, then our cash available for distribution would be substantially reduced.
The anticipated after-tax economic benefit of an investment in our Series A Preferred Units, Series B Preferred Units, Series C Preferred Units and Series D Preferred Units (collectively, “ETO Preferred Units”) depends largely on our being treated as a partnership for federal income tax purposes. We have not requested, and do not plan to request, a ruling from the IRS, with respect to our classification as a partnership for federal income tax purposes. Despite the fact that we are a limited partnership under Delaware law, we would be treated as a corporation for federal income tax purposes unless we satisfy a “qualifying income” requirement. Based upon our current operations, we believe we satisfy the qualifying income requirement. Failing to meet the
qualifying income requirement or a change in current law could cause us to be treated as a corporation for federal income tax purposes or otherwise subject us to taxation as an entity.
If we were treated as a corporation, we would pay federal income tax at the corporate tax rate, and we would likely pay additional state income taxes at varying rates. Distributions to holders of our ETO Preferred Units ("ETO Preferred Unitholders") would generally be taxed again as corporate distributions and instead of guaranteed payments for the use of capital, as described further below. Because a tax would then be imposed upon us as a corporation, our cash available for distribution to ETO Preferred Unitholders would be substantially reduced. Therefore, treatment of us as a corporation would result in a material reduction in the anticipated cash flow and after-tax return to the ETO Preferred Unitholders.
At the state level, several states have been evaluating ways to subject partnerships to entity-level taxation through the imposition of state income, franchise, or other forms of taxation. Imposition of a similar tax on us in the jurisdictions in which we operate or in other jurisdictions to which we may expand could substantially reduce our cash available for distribution to our ETO Preferred Unitholders. Our partnership agreement provides that if a law is enacted or existing law is modified or interpreted in a manner that subjects us to taxation as a corporation or otherwise subjects us to entity-level taxation for federal, state or local income tax purposes, the minimum quarterly distribution amount and the target distribution amounts may be adjusted to reflect the impact of that law on us.
The tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships or an investment in our ETO Preferred Units could be subject to potential legislative, judicial or administrative changes or differing interpretations, possibly applied on a retroactive basis.
The present United States federal income tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships, including us, or an investment in our ETO Preferred Units may be modified by administrative, legislative or judicial changes or differing interpretations at any time. From time to time, members of Congress propose and consider substantive changes to the existing United States federal income tax laws that affect publicly traded partnerships. Although there is no current legislative proposal, a prior legislative proposal would have eliminated the qualifying income exception to the treatment of all publicly traded partnerships as corporations upon which we rely for our treatment as a partnership for United States federal income tax purposes.
However, any modification to the United States federal income tax laws may be applied retroactively and could make it more difficult or impossible for us to meet the exception for certain publicly traded partnerships to be treated as partnerships for United States federal income tax purposes. We are unable to predict whether any of these changes or other proposals will ultimately be enacted. Any similar or future legislative changes could negatively impact the value of an investment in us. You are urged to consult with your own tax advisor with respect to the status of regulatory or administrative developments and proposals and their potential effect on your investment in us.
If the IRS contests the federal income tax positions we take, the market for our ETO Preferred Units may be adversely affected and the costs of any such contest will reduce cash available for distributions to our ETO Preferred Unitholders.
We have not requested a ruling from the IRS with respect to our treatment as a partnership for federal income tax purposes. The IRS may adopt positions that differ from the positions we take. It may be necessary to resort to administrative or court proceedings to sustain some or all of the positions we take. A court may not agree with some or all of the positions we take. Any contest with the IRS may materially and adversely impact the market for our ETO Preferred Units and the prices at which they trade. In addition, the costs of any contest with the IRS will be borne by us reducing the cash available for distribution to our ETO Preferred Unitholders.
If the IRS makes audit adjustments to our income tax returns for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, it (and some states) may assess and collect any taxes (including any applicable penalties and interest) resulting from such audit adjustment directly from us, in which case our cash available for distribution to our ETO Preferred Unitholders might be substantially reduced.