UNITED STATES 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, 2017
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from to
Commission file number 1-34831
WILLIAMS PARTNERS 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.)
One Williams Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
(Address of Principal Executive Offices)
(Registrant’s Telephone Number, Including Area Code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of Each Class
Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
(Title of Class)
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes þ 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 þ
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 þ No ¨
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files). Yes þ No ¨
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of 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. þ
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 þ
Accelerated filer ¨
Non-accelerated filer ¨
Smaller reporting company ¨
Emerging growth company ¨
(Do not check if a smaller reporting 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 Act). Yes ¨ No þ
The aggregate market value of the registrant’s common units held by non-affiliates based on the closing sale price of such units as reported on the New York Stock Exchange, as of the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second quarter was approximately $38,332,867,488.
The registrant had 957,529,465 common units and 18,124,096 Class B units outstanding as of February 19, 2018.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
WILLIAMS PARTNERS L.P.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The following is a listing of certain abbreviations, acronyms and other industry terminology that may be used throughout this Annual Report.
Barrel: One barrel of petroleum products that equals 42 U.S. gallons
Bcf : One billion cubic feet of natural gas
Bcf/d: One billion cubic feet of natural gas per day
British Thermal Unit (Btu): A unit of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree
Dekatherms (Dth): A unit of energy equal to one million British thermal units
Mbbls/d: One thousand barrels per day
Mdth/d: One thousand dekatherms per day
MMcf/d: One million cubic feet per day
MMdth: One million dekatherms or approximately one trillion British thermal units
MMdth/d: One million dekatherms per day
Tbtu: One trillion British thermal units
Cardinal: Cardinal Gas Services, L.L.C.
Constitution: Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC
Gulfstar One: Gulfstar One LLC
Jackalope: Jackalope Gas Gathering Services, L.L.C.
Northwest Pipeline: Northwest Pipeline LLC
Transco: Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Company, LLC
Partially Owned Entities: Entities in which we do not own a 100 percent ownership interest and, as of December 31, 2017, which we account for as an equity-method investment, including principally the following:
Aux Sable: Aux Sable Liquid Products LP
Caiman II: Caiman Energy II, LLC
Discovery: Discovery Producer Services LLC
Gulfstream: Gulfstream Natural Gas System, L.L.C.
Laurel Mountain: Laurel Mountain Midstream, LLC
OPPL: Overland Pass Pipeline Company LLC
UEOM: Utica East Ohio Midstream LLC
Government and Regulatory:
EPA: Environmental Protection Agency
Exchange Act: The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934, as amended
FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
GAAP: Generally accepted accounting principles
IRS: Internal Revenue Service
SEC: Securities and Exchange Commission
Williams: The Williams Companies, Inc. and, unless the context otherwise indicates, its subsidiaries (other than Williams Partners L.P. and its subsidiaries)
ACMP: Access Midstream Partners, L.P. prior to its merger with Pre-merger WPZ
DRIP: Distribution reinvestment program
Energy Transfer: Energy Transfer Equity, L.P.
ETC Merger: Merger wherein Williams would have been merged into ETC
Fractionation: The process by which a mixed stream of natural gas liquids is separated into its constituent products,
such as ethane, propane, and butane
IDR: Incentive distribution right
LNG: Liquefied natural gas; natural gas which has been liquefied at cryogenic temperatures
MVC: Minimum volume commitment
NGLs: Natural gas liquids; natural gas liquids result from natural gas processing and crude oil refining and are
used as petrochemical feedstocks, heating fuels, and gasoline additives, among other applications
NGL margins: NGL revenues less Btu replacement cost, plant fuel, transportation, and fractionation
NYSE: New York Stock Exchange
Pre-merger WPZ: Williams Partners L.P. prior to its merger with ACMP
RGP Splitter: Refinery grade propylene splitter
Throughput: The volume of product transported or passing through a pipeline, plant, terminal, or other facility
The statements in this Annual Report that are not historical information, including statements concerning plans and objectives of management for future operations, economic performance or related assumptions, are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements may be identified by various forms of words such as “anticipates,” “believes,” “seeks,” “could,” “may,” “should,” “continues,” “estimates,” “expects,” “forecasts,” “intends,” “might,” “goals,” “objectives,” “targets,” “planned,” “potential,” “projects,” “scheduled,” “will,” “assumes,” “guidance,” “outlook,” “in-service date,” or other similar expressions and other words and terms of similar meaning. Although we believe that our expectations regarding future events are based on reasonable assumptions, we can give no assurance that such expectations or assumptions will be achieved. Additional information regarding forward-looking statements and important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements are described under Part I, Item 1A in this Annual Report.
Item 1. Business
Unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, references in this report to “we,” “our,” “us” or like terms refer to Williams Partners L.P. and its subsidiaries. Unless the context clearly indicates otherwise, references to “we,” “our,” and “us” include the operations of our Partially Owned Entities in which we own interests accounted for as equity-method investments that are not consolidated in our financial statements. When we refer to our Partially Owned Entities by name, we are referring exclusively to their businesses and operations.
WEBSITE ACCESS TO REPORTS AND OTHER INFORMATION
We file our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and other documents electronically with the SEC under the Exchange Act. These reports include, among other disclosures, information on any transactions we may engage in with our general partner and its affiliates and on fees and other amounts paid or accrued to our general partner and its affiliates. You may read and copy any materials that we file with the SEC at the SEC’s Public Reference Room at 100 F Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20549. You may obtain information on the operation of the Public Reference Room by calling the SEC at 1-800-SEC-0330. You may also obtain such reports from the SEC’s Internet website at www.sec.gov.
Our Internet website is http://investor.williams.com/. We make available, free of charge, through our Internet website our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such material with, or furnish it to, the SEC. Our Corporate Governance Guidelines, Code of Business Conduct, Code of Ethics for Senior Officers, and the charter of the Audit Committee of our general partner’s Board of Directors are also available on our Internet website. We will also provide, free of charge, a copy of any of our governance documents listed above upon written request to our general partner’s Corporate Secretary at Williams Partners L.P., One Williams Center, Suite 4700, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74172.
We are an energy infrastructure master limited partnership focused on connecting North America’s significant hydrocarbon resource plays to growing markets for natural gas and NGLs through our gas pipeline and midstream businesses. Our operations are located principally in the United States. As of December 31, 2017, Williams owned our general partner interest and an approximate 74 percent limited partner interest in us.
Williams is an energy infrastructure company that trades on the NYSE under the symbol “WMB.”
Our principal executive offices are located at One Williams Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74172. Our telephone number is 918-573-2000.
FINANCIAL INFORMATION ABOUT SEGMENTS
See Part II, Item 8. — Financial Statements and Supplementary Data — Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements — Note 18 – Segment Disclosures.
Operations of our businesses are located in the United States. We manage our business and analyze our results of operations on a segment basis consistent with the manner in which our chief operating decision maker evaluates performance and allocates resources. Our operations are organized into the following reportable segments: Northeast G&P, Atlantic-Gulf, West, and NGL & Petchem Services. Certain other corporate activities are included in Other.
Northeast G&P — this segment is comprised of our midstream natural gas gathering and processing businesses in the Marcellus Shale region primarily in Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia and the Utica Shale region of eastern Ohio, as well as a 66 percent interest in Cardinal (a consolidated entity), a 62 percent equity-
method investment in UEOM, a 69 percent equity-method investment in Laurel Mountain, a 58 percent equity-method investment in Caiman II, and Appalachia Midstream Services, LLC, which owns equity-method investments with an approximate average 66 percent interest in multiple gas gathering systems in the Marcellus Shale.
Atlantic-Gulf — this segment is comprised of our interstate natural gas pipeline, Transco, and significant natural gas gathering and processing and crude oil production handling and transportation assets in the Gulf Coast region, including a 51 percent interest in Gulfstar One (a consolidated entity), which is a proprietary floating production system, and various petrochemical and feedstock pipelines in the Gulf Coast region, as well as a 50 percent equity-method investment in Gulfstream, a 41 percent interest in Constitution (a consolidated entity), which is developing a pipeline project (see Note 3 – Variable Interest Entities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements), and a 60 percent equity-method investment in Discovery.
West — this segment is comprised of our interstate natural gas pipeline, Northwest Pipeline, and our natural gas gathering, processing, and treating operations in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, as well as the Barnett Shale region of north-central Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas, the Haynesville Shale region of northwest Louisiana, and the Mid-Continent region which includes the Anadarko, Arkoma, Delaware, and Permian basins. This reporting segment also includes an NGL and natural gas marketing business, storage facilities, and an undivided 50 percent interest in an NGL fractionator near Conway, Kansas, and a 50 percent equity-method investment in OPPL, as well as our previously owned 50 percent equity-method investment in the Delaware basin gas gathering system in the Mid-Continent region (see Note 6 – Investing Activities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements).
NGL & Petchem Services — this segment is comprised of previously owned operations, including our 88.5 percent undivided interest in an olefins production facility in Geismar, Louisiana, which was sold in July 2017, and our refinery grade propylene splitter in the Gulf region, which was sold in June 2017. This reporting segment also includes our previously owned Canadian assets, which included an oil sands offgas processing plant located near Fort McMurray, Alberta, and an NGL/olefin fractionation facility at Redwater, Alberta. In September 2016, these Canadian operations were sold. (See Note 2 – Acquisitions and Divestitures of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.)
Detailed discussion of each of our reporting segments follows. For a discussion of our ongoing expansion projects, see Part II, Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.
This segment includes our natural gas gathering, compression, processing, and NGL fractionation business in the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Ohio.
The following tables summarize the significant consolidated assets of this segment:
Natural Gas Gathering Assets
Ohio Valley Midstream
Ohio, West Virginia, & Pennsylvania
Susquehanna Supply Hub
Pennsylvania & New York
Marcellus South (2)
Statistics reflect 100 percent of the assets from our 66 percent ownership of Cardinal gathering system.
Statistics reflect 100 percent of the Beaver Creek assets in the consolidated Marcellus South gathering system.
Natural Gas Processing Facilities
Marshall County, WV
Marshall County, WV
We also own and operate fractionation facilities at Moundsville, de-ethanization and condensate facilities at our Oak Grove processing plant, a condensate stabilization facility near our Oak Grove plant, and an ethane transportation pipeline. Our three condensate stabilizers are capable of handling 17 Mbbls/d of field condensate. NGLs are extracted from the natural gas stream in our cryogenic processing plants. Our Oak Grove de-ethanizer is capable of handling up to approximately 80 Mbbls/d of mixed NGLs to extract up to approximately 40 Mbbls/d of ethane. The remaining mixed NGL stream from the de-ethanizer is then transported and fractionated at our Moundsville facilities, which are capable of handling more than 43 Mbbls/d of mixed NGLs. Ethane produced at our de-ethanizer is transported to markets via our 50-mile ethane pipeline from Oak Grove to Houston, Pennsylvania.
Our gathering business also provides multiple takeaway options to its customers. Ohio Valley Midstream makes customer deliveries with interconnections to two pipelines. Susquehanna Supply Hub makes deliveries for its customers with interconnections to Transco, as well as five other pipelines, while our Cardinal system utilizes interconnections with Blue Racer Midstream, LLC (Blue Racer), and UEOM. In addition, our NGL processing business utilizes connections with multiple pipelines, as well as truck and rail transportation to local and regional markets.
Certain Equity-Method Investments
We own a 69 percent interest in a joint venture, Laurel Mountain, that includes a 2,053-mile gathering system that we operate in western Pennsylvania with the capacity to gather 0.7 Bcf/d of natural gas. Laurel Mountain has a long-term, dedicated, volumetric-based fee agreement, with exposure to natural gas prices, to gather the anchor customer’s production in the western Pennsylvania area of the Marcellus Shale.
We own a 58 percent interest in Caiman II, which owns a 50 percent interest in Blue Racer, a joint project to own, operate, develop and acquire midstream assets in the Utica Shale and certain adjacent areas in the Marcellus Shale. Blue Racer’s assets include 721 miles of gathering pipelines, and the Natrium complex in Marshall County, West Virginia, with a cryogenic processing capacity of 400 MMcf/d and fractionation capacity of approximately 120,000 Bbls/d. Blue Racer also owns the Berne complex in Monroe County, Ohio, with a cryogenic processing capacity of 400 MMcf/d, and NGL and condensate pipelines connecting Natrium to Berne.
Utica East Ohio Midstream
We own a 62 percent interest in UEOM, which includes infrastructure for the gathering, processing, and fractionation of natural gas and NGLs in the Utica Shale play in eastern Ohio. We operate a natural gas gathering pipeline, while our partner operates inlet compression, two processing plants with a total capacity of 800 MMcf/d, 41 Mbbls/d of condensate stabilization capacity, a 135 Mbbls/d NGL fractionation facility, approximately 950,000 barrels of NGL storage capacity and other ancillary assets, including loading and terminal facilities. These assets earn a fixed fee that escalates annually within a specified range.
Appalachia Midstream Investments
Through our Appalachia Midstream Investments, we operate 100 percent of and own an approximate average 66 percent interest in the Bradford Supply Hub gathering system and own an approximate average 68 percent interest in the Marcellus South gathering system, together which consist of approximately 987 miles of gathering pipeline in the
Marcellus Shale region. The majority of our volumes in the region are gathered from northern Pennsylvania, southwestern Pennsylvania and the northwestern panhandle of West Virginia in core areas of the Marcellus Shale. Appalachia Midstream Investments operates the assets under long-term, 100 percent fixed-fee gathering agreements that include significant acreage dedications and cost of service mechanisms.
During the first quarter of 2017, we exchanged all of our 50 percent interest in the Delaware basin gas gathering system, previously reported within the West segment, for an increased interest in the Bradford Supply Hub natural gas gathering system that is part of the Appalachia Midstream Investments and $155 million in cash. Following this exchange, we have an approximate average 66 percent interest in the Appalachia Midstream Investments. We continue to account for this investment under the equity-method due to the significant participatory rights of our partners such that we do not exercise control. (See Note 6 – Investing Activities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.)
We also own a 15 percent interest in Aux Sable and its Channahon, Illinois, gas processing and NGL fractionation facility near Chicago. The facility is capable of processing up to 2.1 Bcf/d of natural gas from the Alliance Pipeline system and fractionating approximately 132 Mbbls/d of extracted liquids into NGL products. Additionally, Aux Sable owns an 80 MMcf/d gas conditioning plant and a 12-inch, 83-mile gas pipeline infrastructure in North Dakota that provides additional NGLs to Channahon from the Bakken Shale in the Williston basin.
Plant inlet natural gas volumes (Bcf/d)
NGL production volumes (Mbbls/d) (2)
Excludes volumes associated with equity-method investments.
Annual average Mbbls/d.
This segment includes the Transco interstate natural gas pipeline that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern seaboard, as well as natural gas gathering, processing and treating, crude oil production handling, and NGL fractionation assets within the onshore, offshore shelf, and deepwater areas in and around the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. This segment also includes various petrochemical and feedstock pipelines in the Gulf Coast region.
Transco is an interstate natural gas transmission company that owns and operates a 9,700-mile natural gas pipeline system, which is regulated by the FERC, extending from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico through Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey to the New York City metropolitan area. The system serves customers in Texas and 12 southeast and Atlantic seaboard states, including major metropolitan areas in Georgia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
At December 31, 2017, Transco’s system, which extends from Texas to New York, had a system-wide delivery capacity totaling approximately 15.0 MMdth of natural gas per day. During 2017, Transco completed five fully-contracted expansions, which added more than 2.8 MMdth of firm transportation capacity per day to the existing pipeline system. Transco’s system includes 50 compressor stations, four underground storage fields, and an LNG storage facility. Compression facilities at sea level-rated capacity total approximately 2.1 million horsepower.
Transco has natural gas storage capacity in four underground storage fields located on or near its pipeline system or market areas and operates two of these storage fields. Transco also has storage capacity in an LNG storage facility that it owns and operates. The total usable gas storage capacity available to Transco and its customers in such underground storage fields and LNG storage facility and through storage service contracts is approximately 200 Bcf of natural gas. At December 31, 2017, Transco’s customers had stored in its facilities approximately 141 Bcf of natural gas. In addition, wholly owned subsidiaries of Transco operate and hold a 35 percent equity-method investment in Pine Needle LNG Company, LLC, an LNG storage facility with 4 Bcf of storage capacity. Storage capacity permits Transco’s customers to inject gas into storage during the summer and off-peak periods for delivery during peak winter demand periods.
Gas Gathering, Processing, and Treating Assets
The following tables summarize the significant consolidated assets of this segment:
Natural Gas Gathering Assets
Canyon Chief, including Blind Faith and Gulfstar extensions
Deepwater Gulf of Mexico
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Other Eastern Gulf
Offshore shelf and other
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Deepwater Gulf of Mexico
Western Gulf of Mexico
Deepwater Gulf of Mexico
Western Gulf of Mexico
Other Western Gulf
Offshore shelf and other
Western Gulf of Mexico
Natural Gas Processing Facilities
Western Gulf of Mexico
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
In addition, we own and operate several natural gas treating facilities in Texas and Louisiana which bring natural gas to specifications allowable by major interstate pipelines.
Crude Oil Transportation and Production Handling Assets
In addition to our natural gas assets, we own and operate four deepwater crude oil pipelines and own production platforms serving the deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico. Our offshore floating production platforms provide centralized services to deepwater producers such as compression, separation, production handling, water removal, and pipeline landings.
The following tables summarize the significant crude oil transportation pipelines and production handling platforms of this segment:
Crude Oil Pipelines
Mountaineer, including Blind Faith and Gulfstar extensions
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Western Gulf of Mexico
Western Gulf of Mexico
Western Gulf of Mexico
Production Handling Platforms
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Gulfstar I FPS (1)
Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Statistics reflect 100 percent of the assets from our 51 percent interest in Gulfstar One.
Other NGL & Petchem Operations
We own 283 miles of pipeline systems in Louisiana and Texas that provide feedstock transportation from fractionation and storage facilities to various third-party crackers. These systems include the Bayou ethane pipeline, which provides ethane transportation from Mont Belvieu, Texas; certain ethane and propane systems in Louisiana; and a pipeline that has the capacity to transport 12 Mbbls/d of ethane from Discovery’s Paradis fractionator.
Additionally, we own 114 miles of pipelines in the Houston Ship Channel area which transport a variety of products including ethane, propane, ammonia, tertiary butyl alcohol, and other industrial products used in the petrochemical industry. We also own a tunnel crossing pipeline under the Houston Ship Channel. A portion of these pipelines are leased to third parties.
Certain Equity-Method Investments
We own a 60 percent interest in and operate the facilities of Discovery. Discovery’s assets include a 600 MMcf/d cryogenic natural gas processing plant near Larose, Louisiana, a 32 Mbbls/d NGL fractionator plant near Paradis, Louisiana, and a 614-mile offshore natural gas gathering and transportation system in the Gulf of Mexico. Discovery’s mainline has a gathering inlet capacity of 600 MMcf/d, while the Keathley Canyon Connector, a deepwater lateral pipeline in the central deepwater Gulf of Mexico has a gathering inlet capacity of 400 MMcf/d. Discovery’s assets also include a crude oil production handling platform with a crude oil/NGL handling capacity of 10 Mbbls/d and natural gas processing capacity of 75 MMcf/d.
Gulfstream is a 745-mile interstate natural gas pipeline system extending from the Mobile Bay area in Alabama to markets in Florida, which has a capacity to transport 1.3 Bcf/d. We own, through a subsidiary, a 50 percent equity-method investment in Gulfstream. We share operating responsibilities for Gulfstream with the other 50 percent owner.
Interstate natural gas pipeline throughput (Tbtu)
Plant inlet natural gas (Bcf/d)
NGL production (Mbbls/d) (2)
NGL equity sales (Mbbls/d) (2)
Crude oil transportation (Mbbls/d) (2)
Excludes volumes associated with equity-method investments.
Annual average Mbbls/d.
This segment includes the Northwest Pipeline interstate natural gas pipeline, as well as natural gas gathering, processing, and treating assets in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. This segment also includes an NGL and natural gas marketing business, storage facilities, and an undivided 50 percent interest in an NGL fractionator near Conway, Kansas.
Northwest Pipeline is an interstate natural gas transmission company that owns and operates a natural gas pipeline system, which is regulated by the FERC, extending from the San Juan basin in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to a point on the Canadian border near Sumas, Washington. Northwest Pipeline provides services for markets in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, California, and Arizona, either directly or indirectly through interconnections with other pipelines.
At December 31, 2017, Northwest Pipeline’s system, having long-term firm transportation and storage redelivery agreements with aggregate capacity reservations of approximately 3.8 MMdth/d, was composed of approximately 3,900 miles of mainline and lateral transmission pipeline and 41 transmission compressor stations having a combined sea level-rated capacity of approximately 472,000 horsepower.
Northwest Pipeline owns a one-third interest in the Jackson Prairie underground storage facility in Washington and contracts with a third party for natural gas storage services in the Clay basin underground field in Utah. Northwest Pipeline also owns and operates an LNG storage facility in Washington. These storage facilities have an aggregate working natural gas storage capacity of 14.2 MMdth of natural gas, which is substantially utilized for third-party natural gas. These natural gas storage facilities enable Northwest Pipeline to balance daily receipts and deliveries and provide storage services to customers.
Gas Gathering, Processing, and Treating Assets
The following tables summarize the significant consolidated assets of this segment:
Natural Gas Gathering Assets
Inlet Capacity (Bcf/d)
Supply Basins/Shale Formations
Colorado & New Mexico
Eagle Ford Shale
Eagle Ford Shale
Oklahoma, Texas, & Kansas
Miss-Lime, Granite Wash, Colony Wash, Arkoma
Includes our 60 percent ownership of a gathering system in the Ryan Gulch area with 140 miles of pipeline and 0.2 Bcf/d of inlet capacity, and our 67 percent ownership of a gathering system at Allen Point with 8 miles of pipeline and 0.1 Bcf/d of inlet capacity. We operate both systems. We own and operate 100 percent of the balance of the Piceance gathering assets.
Statistics reflect 100 percent of the assets from our 50 percent ownership of the Jackalope gathering system.
Natural Gas Processing Facilities
Echo Springs, WY
Bucking Horse (1)
Converse County, WY
Rio Blanco County, CO
Garfield County, CO
Statistics reflect 100 percent of the assets from our 50 percent ownership of Bucking Horse gas processing facility.
In addition, we own and operate natural gas treating facilities in New Mexico and Colorado, which bring natural gas to specifications allowable by major interstate pipelines.
We market NGL products to a wide range of users in the energy and petrochemical industries. The NGL marketing business transports and markets our equity NGLs from the production at our processing plants, and also markets NGLs on behalf of third-party NGL producers, including some of our fee-based processing customers, and the NGL volumes owned by Discovery. The NGL marketing business bears the risk of price changes in these NGL volumes while they are being transported to final sales delivery points. In order to meet sales contract obligations, we may purchase products in the spot market for resale. Other than a long-term agreement to sell our equity NGLs transported on OPPL, the majority of sales are based on supply contracts of one year or less in duration.
In certain situations to facilitate our gas gathering and processing activities, we buy natural gas from our producer customers for resale.
Other NGL Operations
We own interests in and/or operate NGL fractionation and storage assets in central Kansas near Conway. These assets include a 50 percent interest in an NGL fractionation facility with capacity of slightly more than 100 Mbbls/d and we own approximately 20 million barrels of NGL storage capacity.
Certain Equity-Method Investments
Delaware basin gas gathering system
We previously owned a non-operated 50 percent interest in the Delaware basin gas gathering system in the Permian basin, which was sold in February 2017. The system was comprised of more than 450 miles of gathering pipeline, located in west Texas.
Overland Pass Pipeline
We also operate and own a 50 percent interest in OPPL. OPPL is capable of transporting 255 Mbbls/d and includes approximately 1,096 miles of NGL pipeline extending from Opal, Wyoming, to the Mid-Continent NGL market center near Conway, Kansas, along with extensions into the Piceance and Denver-Julesberg basins in Colorado and the Bakken Shale in the Williston basin in North Dakota. Our equity NGL volumes from two of our three Wyoming plants and our Willow Creek facility in Colorado are dedicated for transport on OPPL under a long-term transportation agreement.
Interstate natural gas pipeline throughput (Tbtu)
Plant inlet natural gas (Bcf/d)
NGL production (Mbbls/d) (1)
NGL equity sales (Mbbls/d) (1)
Annual average Mbbls/d.
NGL & Petchem Services
NGL & Petchem Services is comprised of previously owned operations. Effective July 2017, we no longer have ongoing operations in this segment.
In mid-2017, we completed the sale of an 88.5 percent undivided interest and operatorship of an olefins production facility in Geismar, Louisiana, along with a refinery grade propylene splitter in the Gulf region. The olefins business also operated an ethylene storage hub at Mont Belvieu using leased third-party underground storage caverns.
Our refinery grade propylene splitter had production capacity of approximately 500 million pounds per year of propylene. At the propylene splitter, we purchased refinery grade propylene and fractionated it into polymer grade propylene and propane; as a result, the asset was exposed to the price spread between those commodities.
Prior to the sale of our olefin operations, we marketed olefin products to a wide range of users in the energy and petrochemical industries.
We completed the sale of our Canadian operations in September, 2016. This business included an oil sands offgas processing plant located near Fort McMurray, Alberta, and an NGL/olefin fractionation facility located at Redwater, Alberta, which is near Edmonton, Alberta, and the Boreal Pipeline which transported NGLs and associated olefins from the Fort McMurray plant to the Redwater fractionation facility. This business allowed us to extract, fractionate, treat, store, terminal and sell the ethane/ethylene, propane, propylene, normal butane (butane), iso-butane, alky feedstock, and condensate recovered from a third-party oil sands bitumen upgrader.
Geismar ethylene sales (millions of pounds)
Canadian propylene sales (millions of pounds)
Canadian NGL sales (millions of gallons)
Service Assets, Customers, and Contracts
Interstate Natural Gas Pipeline Assets
Our interstate natural gas pipelines are subject to regulation by the FERC and as such, our rates and charges for the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce are subject to regulation. The rates are established through the FERC’s ratemaking process.
Our interstate natural gas pipelines transport and store natural gas for a broad mix of customers, including local natural gas distribution companies, public utilities, municipalities, direct industrial users, electric power generators, and natural gas marketers and producers. We have firm transportation and storage contracts that are generally long-term contracts with various expiration dates and account for the major portion of our regulated businesses. Additionally, we offer storage services and interruptible transportation services under shorter-term agreements.
Gathering, Processing and Treating Assets
Our gathering systems receive natural gas from producers’ oil and natural gas wells and gather these volumes to gas processing, treating or redelivery facilities. Typically, natural gas, in its raw form, is not acceptable for transportation in major interstate natural gas pipelines or for commercial use as a fuel. Our treating facilities remove water vapor, carbon dioxide and other contaminants and collect condensate, but do not extract NGLs. We are generally paid a fee based on the volume of natural gas gathered and/or treated, generally measured in the Btu heating value.
In addition, natural gas contains various amounts of NGLs, which generally have a higher value when separated from the natural gas stream. Our processing plants extract the NGLs in addition to removing water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other contaminants. NGL products include:
Ethane, primarily used in the petrochemical industry as a feedstock for ethylene production, one of the basic building blocks for plastics;
Propane, used for heating, fuel and as a petrochemical feedstock in the production of ethylene and propylene, another building block for petrochemical-based products such as carpets, packing materials, and molded plastic parts;
Normal butane, isobutane and natural gasoline, primarily used by the refining industry as blending stocks for motor gasoline or as a petrochemical feedstock.
Our gas processing services generate revenues primarily from the following types of contracts:
Fee-based: We are paid a fee based on the volume of natural gas processed, generally measured in the Btu heating value. Our customers are entitled to the NGLs produced in connection with this type of processing agreement. A portion of our fee-based processing revenue includes a share of the margins on the NGLs produced. For the year ended December 31, 2017, 70 percent of our NGL production volumes were under fee-based contracts.
Noncash commodity-based: We also process gas under two types of commodity-based contracts, keep-whole and percent-of-liquids, where we receive consideration for our services in the form of NGLs. Under these contracts, we retain some or all of the extracted NGLs as compensation for our services. For a keep-whole arrangement we replace the Btu content of the retained NGLs that were extracted during processing with natural gas purchases, also known as shrink replacement gas. For a percent-of-liquids arrangement, we deliver to customers an agreed-upon percentage of the extracted NGLs and retain the remainder. NGLs we retain in connection with these types of processing agreements are referred to as our equity NGL production. Under keep-whole agreements, we have commodity price exposure on the difference between NGL and natural gas prices. For the year ended December 31, 2017, 30 percent of our NGL production volumes were under noncash commodity-based contracts.
Our gathering and processing agreements have terms ranging from month-to-month to the life of the producing lease. Generally, our gathering and processing agreements are long-term agreements. Some contracts have price escalators which annually increase our gathering rates. In addition, certain contracts include fee redetermination or cost of service mechanisms that are designed to support a return on invested capital and allow our gathering rates to be adjusted, subject to specified caps in certain cases, to account for variability in volume, capital expenditures, commodity price fluctuations, compression and other expenses. Certain of our gas gathering agreements include MVCs. If the minimum annual or semi-annual volume commitment is not met, these customers are obligated to pay a fee equal to the applicable fee for each Mcf by which the applicable customer’s minimum annual or semi-annual volume commitment exceeds the actual volume gathered. The revenue associated with such shortfall fees is generally recognized in the fourth quarter of each year.
Demand for gas gathering and processing services is dependent on producers’ drilling activities, which is impacted by the strength of the economy, natural gas prices, and the resulting demand for natural gas by manufacturing and industrial companies and consumers. Our gas gathering and processing customers are generally natural gas producers who have proved and/or producing natural gas fields in the areas surrounding our infrastructure. During 2017, our facilities gathered and processed gas and crude oil for approximately 260 customers. Our top ten customers accounted for approximately 75 percent of our gathering and processing fee revenues and NGL margins from our noncash commodity-based agreements.
Demand for our equity NGLs is affected by economic conditions and the resulting demand from industries using these commodities to produce petrochemical-based products such as plastics, carpets, packing materials and blending stocks for motor gasoline and the demand from consumers using these commodities for heating and fuel. NGL products are currently the preferred feedstock for ethylene and propylene production, which has shifted away from the more expensive crude-based feedstocks.
Key variables for our business will continue to be:
Producer drilling activities impacting natural gas supplies supporting our gathering and processing volumes;
Prices impacting our commodity-based activities;
Retaining and attracting customers by continuing to provide reliable services;
Revenue growth associated with additional infrastructure either completed or currently under construction;
Disciplined growth in our service areas.
Crude Oil Transportation and Production Handling Assets
Our crude oil transportation revenues are typically volumetric-based fee arrangements. However, a portion of our marketing revenues are recognized from purchase and sale arrangements whereby the oil that we transport is purchased and sold as a function of the same index-based price. Revenue sources have historically included a combination of fixed-fee, volumetric-based fee and cost reimbursement arrangements. Fixed fees associated with the resident production at our Devils Tower facility are recognized on a units-of-production basis. Fixed fees associated with the resident production at our Gulfstar One facility are recognized as the guaranteed capacity is made available.
Significant Service Revenues
Revenues by service that exceeded 10 percent of consolidated revenue include:
Regulated natural gas transportation and storage
Gathering, processing, and production handling
Regulated natural gas transportation and storage
Gathering, processing, and production handling
Regulated natural gas transportation and storage
Gathering, processing, and production handling
We have one customer, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and its affiliates, that accounts for 10 percent of our total revenue in 2017. (See Note 16 – Fair Value Measurements, Guarantees, and Concentration of Credit Risk of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for additional information.)
Our gas pipeline interstate transmission and storage activities are subject to FERC regulation under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA) and under the Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978, and, as such, our rates and charges for the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce, accounting, and the extension, enlargement, or abandonment of our jurisdictional facilities, among other things, are subject to regulation. Each gas pipeline company holds certificates of public convenience and necessity issued by the FERC authorizing ownership and operation of all pipelines, facilities, and properties for which certificates are required under the NGA. FERC Standards of Conduct govern how our interstate pipelines communicate and do business with gas marketing employees. Among other things, the Standards of Conduct require that interstate pipelines not operate their systems to preferentially benefit gas marketing functions.
FERC regulation requires all terms and conditions of service, including the rates charged, to be filed with and approved by the FERC before any changes can go into effect. Each of our interstate natural gas pipeline companies establishes its rates primarily through the FERC’s ratemaking process. Key determinants in the ratemaking process are:
Costs of providing service, including depreciation expense;
Allowed rate of return, including the equity component of the capital structure and related income taxes;
Contract and volume throughput assumptions.
The allowed rate of return is determined in each rate case. Rate design and the allocation of costs between the reservation and commodity rates also impact profitability. As a result of these proceedings, certain revenues previously collected may be subject to refund.
We also own interests in and operate two offshore transmission pipelines that are regulated by the FERC because they are deemed to transport gas in interstate commerce. Black Marlin Pipeline Company provides transportation service for offshore Texas production in the High Island area and redelivers that gas to intrastate pipeline interconnects near Texas City. Discovery provides transportation service for offshore Louisiana production from the South Timbalier, Grand Isle, Ewing Bank, and Green Canyon (deepwater) areas to an onshore processing facility and downstream interconnect points with major interstate pipelines. In addition, we own a 50 percent equity-method investment in and are the operator of OPPL, which is an interstate natural gas liquids pipeline regulated by the FERC pursuant to the Interstate Commerce Act. OPPL provides transportation service pursuant to tariffs filed with the FERC. We also own an ethane pipeline in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (Williams Ohio Valley Pipeline LLC) and an ethane pipeline in Texas and Louisiana (Williams Bayou Ethane Pipeline) each of which provides interstate service subject to FERC jurisdiction under the Interstate Commerce Act.
Our gas pipelines are subject to the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, as amended, the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Jobs Creation Act of 2011 (Pipeline Safety Act), and the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016, which regulate safety requirements in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of interstate natural gas transmission facilities. The United States Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) administers federal pipeline safety laws.
Federal pipeline safety laws authorize PHMSA to establish minimum safety standards for pipeline facilities and persons engaged in the transportation of gas or hazardous liquids by pipeline. These safety standards apply to the design, construction, testing, operation, and maintenance of gas and hazardous liquids pipeline facilities affecting interstate or foreign commerce. PHMSA has also established reporting requirements for operators of gas and hazardous liquid pipeline facilities, as well as provisions for establishing the qualification of pipeline personnel and requirements for managing the integrity of gas transmission and distribution lines and certain hazardous liquid pipelines. To ensure compliance with these provisions, PHMSA performs pipeline safety inspections and has the authority to initiate enforcement actions.
Federal pipeline safety regulations contain an exemption that applies to gathering lines in certain rural locations. A substantial portion of our gathering lines qualify for that exemption and are currently not regulated under federal law.
States are largely preempted by federal law from regulating pipeline safety for interstate pipelines but most are certified by PHMSA to assume responsibility for enforcing intrastate pipeline safety regulations and inspecting intrastate pipelines. In practice, because states can adopt stricter standards for intrastate pipelines than those imposed by the federal government for interstate lines, they vary considerably in their authority and capacity to address pipeline safety.
On January 3, 2012, the Pipeline Safety Act was enacted. The Pipeline Safety Act requires PHMSA to complete a number of reports in preparation for potential rulemakings. The issues addressed in these rulemaking provisions include, but are not limited to, the use of automatic or remotely controlled shut-off valves on new or replaced transmission line facilities, modifying the requirements for pipeline leak detection systems, and expanding the scope of the pipeline integrity management requirements for both gas and liquid pipeline systems. On June 22, 2016, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016 was enacted, further strengthening PHMSA’s safety authority.
Pipeline Integrity Regulations
We have an enterprise-wide Gas Integrity Management Plan that we believe meets the PHMSA final rule that was issued pursuant to the requirements of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002. The rule requires gas pipeline operators to develop an integrity management program for gas transmission pipelines that could affect high-consequence areas in the event of pipeline failure. The integrity management program includes a baseline assessment plan along with periodic reassessments to be completed within required time frames. In meeting the integrity regulations, we have identified high-consequence areas and developed baseline assessment plans. Ongoing periodic reassessments and initial assessments of any new high-consequence areas have been completed. We estimate that the cost to be incurred in 2018 associated with this program to be approximately $99 million. Management considers the costs associated with compliance with the rule to be prudent costs incurred in the ordinary course of business and, therefore, recoverable through Northwest Pipeline’s and Transco’s rates.
We have an enterprise-wide Liquid Integrity Management Plan that we believe meets the PHMSA final rule that was issued pursuant to the requirements of the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002. The rule requires liquid pipeline operators to develop an integrity management program for liquid transmission pipelines that could affect high-consequence areas in the event of pipeline failure. The integrity management program includes a baseline assessment plan along with periodic reassessments expected to be completed within required time frames. In meeting the integrity regulations we utilized government defined high-consequence areas and developed baseline assessment plans. We completed assessments within the required time frames. We estimate that the cost to be incurred in 2018 associated with this program will be approximately $4 million. Ongoing periodic reassessments and initial assessments of any new high-consequence areas are expected to be completed within the time frames required by the rule. Management considers the costs associated with compliance with the rule to be prudent costs incurred in the ordinary course of business.
State Gathering Regulation
Our onshore midstream gathering operations are subject to laws and regulations in the various states in which we operate. For example, the Texas Railroad Commission has the authority to regulate the terms of service for our intrastate natural gas gathering business in Texas. Although the applicable state regulations vary widely, they generally require that pipeline rates and practices be reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and may include provisions covering marketing, pricing, pollution, environment, and human health and safety. Some states, such as New York, have specific regulations pertaining to the design, construction, and operations of gathering lines within such state.
Our offshore midstream gathering is subject to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Although offshore gathering facilities are not subject to the NGA, offshore transmission pipelines are subject to the NGA, and in recent years the FERC has taken a broad view of offshore transmission, finding many shallow-water pipelines to be jurisdictional transmission. Most offshore gathering facilities are subject to the OCSLA, which provides in part that outer continental shelf pipelines “must provide open and nondiscriminatory access to both owner and nonowner shippers.”
Intrastate Liquids Pipelines in the Gulf Coast
Our intrastate liquids pipelines in the Gulf Coast are regulated by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the Texas Railroad Commission, and various other state and federal agencies. These pipelines are also subject to the liquid pipeline safety and integrity regulations discussed above since both Louisiana and Texas have adopted the integrity management regulations defined in PHMSA.
See Part II, Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data — Note 17 – Contingent Liabilities and Commitments of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for further details on our regulatory matters. For additional information regarding regulatory matters, please also refer to “Risk Factors — The operation of our businesses might also be adversely affected by regulatory proceedings, changes in government regulations or in their interpretation or implementation, or the introduction of new laws or regulations applicable to our businesses or our customers,” and
“The natural gas sales, transportation, and storage operations of our gas pipelines are subject to regulation by the FERC, which could have an adverse impact on their ability to establish transportation and storage rates that would allow them to recover the full cost of operating their respective pipelines, including a reasonable rate of return.”
Our operations are subject to federal environmental laws and regulations as well as the state, local, and tribal laws and regulations adopted by the jurisdictions in which we operate. We could incur liability to governments or third parties for any unlawful discharge of pollutants into the air, soil, or water, as well as liability for cleanup costs. Materials could be released into the environment in several ways including, but not limited to:
Leakage from gathering systems, underground gas storage caverns, pipelines, processing or treating facilities, transportation facilities, and storage tanks;
Damage to facilities resulting from accidents during normal operations;
Damages to onshore and offshore equipment and facilities resulting from storm events or natural disasters;
Blowouts, cratering, and explosions.
In addition, we may be liable for environmental damage caused by former owners or operators of our properties.
We believe compliance with current environmental laws and regulations will not have a material adverse effect on our capital expenditures, earnings, or current competitive position. However, environmental laws and regulations could affect our business in various ways from time to time, including incurring capital and maintenance expenditures, fines and penalties, and creating the need to seek relief from the FERC for rate increases to recover the costs of certain capital expenditures and operation and maintenance expenses.
For additional information regarding the potential impact of federal, state, tribal, or local regulatory measures on our business and specific environmental issues, please refer to “Risk Factors – Our operations are subject to environmental laws and regulations, including laws and regulations relating to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which may expose us to significant costs, liabilities, and expenditures that could exceed our expectations” and Part II, Item 7. “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Environmental” and “Environmental Matters” in Part II, Item 8. — Financial Statements and Supplementary Data —Note 17 – Contingent Liabilities and Commitments of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Gas Pipeline Business
The market for supplying natural gas is highly competitive and new pipelines, storage facilities, and other related services are expanding to service the growing demand for natural gas. Additionally, pipeline capacity in many growing natural gas supply basins is constrained causing competition to increase among pipeline companies as they strive to connect those basins to major natural gas demand centers.
In our business, we compete with major intrastate and interstate natural gas pipelines. In the last few years, local distribution companies have also started entering into the long haul transportation business through joint venture pipelines. The principle elements of competition in the interstate natural gas pipeline business are based on rates, reliability, quality of customer service, diversity of supply, and proximity to customers and market hubs.
Significant entrance barriers to build new pipelines exist, including federal and growing state regulations and public opposition against new pipeline builds, and these factors will continue to impact potential competition for the foreseeable future. However, we believe the position of our existing infrastructure, established strategic long-term contracts, and the fact that our pipelines have numerous receipt and delivery points along our systems provide us a competitive advantage, especially along the eastern seaboard and northwestern United States.
Competition for natural gas gathering, processing, treating, transporting, and storing natural gas continues to increase as production from shales and other resource areas continues to grow. Our midstream services compete with similar facilities that are in the same proximity as our assets.
We face competition from major and independent natural gas midstream providers, private equity firms, and major integrated oil and natural gas companies that gather, transport, process, fractionate, store, and market natural gas and NGLs, as well as some larger exploration and production companies that are choosing to develop midstream services to handle their own natural gas.
Our gathering and processing agreements are generally long-term agreements that may include acreage dedication. We primarily face competition to the extent these agreements approach renewal and new volume opportunities arise. Competition for natural gas volumes is primarily based on reputation, commercial terms (products retained or fees charged), array of services provided, efficiency and reliability of services, location of gathering facilities, available capacity, downstream interconnects, and latent capacity. We believe our significant presence in traditional prolific supply basins, our solid positions in growing shale plays, and our ability to offer integrated packages of services position us well against our competition.
For additional information regarding competition for our services or otherwise affecting our business, please refer to “Risk Factors - The financial condition of our natural gas transportation and midstream businesses is dependent on the continued availability of natural gas supplies in the supply basins that we access and demand for those supplies in the markets we serve,” “Our industry is highly competitive and increased competitive pressure could adversely affect our business and operating results,” and “We may not be able to replace, extend, or add additional customer contracts or contracted volumes on favorable terms, or at all, which could affect our financial condition, the amount of cash available to pay distributions, and our ability to grow.”
We do not have any employees. We are managed and operated by the directors and officers of our general partner. At February 1, 2018, our general partner or its affiliates employed approximately 5,425 full-time employees, a substantial portion of which support our operations and provide services to us. Additionally, our general partner and its affiliates provide general and administrative services to us. For further information, please read Part III, Item 10. “Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance” and Part III, Item 13. “Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence — Reimbursement of Expenses of our General Partner.”
FINANCIAL INFORMATION ABOUT GEOGRAPHIC AREAS
See Part II, Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data — Note 18 – Segment Disclosures of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for amounts of revenues during the last three fiscal years from external customers attributable to the United States and all foreign countries. Also see Part II, Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data — Note 18 – Segment Disclosures of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for information relating to long-lived assets during the last three fiscal years, located in the United States and all foreign countries.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
The reports, filings, and other public announcements of WPZ may contain or incorporate by reference statements that do not directly or exclusively relate to historical facts. Such statements are “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (Securities Act) and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (Exchange Act). These forward-looking statements relate to anticipated financial performance, management’s plans and objectives for future operations, business prospects, outcome of regulatory proceedings, market conditions, and other matters.
All statements, other than statements of historical facts, included in this report that address activities, events or developments that we expect, believe or anticipate will exist or may occur in the future, are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements can be identified by various forms of words such as “anticipates,” “believes,” “seeks,” “could,” “may,” “should,” “continues,” “estimates,” “expects,” “forecasts,” “intends,” “might,” “goals,” “objectives,” “targets,” “planned,” “potential,” “projects,” “scheduled,” “will,” “assumes,” “guidance,” “outlook,” “in-service date,” or other similar expressions. These forward-looking statements are based on management’s beliefs and assumptions and on information currently available to management and include, among others, statements regarding:
Levels of cash distributions with respect to limited partner interests;
Our and our affiliates’ future credit ratings;
Amounts and nature of future capital expenditures;
Expansion and growth of our business and operations;
Expected in-service dates for capital projects;
Financial condition and liquidity;
Cash flow from operations or results of operations;
Seasonality of certain business components;
Natural gas and natural gas liquids prices, supply, and demand;
Demand for our services.
Forward-looking statements are based on numerous assumptions, uncertainties, and risks that could cause future events or results to be materially different from those stated or implied in this report. Many of the factors that will determine these results are beyond our ability to control or predict. Specific factors that could cause actual results to differ from results contemplated by the forward-looking statements include, among others, the following:
Whether we will produce sufficient cash flows to provide expected levels of cash distributions;
Whether we elect to pay expected levels of cash distributions;
Whether we will be able to effectively execute our financing plan;
Availability of supplies, including lower than anticipated volumes from third parties served by our midstream business, and market demand;
Volatility of pricing including the effect of lower than anticipated energy commodity prices and margins;
Inflation, interest rates, and general economic conditions (including future disruptions and volatility in the global credit markets and the impact of these events on our customers and suppliers);
The strength and financial resources of our competitors and the effects of competition;
Whether we are able to successfully identify, evaluate, and timely execute our capital projects and other investment opportunities in accordance with our forecasted capital expenditures budget;
Our ability to successfully expand our facilities and operations;
Development and rate of adoption of alternative energy sources;
The impact of operational and developmental hazards and unforeseen interruptions, and the availability of adequate insurance coverage;
The impact of existing and future laws (including, but not limited to, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017), regulations, the regulatory environment, environmental liabilities, and litigation, as well as our ability to obtain necessary permits and approvals and achieve favorable rate proceeding outcomes;
Our costs for defined benefit pension plans and other postretirement benefit plans sponsored by our affiliates;
Changes in maintenance and construction costs;
Changes in the current geopolitical situation;
Our exposure to the credit risk of our customers and counterparties;
Risks related to financing, including restrictions stemming from debt agreements, future changes in credit ratings as determined by nationally recognized credit rating agencies, and the availability and cost of capital;
The amount of cash distributions from and capital requirements of our investments and joint ventures in which we participate;
Risks associated with weather and natural phenomena, including climate conditions and physical damage to our facilities;
Acts of terrorism, including cybersecurity threats, and related disruptions;
Additional risks described in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Given the uncertainties and risk factors that could cause our actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement, we caution investors not to unduly rely on our forward-looking statements. We disclaim any obligations to and do not intend to update the above list or announce publicly the result of any revisions to any of the forward-looking statements to reflect future events or developments.
In addition to causing our actual results to differ, the factors listed above and referred to below may cause our intentions to change from those statements of intention set forth in this report. Such changes in our intentions may also cause our results to differ. We may change our intentions, at any time and without notice, based upon changes in such factors, our assumptions, or otherwise.
Limited partner units are inherently different from the capital stock of a corporation, although many of the business risks to which we are subject are similar to those that would be faced by a corporation engaged in a similar business. You should carefully consider the risk factors discussed below in addition to the other information in this report. If any of the following risks were actually to occur, our business, results of operations, and financial condition could be materially adversely affected. In that case, we might not be able to pay distributions on our common units, the trading price of our common units could decline, and unitholders could lose all or part of their investment.
Because forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, we caution that there are important factors, in addition to those listed above, that may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. These factors are described in the following section.
You should carefully consider the following risk factors in addition to the other information in this report. Each of these factors could adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and, in some cases our reputation. The occurrence of any of such risks could also adversely affect the value of an investment in our securities.
Risks Related to Our Business
The financial condition of our natural gas transportation and midstream businesses is dependent on the continued availability of natural gas supplies in the supply basins that we access and demand for those supplies in the markets we serve.
Our ability to maintain and expand our natural gas transportation and midstream businesses depends on the level of drilling and production by third parties in our supply basins. Production from existing wells and natural gas supply basins with access to our pipeline and gathering systems will naturally decline over time. The amount of natural gas reserves underlying these existing wells may also be less than anticipated, and the rate at which production from these reserves declines may be greater than anticipated. We do not obtain independent evaluations of natural gas reserves connected to our systems and processing facilities. Accordingly, we do not have independent estimates of total reserves dedicated to our systems or the anticipated life of such reserves. In addition, low prices for natural gas, regulatory limitations, or the lack of available capital could adversely affect the development and production of additional natural gas reserves, the installation of gathering, storage, and pipeline transportation facilities and the import and export of natural gas supplies. Localized low natural gas prices in one or more of our existing supply basins, whether caused by a lack of infrastructure or otherwise, could also result in depressed natural gas production in such basins and limit the supply of natural gas made available to us. The competition for natural gas supplies to serve other markets could also reduce the amount of natural gas supply for our customers. A failure to obtain access to sufficient natural gas supplies will adversely impact our ability to maximize the capacities of our gathering, transportation, and processing facilities.
Demand for our services is dependent on the demand for gas in the markets we serve. Alternative fuel sources such as electricity, coal, fuel oils, or nuclear energy, as well as technological advances and renewable sources of energy, could reduce demand for natural gas in our markets and have an adverse effect on our business.
A failure to obtain access to sufficient natural gas supplies or a reduction in demand for our services in the markets we serve could result in impairments of our assets and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.
Prices for natural gas, NGLs, oil, and other commodities, are volatile and this volatility has and could continue to adversely affect our financial results, cash flows, access to capital, and ability to maintain our existing businesses.
Our revenues, operating results, future rate of growth, and the value of certain components of our businesses depend primarily upon the prices of natural gas, NGLs, oil, or other commodities, and the differences between prices of these commodities and could be materially adversely affected by an extended period of current low commodity prices, or a further decline in commodity prices. Price volatility has and could continue to impact both the amount we receive for our products and services and the volume of products and services we sell. Prices affect the amount of cash flow available for capital expenditures and our ability to borrow money or raise additional capital. Price volatility has and could continue to have an adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
The markets for natural gas, NGLs, oil, and other commodities are likely to continue to be volatile. Wide fluctuations in prices might result from one or more factors beyond our control, including:
Worldwide and domestic supplies of and demand for natural gas, NGLs, oil, and related commodities;
Turmoil in the Middle East and other producing regions;
The activities of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries;
The level of consumer demand;
The price and availability of other types of fuels or feedstocks;
The availability of pipeline capacity;
Supply disruptions, including plant outages and transportation disruptions;
The price and quantity of foreign imports of natural gas and oil;
Domestic and foreign governmental regulations and taxes;
The credit of participants in the markets where products are bought and sold.
We are exposed to the credit risk of our customers and counterparties, including Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates, and our credit risk management will not be able to completely eliminate such risk.
We are subject to the risk of loss resulting from nonpayment and/or nonperformance by our customers and counterparties in the ordinary course of our business. Generally, our customers are rated investment grade, are otherwise considered creditworthy, or are required to make prepayments or provide security to satisfy credit concerns. However, our credit procedures and policies cannot completely eliminate customer and counterparty credit risk. Our customers and counterparties include industrial customers, local distribution companies, natural gas producers, and marketers whose creditworthiness may be suddenly and disparately impacted by, among other factors, commodity price volatility, deteriorating energy market conditions, and public and regulatory opposition to energy producing activities. In a low commodity price environment certain of our customers could be negatively impacted, causing them significant economic stress including, in some cases, to file for bankruptcy protection or to renegotiate contracts. To the extent one or more of our key customers commences bankruptcy proceedings, our contracts with the customers may be subject to rejection under applicable provisions of the United States Bankruptcy Code, or may be renegotiated. Further, during any such bankruptcy proceeding, prior to assumption, rejection or renegotiation of such contracts, the bankruptcy court may temporarily authorize the payment of value for our services less than contractually required, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows. For example, Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates, which accounted for approximately 10 percent of our 2017 consolidated revenues, have experienced significant, negative financial results due to sustained low commodity prices. If we fail to adequately
assess the creditworthiness of existing or future customers and counterparties or otherwise do not take or are unable to take sufficient mitigating actions, including obtaining sufficient collateral, deterioration in their creditworthiness, and any resulting increase in nonpayment and/or nonperformance by them could cause us to write down or write off accounts receivable. Such write-downs or write-offs could negatively affect our operating results in the periods in which they occur, and, if significant, could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flows, and financial condition, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We may not be able to grow or effectively manage our growth.
As part of our growth strategy, we consider acquisition opportunities and engage in significant capital projects. We have both a project lifecycle process and an investment evaluation process. These are processes we use to identify, evaluate, and execute on acquisition opportunities and capital projects. We may not always have sufficient and accurate information to identify and value potential opportunities and risks or our investment evaluation process may be incomplete or flawed. Regarding potential acquisitions, suitable acquisition candidates may not be available on terms and conditions we find acceptable or, where multiple parties are trying to acquire an acquisition candidate, we may not be chosen as the acquirer. If we are able to acquire a targeted business, we may not be able to successfully integrate the acquired businesses and realize anticipated benefits in a timely manner.
Our growth may also be dependent upon the construction of new natural gas gathering, transportation, compression, processing, or treating pipelines and facilities, NGL transportation, or fractionation or storage facilities, as well as the expansion of existing facilities. In the current environment, we may face political opposition by landowners, environmental activists, and others resulting in the delay and/or denial of required governmental permits. Additional risks associated with construction may include the inability to obtain rights-of-way, skilled labor, equipment, materials, and other required inputs in a timely manner such that projects are completed, on time or at all, and the risk that construction cost overruns could cause total project costs to exceed budgeted costs. Additional risks associated with growing our business include, among others, that:
Changing circumstances and deviations in variables could negatively impact our investment analysis, including our projections of revenues, earnings, and cash flow relating to potential investment targets, resulting in outcomes which are materially different than anticipated;
We could be required to contribute additional capital to support acquired businesses or assets;
We may assume liabilities that were not disclosed to us, that exceed our estimates and for which contractual protections are either unavailable or prove inadequate;
Acquisitions could disrupt our ongoing business, distract management, divert financial and operational resources from existing operations and make it difficult to maintain our current business standards, controls, and procedures;
Acquisitions and capital projects may require substantial new capital, including the issuance of debt or equity, and we may not be able to access capital markets or obtain acceptable terms.
If realized, any of these risks could have an adverse impact on our financial condition, results of operations, including the possible impairment of our assets, or cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We may face opposition to the construction and operation of our pipelines and facilities from various groups.
We may face opposition to the construction and operation of our pipelines and facilities from environmental groups, landowners, tribal groups, local groups and other advocates. Such opposition could take many forms, including organized protests, attempts to block or sabotage our operations, intervention in regulatory or administrative proceedings involving our assets, or lawsuits or other actions designed to prevent, disrupt or delay the operation of our assets and business. In addition, acts of sabotage or eco-terrorism could cause significant damage or injury to people, property or the
environment or lead to extended interruptions of our operations. Any such event that interrupts the revenues generated by our operations, or which causes us to make significant expenditures not covered by insurance, could adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We may not have sufficient cash from operations to enable us to pay cash distributions or to maintain current or expected levels of cash distributions following establishment of cash reserves and payment of fees and expenses, including payments to our general partner.
We may not have sufficient cash each quarter to pay cash distributions or maintain current or expected levels of cash distributions. The actual amount of cash we can distribute on our common units principally depends upon the amount of cash we generate from our operations, which will fluctuate from quarter to quarter based on, among other things:
The amount of cash that our subsidiaries and the Partially Owned Entities distribute to us;
The amount of cash we generate from our operations, our working capital needs, our level of capital expenditures, and our ability to borrow;
The restrictions contained in our indentures and credit facility and our debt service requirements;
The cost of acquisitions, if any.
Unitholders should be aware that the amount of cash we have available for distribution depends primarily on our cash flow, including cash reserves and working capital or other borrowings, and not solely on profitability, which will be affected by noncash items. As a result, we may make cash distributions during periods when we record losses, and we may not make cash distributions during periods when we record net income. A failure to pay distributions or to pay distributions at expected levels could result in a loss of investor confidence, reputational damage, and a decrease in the value of our unit price.
Our industry is highly competitive and increased competitive pressure could adversely affect our business and operating results.
We have numerous competitors in all aspects of our businesses, and additional competitors may enter our markets. Any current or future competitor that delivers natural gas, NGLs, or other commodities into the areas that we operate could offer transportation services that are more desirable to shippers than those we provide because of price, location, facilities or other factors. In addition, current or potential competitors may make strategic acquisitions or have greater financial resources than we do, which could affect our ability to make strategic investments or acquisitions. Our competitors may be able to respond more quickly to new laws or regulations or emerging technologies or to devote greater resources to the construction, expansion, or refurbishment of their facilities than we can. Failure to successfully compete against current and future competitors could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We do not own all of the interests in the Partially Owned Entities, which could adversely affect our ability to operate and control these assets in a manner beneficial to us.
Because we do not control the Partially Owned Entities, we may have limited flexibility to control the operation of or cash distributions received from these entities. The Partially Owned Entities’ organizational documents generally require distribution of their available cash to their members on a quarterly basis; however, in each case, available cash is reduced, in part, by reserves appropriate for operating the businesses. As of December 31, 2017, our investments in the Partially Owned Entities accounted for approximately 8 percent of our total consolidated assets. Conflicts of interest may arise in the future between us, on the one hand, and our Partially Owned Entities, on the other hand, with regard to our Partially Owned Entities’ governance, business, or operations. If a conflict of interest arises between us and a Partially Owned Entity, other owners may control the Partially Owned Entity’s actions with respect to such matter (subject to certain limitations), which could be detrimental to our business. Any future disagreements with the other
co-owners of these assets could adversely affect our ability to respond to changing economic or industry conditions, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We will conduct certain operations through joint ventures that may limit our operational flexibility or require us to make additional capital contributions.
Some of our operations are conducted through joint venture arrangements, and we may enter additional joint ventures in the future. In a joint venture arrangement, we have less operational flexibility, as actions must be taken in accordance with the applicable governing provisions of the joint venture. In certain cases:
We cannot control the amount of capital expenditures that we are required to fund with respect to these operations;
We are dependent on third parties to fund their required share of capital expenditures;
We may be subject to restrictions or limitations on our ability to sell or transfer our interests in the jointly owned assets;
We may be forced to offer rights of participation to other joint venture participants in the area of mutual interest;
We have limited ability to influence or control certain day to day activities affecting the operations.
In addition, joint venture participants may have obligations that are important to the success of the joint venture, such as the obligation to pay substantial carried costs pertaining to the joint venture and to pay their share of capital and other costs of the joint venture, the performance of which is outside our control. Similarly, if we fail to make a required capital contribution under the applicable governing provisions of a joint venture arrangement, we could be deemed to be in default under the joint venture agreement. Joint venture partners may be in a position to take actions contrary to instructions or requests or contrary to our policies or objectives, and disputes between us and our joint venture partners may result in delays, litigation or operational impasses.
The risks described above or the failure to continue joint ventures, or to resolve disagreements with joint venture partners could adversely affect our ability to conduct our operations that are the subject of any joint venture, which could in turn negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We may not be able to replace, extend, or add additional customer contracts or contracted volumes on favorable terms, or at all, which could affect our financial condition, the amount of cash available to pay distributions, and our ability to grow.
We rely on a limited number of customers and producers for a significant portion of our revenues and supply of natural gas and NGLs. Although many of our customers and suppliers are subject to long-term contracts, if we are unable to replace or extend such contracts, add additional customers, or otherwise increase the contracted volumes of natural gas provided to us by current producers, in each case on favorable terms, if at all, our financial condition, growth plans, and the amount of cash available to pay distributions could be adversely affected. Our ability to replace, extend, or add additional customer or supplier contracts, or increase contracted volumes of natural gas from current producers, on favorable terms, or at all, is subject to a number of factors, some of which are beyond our control, including:
The level of existing and new competition in our businesses or from alternative sources, such as electricity, renewable resources, coal, fuel oils, or nuclear energy;
Natural gas and NGL prices, demand, availability, and margins in our markets. Higher prices for energy commodities related to our businesses could result in a decline in the demand for those commodities and,
therefore, in customer contracts or throughput on our pipeline systems. Also, lower energy commodity prices could negatively impact our ability to maintain or achieve favorable contractual terms, including pricing, and could also result in a decline in the production of energy commodities resulting in reduced customer contracts, supply contracts, and throughput on our pipeline systems;
General economic, financial markets, and industry conditions;
The effects of regulation on us, our customers, and our contracting practices;
Our ability to understand our customers’ expectations, efficiently and reliably deliver high quality services and effectively manage customer relationships. The results of these efforts will impact our reputation and positioning in the market.
Certain of our gas pipeline services are subject to long-term, fixed-price contracts that are not subject to adjustment, even if our cost to perform such services exceeds the revenues received from such contracts.
Our gas pipelines provide some services pursuant to long-term, fixed-price contracts. It is possible that costs to perform services under such contracts will exceed the revenues our pipelines collect for their services. Although most of the services are priced at cost-based rates that are subject to adjustment in rate cases, under FERC policy, a regulated service provider and a customer may mutually agree to sign a contract for service at a “negotiated rate” that may be above or below the FERC regulated cost-based rate for that service. These “negotiated rate” contracts are not generally subject to adjustment for increased costs that could be produced by inflation or other factors relating to the specific facilities being used to perform the services.
Some of our businesses are exposed to supplier concentration risks arising from dependence on a single or a limited number of suppliers.
Some of our businesses may be dependent on a small number of suppliers for delivery of critical goods or services. If a supplier on which we depend were to fail to timely supply required goods and services we may not be able to replace such goods and services in a timely manner or otherwise on favorable terms or at all. If we are unable to adequately diversify or otherwise mitigate such supplier concentration risks and such risks were realized, we could be subject to reduced revenues and increased expenses, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operation, and cash flows and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
Failure of our service providers or disruptions to our outsourcing relationships might negatively impact our ability to conduct our business.
We rely on Williams for certain services necessary for us to be able to conduct our business. Certain of the accounting and information technology services that we rely on are currently provided by third-party vendors, and sometimes from service centers outside of the United States. Services provided pursuant to these agreements could be disrupted. Similarly, the expiration of such agreements or the transition of services between providers could lead to loss of institutional knowledge or service disruptions. Our reliance on Williams and others as service providers, and on Williams’ outsourcing relationships, and our limited ability to control certain costs, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
An impairment of our assets, including goodwill, property, plant, and equipment, intangible assets, and/or equity-method investments, could reduce our earnings.
GAAP requires us to test certain assets for impairment on either an annual basis or when events or circumstances occur which indicate that the carrying value of such assets might be impaired. The outcome of such testing could result in impairments of our assets including our goodwill, property, plant, and equipment, intangible assets, and/or equity method investments. Additionally, any asset monetizations could result in impairments if any assets are sold or otherwise exchanged for amounts less than their carrying value. If we determine that an impairment has occurred, we would be required to take an immediate noncash charge to earnings.
Our operations are subject to operational hazards and unforeseen interruptions.
There are operational risks associated with the gathering, transporting, storage, processing, and treating of natural gas, the fractionation, transportation, and storage of NGLs, and crude oil transportation and production handling, including:
Aging infrastructure and mechanical problems;
Damages to pipelines and pipeline blockages or other pipeline interruptions;
Uncontrolled releases of natural gas (including sour gas), NGLs, crude oil, or other products;
Collapse or failure of storage caverns;
Damage caused by third-party activity, such as operation of construction equipment;
Pollution and other environmental risks;
Fires, explosions, craterings, and blowouts;
Security risks, including cybersecurity;
Operating in a marine environment.
Any of these risks could result in loss of human life, personal injuries, significant damage to property, environmental pollution, impairment of our operations, loss of services to our customers, reputational damage, and substantial losses to us. The location of certain segments of our facilities in or near populated areas, including residential areas, commercial business centers, and industrial sites, could increase the level of damages resulting from these risks. An event such as those described above could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations, particularly if the event is not fully covered by insurance.
We do not insure against all potential risks and losses and could be seriously harmed by unexpected liabilities or by the inability of our insurers to satisfy our claims.
In accordance with customary industry practice, we maintain insurance against some, but not all, risks and losses, and only at levels we believe to be appropriate. The occurrence of any risks not fully covered by insurance could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows, and our ability to repay our debt and make cash distributions to unitholders.
Our assets and operations, as well as our customers’ assets and operations, can be adversely affected by weather and other natural phenomena.
Our assets and operations, especially those located offshore, and our customers’ assets and operations, can be adversely affected by hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, tornadoes, fires, and other natural phenomena and weather conditions, including extreme or unseasonable temperatures, making it more difficult for us to realize the historic rates of return associated with our assets and operations. A significant disruption in our or our customers’ operations or a significant liability for which we are not fully insured could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.
Our business could be negatively impacted by acts of terrorism and security threats, including cybersecurity threats, and related disruptions.
Given the volatile nature of the commodities we transport, process, store, and sell, our assets and the assets of our customers and others in our industry may be targets of terrorist activities. A terrorist attack could create significant price volatility, disrupt our business, limit our access to capital markets, or cause significant harm to our operations, such as full or partial disruption to our ability to produce, process, transport, or distribute natural gas, NGLs, or other commodities. Acts of terrorism, as well as events occurring in response to or in connection with acts of terrorism could cause environmental repercussions that could result in a significant decrease in revenues or significant reconstruction or remediation costs, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
We rely on our information technology infrastructure to process, transmit, and store electronic information, including information we use to safely operate our assets. While we believe that we maintain appropriate information security policies, practices, and protocols, we face cybersecurity and other security threats to our information technology infrastructure, which could include threats to our operational industrial control systems and safety systems that operate our pipelines, plants, and assets. We could face unlawful attempts to gain access to our information technology infrastructure, including coordinated attacks from hackers, whether state-sponsored groups, “hacktivists”, or private individuals. The age, operating systems, or condition of our current information technology infrastructure and software assets and our ability to maintain and upgrade such assets could affect our ability to resist cybersecurity threats. We could also face attempts to gain access to information related to our assets through attempts to obtain unauthorized access by targeting acts of deception against individuals with legitimate access to physical locations or information. Breaches in our information technology infrastructure or physical facilities, or other disruptions including those arising from theft, vandalism, fraud, or unethical conduct, could result in damage to our assets, unnecessary waste, safety incidents, damage to the environment, reputational damage, potential liability, or the loss of contracts, and have a material adverse effect on our operations, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.
If third-party pipelines and other facilities interconnected to our pipelines and facilities become unavailable to transport natural gas and NGLs or to treat natural gas, our revenues and cash available to pay distributions could be adversely affected.
We depend upon third-party pipelines and other facilities that provide delivery options to and from our pipelines and facilities for the benefit of our customers. Because we do not own these third-party pipelines or other facilities, their continuing operation is not within our control. If these pipelines or facilities were to become temporarily or permanently unavailable for any reason, or if throughput were reduced because of testing, line repair, damage to pipelines or facilities, reduced operating pressures, lack of capacity, increased credit requirements or rates charged by such pipelines or facilities or other causes, we and our customers would have reduced capacity to transport, store or deliver natural gas or NGL products to end use markets or to receive deliveries of mixed NGLs, thereby reducing our revenues. Any temporary or permanent interruption at any key pipeline interconnect or in operations on third-party pipelines or facilities that would cause a material reduction in volumes transported on our pipelines or our gathering systems or processed, fractionated, treated, or stored at our facilities could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
Our operating results for certain components of our business might fluctuate on a seasonal basis.
Revenues from certain components of our business can have seasonal characteristics. In many parts of the country, demand for natural gas and other fuels peaks during the winter. As a result, our overall operating results in the future might fluctuate substantially on a seasonal basis. Demand for natural gas and other fuels could vary significantly from our expectations depending on the nature and location of our facilities and pipeline systems and the terms of our natural gas transportation arrangements relative to demand created by unusual weather patterns.
We do not own all of the land on which our pipelines and facilities are located, which could disrupt our operations.
We do not own all of the land on which our pipelines and facilities have been constructed. As such, we are subject to the possibility of increased costs to retain necessary land use. In those instances in which we do not own the land on which our facilities are located, we obtain the rights to construct and operate our pipelines and gathering systems on land owned by third parties and governmental agencies for a specific period of time. In addition, some of our facilities cross Native American lands pursuant to rights-of-way of limited terms. We may not have the right of eminent domain over land owned by Native American tribes. Our loss of these rights, through our inability to renew right-of-way contracts or otherwise, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, cash flows, and our ability to make cash distributions to unitholders.
Our business could be negatively impacted as a result of stockholder activism directed toward Williams.
In recent years, stockholder activism, including threatened or actual proxy contests, has been directed against numerous public companies, including Williams. During the latter part of fiscal year 2016, Williams was the target of a proxy contest from a stockholder activist. If stockholder activists were to again take or threaten to take actions against Williams or seek to involve themselves in the governance, strategic direction or operations of Williams, our management could be distracted, which could have an adverse effect on our business or financial results. In addition, actions of activist stockholders towards Williams could cause significant fluctuations in our unit price based on temporary or speculative market perceptions or other factors that do not necessarily reflect the underlying fundamentals and prospects of our business.
Our allocation from Williams for costs for its defined benefit pension plans and other postretirement benefit plans are affected by factors beyond our and Williams’ control.
As we have no employees, employees of Williams and its affiliates provide services to us. As a result, we are allocated a portion of Williams’ costs in defined benefit pension plans covering substantially all of Williams’ or its affiliates’ employees providing services to us, as well as a portion of the costs of other postretirement benefit plans covering certain eligible participants providing services to us. The timing and amount of our allocations under the defined benefit pension plans depend upon a number of factors that Williams controls, including changes to pension plan benefits, as well as factors outside of Williams’ control, such as asset returns, interest rates and changes in pension laws. Changes to these and other factors that can significantly increase our allocations could have a significant adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Williams’ failure to attract and retain an appropriately qualified workforce could negatively impact our results of operations.
Events such as an aging workforce without appropriate replacements, mismatch of skill sets to future needs, or unavailability of contract labor may lead to operating challenges such as lack of resources, loss of knowledge, and a lengthy time period associated with skill development, including with the workforce needs associated with projects and ongoing operations. Williams’ failure to hire and adequately obtain replacement employees, including the ability to transfer significant internal historical knowledge and expertise to the new employees, or the future availability and cost of contract labor may adversely affect our ability to manage and operate the businesses. If Williams is unable to successfully attract and retain an appropriately qualified workforce, results of operations could be negatively impacted.
Risks Related to Financing Our Business
Downgrades of our credit ratings, which are determined outside of our control by independent third parties, impact our liquidity, access to capital, and our costs of doing business.
Downgrades of our credit ratings increase our cost of borrowing and could require us to provide collateral to our counterparties, negatively impacting our available liquidity. In addition, our ability to access capital markets could continue to be limited by the downgrading of our credit ratings.
Credit rating agencies perform independent analysis when assigning credit ratings. This analysis includes a number of criteria such as 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 subject to revision or withdrawal at any time by the ratings agencies. As of the date of the filing of this report, we have been assigned investment-grade credit ratings by each of the three credit ratings agencies.
Our ability to obtain credit in the future could be affected by Williams’ credit ratings.
Substantially all of Williams’ operations are conducted through its subsidiaries. Williams’ cash flows are substantially derived from loans, dividends, and distributions paid to it by its subsidiaries. Williams’ cash flows are typically utilized to service debt and pay dividends on the common stock of Williams, with the balance, if any, reinvested in its subsidiaries as loans or contributions to capital. Due to our relationship with Williams, our ability to obtain credit will be affected by Williams’ credit ratings. Williams has been assigned sub-investment-grade credit ratings at each of the three ratings agencies. If Williams were to experience a deterioration in its credit standing or financial condition, our access to capital and our ratings could be adversely affected. Any future downgrading of a Williams credit rating could also result in a downgrading of our credit rating. A downgrading of a Williams credit rating could limit our ability to obtain financing in the future upon favorable terms, if at all.
Difficult conditions in the global financial markets and the economy in general could negatively affect our business and results of operations.
Our businesses may be negatively impacted by adverse economic conditions or future disruptions in global financial markets. Included among these potential negative impacts are industrial or economic contraction leading to reduced energy demand and lower prices for our products and services and increased difficulty in collecting amounts owed to us by our customers. If financing is not available when needed, or is available only on unfavorable terms, we may be unable to implement our business plans or otherwise take advantage of business opportunities or respond to competitive pressures. In addition, financial markets have periodically been affected by concerns over U.S. fiscal and monetary policies. These concerns, as well as actions taken by the U.S. federal government in response to these concerns, could significantly and adversely impact the global and U.S. economies and financial markets, which could negatively impact us in the manner described above.
As a publicly traded partnership, these developments could significantly impair our ability to make acquisitions or finance growth projects. We distribute all of our available cash to our unitholders on a quarterly basis. We typically rely upon external financing sources, including the issuance of debt and equity securities and bank borrowings, to fund acquisitions or expansion capital expenditures. Any limitations on our access to external capital, including limitations caused by illiquidity or volatility in the capital markets, may impair our ability to complete future acquisitions and construction projects on favorable terms, if at all. As a result, we may be at a competitive disadvantage as compared to businesses that reinvest all of their available cash to expand ongoing operations, particularly under adverse economic conditions.
Restrictions in our debt agreements and the amount of our indebtedness may affect our future financial and operating flexibility.
Our total outstanding long-term debt (which does not include commercial paper notes) as of December 31, 2017, was $16.5 billion.
The agreements governing our indebtedness contain covenants that restrict our and our material subsidiaries’ ability to incur certain liens to support indebtedness and our ability to merge or consolidate or sell all or substantially all of our assets in certain circumstances. In addition, certain of our debt agreements contain various covenants that restrict or limit, among other things, our ability to make certain distributions during the continuation of an event of default and our, and our material subsidiaries’, ability to enter into certain affiliate transactions and certain restrictive agreements and change the nature of our business. Certain of our debt agreements also contain, and those we enter into in the future
may contain, financial covenants and other limitations with which we will need to comply. Williams’ debt agreements contain similar covenants with respect to Williams and its subsidiaries, including in some cases us.
Our debt service obligations and the covenants described above could have important consequences. For example, they could:
Make it more difficult for us to satisfy our obligations with respect to our indebtedness, which could in turn result in an event of default on such indebtedness;
Impair our ability to obtain additional financing in the future for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, general partnership purposes, or other purposes;
Diminish our ability to withstand a continued or future downturn in our business or the economy generally;
Require us to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to debt service payments, thereby reducing the availability of cash for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, the payment of distributions, general partnership purposes, or other purposes;
Limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and the industry in which we operate, including limiting our ability to expand or pursue our business activities and preventing us from engaging in certain transactions that might otherwise be considered beneficial to us.
Our ability to comply with our debt covenants, to repay, extend, or refinance our existing debt obligations and to obtain future credit will depend primarily on our operating performance. Our ability to refinance existing debt obligations or obtain future credit will also depend upon the current conditions in the credit markets and the availability of credit generally. If we are unable to comply with these covenants, meet our debt service obligations, or obtain future credit on favorable terms, or at all, we could be forced to restructure or refinance our indebtedness, seek additional equity capital, or sell assets. We may be unable to obtain financing or sell assets on satisfactory terms, or at all.
Our failure to comply with the covenants in the documents governing our indebtedness could result in events of default, which could render such indebtedness due and payable. We may not have sufficient liquidity to repay our indebtedness in such circumstances. In addition, cross-default or cross-acceleration provisions in our debt agreements could cause a default or acceleration to have a wider impact on our liquidity than might otherwise arise from a default or acceleration of a single debt instrument. For more information regarding our debt agreements, please read Note 13 – Debt, Banking Arrangements, and Leases of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
Increases in interest rates could adversely impact our unit price, our ability to issue equity or incur debt for acquisitions or other purposes, and our ability to make cash distributions at our intended levels.
Interest rates may increase in the future. As a result, interest rates on future credit facilities and debt offerings could be higher than current levels, causing our financing costs to increase accordingly. As with other yield-oriented securities, our unit price will be impacted by the level of our cash distributions and implied distribution yield. The distribution yield is often used by investors to compare and rank yield-oriented securities for investment decision-making purposes. Therefore, changes in interest rates, either positive or negative, may affect the yield requirements of investors who invest in our units, and a rising interest rate environment could have an adverse impact on our unit price and our ability to issue equity or incur debt for acquisitions or other purposes and to make cash distributions at our intended levels.
Our hedging activities might not be effective and could increase the volatility of our results.
In an effort to manage our financial exposure related to commodity price and market fluctuations, we have entered, and may in the future enter into contracts to hedge certain risks associated with our assets and operations. In these hedging activities, we have used, and may in the future use, fixed-price, forward, physical purchase, and sales contracts, futures, financial swaps, and option contracts traded in the over-the-counter markets or on exchanges. Nevertheless,
no single hedging arrangement can adequately address all risks present in a given contract. For example, a forward contract that would be effective in hedging commodity price volatility risks would not hedge the contract’s counterparty credit or performance risk. Therefore, unhedged risks will always continue to exist. While we attempt to manage counterparty credit risk within guidelines established by our credit policy, we may not be able to successfully manage all credit risk and as such, future cash flows, and results of operations could be impacted by counterparty default.
Risks Related to Regulations
The natural gas sales, transportation, and storage operations of our gas pipelines are subject to regulation by the FERC, which could have an adverse impact on their ability to establish transportation and storage rates that would allow them to recover the full cost of operating their respective pipelines, including a reasonable rate of return.
In addition to regulation by other federal, state, and local regulatory authorities, under the Natural Gas Act of 1938, interstate pipeline transportation and storage service is subject to regulation by the FERC. Federal regulation extends to such matters as:
Transportation and sale for resale of natural gas in interstate commerce;
Rates, operating terms, types of services, and conditions of service;
Certification and construction of new interstate pipelines and storage facilities;
Acquisition, extension, disposition, or abandonment of existing interstate pipelines and storage facilities;
Depreciation and amortization policies;
Relationships with affiliated companies who are involved in marketing functions of the natural gas business;
Market manipulation in connection with interstate sales, purchases, or transportation of natural gas.
Regulatory or administrative actions in these areas, including successful complaints or protests against the rates of the gas pipelines, can affect our business in many ways, including decreasing tariff rates and revenues, decreasing volumes in our pipelines, increasing our costs, and otherwise altering the profitability of our pipeline business.
The operation of our businesses might also be adversely affected by regulatory proceedings, changes in government regulations or in their interpretation or implementation, or the introduction of new laws or regulations applicable to our businesses or our customers.
Public and regulatory scrutiny of the energy industry has resulted in the proposal and/or implementation of increased regulations. Such scrutiny has also resulted in various inquiries, investigations, and court proceedings, including litigation of energy industry matters. Both the shippers on our pipelines and regulators have rights to challenge the rates we charge under certain circumstances. Any successful challenge could materially affect our results of operations.
Certain inquiries, investigations, and court proceedings are ongoing. Adverse effects may continue as a result of the uncertainty of ongoing inquiries, investigations, and court proceedings, or additional inquiries and proceedings by federal or state regulatory agencies or private plaintiffs. In addition, we cannot predict the outcome of any of these inquiries or whether these inquiries will lead to additional legal proceedings against us, civil or criminal fines and/or penalties, or other regulatory action, including legislation, which might be materially adverse to the operation of our business and our results of operations or increase our operating costs in other ways. Current legal proceedings or other
matters, including environmental matters, suits, regulatory appeals, and similar matters might result in adverse decisions against us which, among other outcomes, could result in the imposition of substantial penalties and fines and could damage our reputation. The result of such adverse decisions, either individually or in the aggregate, could be material and may not be covered fully or at all by insurance.
In addition, existing regulations, including those pertaining to financial assurances to be provided by our businesses in respect of potential asset decommissioning and abandonment activities, might be revised, reinterpreted, or otherwise enforced in a manner which differs from prior regulatory action. New laws and regulations, including those pertaining to oil and gas hedging and cash collateral requirements, might also be adopted or become applicable to us, our customers, or our business activities. If new laws or regulations are imposed relating to oil and gas extraction, or if additional or revised levels of reporting, regulation, or permitting moratoria are required or imposed, including those related to hydraulic fracturing, the volumes of natural gas and other products that we transport, gather, process, and treat could decline, our compliance costs could increase, and our results of operations could be adversely affected.
Our operations are subject to environmental laws and regulations, including laws and regulations relating to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which may expose us to significant costs, liabilities, and expenditures that could exceed our expectations.
Our operations are subject to extensive federal, state, tribal, and local laws and regulations governing environmental protection, endangered and threatened species, the discharge of materials into the environment, and the security of industrial facilities. Substantial costs, liabilities, delays, and other significant issues related to environmental laws and regulations are inherent in the gathering, transportation, storage, processing, and treating of natural gas, fractionation, transportation, and storage of NGLs, and crude oil transportation and production handling as well as waste disposal practices and construction activities. Failure to comply with these laws, regulations, and permits may result in the assessment of administrative, civil and/or criminal penalties, the imposition of remedial obligations, the imposition of stricter conditions on or revocation of permits, the issuance of injunctions limiting or preventing some or all of our operations, and delays or denials in granting permits.
Joint and several, strict liability may be incurred without regard to fault under certain environmental laws and regulations, for the remediation of contaminated areas and in connection with spills or releases of materials associated with natural gas, oil, and wastes on, under or from our properties and facilities. Private parties, including the owners of properties through which our pipeline and gathering systems pass and facilities where our wastes are taken for reclamation or disposal, may have the right to pursue legal actions to enforce compliance as well as to seek damages for noncompliance with environmental laws and regulations or for personal injury or property damage arising from our operations. Some sites at which we operate are located near current or former third-party hydrocarbon storage and processing or oil and natural gas operations or facilities, and there is a risk that contamination has migrated from those sites to ours.
We are generally responsible for all liabilities associated with the environmental condition of our facilities and assets, whether acquired or developed, regardless of when the liabilities arose and whether they are known or unknown. In connection with certain acquisitions and divestitures, we could acquire, or be required to provide indemnification against, environmental liabilities that could expose us to material losses, which may not be covered by insurance. In addition, the steps we could be required to take to bring certain facilities into compliance could be prohibitively expensive, and we might be required to shut down, divest or alter the operation of those facilities, which might cause us to incur losses.
In addition, climate change regulations and the costs associated with the regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have the potential to affect our business. Regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency or the passage of new climate change laws or regulations could result in increased costs to operate and maintain our facilities, install new emission controls on our facilities, or administer and manage our GHG compliance program. If we are unable to recover or pass through a significant level of our costs related to complying with climate change regulatory requirements imposed on us, it could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition. To the extent financial markets view climate change and GHG emissions as a financial risk, this could
negatively impact our cost of and access to capital. Climate change and GHG regulation could also reduce demand for our services.
We expect that certain aspects of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 (Tax Reform), including regulatory liabilities relating to reduced corporate federal income tax rates, could adversely impact our financial condition and our future financial results.
Certain of the rates we charge to our customers are subject to the rate-making policies of the FERC. These policies permit us to include in our cost-of-service an income tax allowance that includes a deferred income tax component. The recently enacted Tax Reform makes significant changes to the U.S. federal income tax rules applicable to both individuals and entities, including among other things, a reduction in corporate federal income tax rates. Although we expect the decreased federal income tax rates will require us to return amounts to certain customers for this item through future rates and have recognized a regulatory liability, the details of any regulatory implementation guidance remain uncertain.
Risks Inherent in an Investment in Us
Williams owns and controls our general partner, which has sole responsibility for conducting our business and managing our operations. Our general partner has limited duties to us and it and its affiliates, including Williams, and may have conflicts of interest with us and may favor their own interests to the detriment of us and our common unitholders.
Williams owns and controls our general partner and appoints all of the officers and directors of our general partner, some of whom are also officers and directors of Williams. Although our general partner has a contractual duty when acting in its capacity as our general partner to act in a way that it believes is in our best interest, the directors and officers of our general partner have a fiduciary duty to manage our general partner in a manner that is beneficial to its sole member and Williams. Conflicts of interest may arise between Williams and our general partner, on the one hand, and us and our unitholders, on the other hand. In resolving these conflicts of interest, our general partner may favor its own interests and the interests of Williams over our interests and the interests of our common unitholders. These conflicts include the following situations, among others:
Neither our partnership agreement nor any other agreement requires Williams to pursue a business strategy that favors us. For example, Williams’ directors and officers have a fiduciary duty to make decisions in the best interests of the owners of Williams, which may be contrary to our best interests and the interests of our unitholders. Further, Williams is not a party to any agreement that prohibits it from competing against us in our gas gathering and processing operations and for gathering, processing, and acquisition opportunities. It is possible that Williams could preclude us from pursuing opportunities in which Williams has a competitive interest.
Our general partner is allowed to take into account the interests of parties other than us, such as Williams, in resolving conflicts of interest.
Our partnership agreement limits the liability of and reduces the duties owed by our general partner, and also restricts the remedies available to our unitholders for actions that, without the limitations, might constitute breaches of fiduciary duty.
Except in limited circumstances, our general partner has the power and authority to conduct our business without unitholder approval.
Williams owns units representing approximately 74 percent of the limited partner interest in us. If a vote of our limited partners is required in which Williams is entitled to vote, Williams will be able to vote its units in accordance with its own interests, which may be contrary to our interests or the interests of our unitholders.
The executive officers and certain directors of our general partner devote significant time to our business and/or the business of Williams, and will be compensated by Williams for the services rendered to them.
Our general partner determines the amount and timing of asset purchases and sales, capital expenditures, borrowings, issuance of additional partnership securities, and the creation, reduction or increase of reserves, each of which can affect the amount of cash that is distributed to our unitholders.
Our general partner determines the amount and timing of any capital expenditures and, based on the applicable facts and circumstances and, in some instances, with the concurrence of the conflicts committee of its board of directors, whether a capital expenditure is classified as a maintenance capital expenditure, which reduces operating surplus, or an expansion capital expenditure, which does not reduce operating surplus. This determination can affect the amount of cash that is distributed to our unitholders.
Our general partner determines which costs incurred by it and its affiliates are reimbursable by us.
Our general partner may cause us to borrow funds in order to permit the payment of cash distributions.
Our partnership agreement permits us to classify up to $120 million as operating surplus, even if it is generated from asset sales, non-working capital borrowings, or other sources that would otherwise constitute capital surplus.
Our partnership agreement does not restrict our general partner from causing us to pay it or its affiliates for any services rendered to us or entering into additional contractual arrangements with any of these entities on our behalf.
Our general partner, in certain circumstances, has limited liability regarding our contractual and other obligations and in some circumstances is required to be indemnified by us.
Our general partner may exercise its right to call and purchase all of the common units not owned by it and its affiliates if they own more than 85 percent of the common units.
Our general partner controls the enforcement of the obligations that it and its affiliates owe to us.
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 duties to unitholders and restricts the remedies available to such unitholders for actions taken by our general partner that might otherwise constitute breaches of fiduciary duty.
Our partnership agreement contains provisions that modify and reduce the standards to which our general partner would otherwise be held by state fiduciary duty law. The limitation and definition of these duties is permitted by the Delaware law governing limited partnerships. In addition, our partnership agreement restricts the remedies available to holders of our limited partner units for actions taken by our general partner that might otherwise constitute breaches of fiduciary duty. For example, our partnership agreement:
Permits our general partner to make a number of decisions in its individual capacity as opposed to in its capacity as our general partner. This 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. Examples include whether to exercise its limited call right, how to exercise its voting rights with respect to the units it owns, whether to exercise its registration rights, its determination whether or not to consent to any merger or consolidation of the partnership or amendment to the partnership agreement,
whether to elect to reset target distribution levels, and how to allocate business opportunities among us and its affiliates;
Provides that our general partner will not have any liability to us or our unitholders for decisions made in its capacity as a general partner so long as it acted in good faith, meaning it believed the decision was in the best interests of our partnership;
Generally provides that affiliate transactions and resolutions of conflicts of interest not approved by the conflicts committee of the board of directors of our general partner and not involving a vote of unitholders must be on terms no less favorable to us than those generally being provided to or available from unrelated third parties or be “fair and reasonable” to us, as determined by our general partner in good faith. In determining whether a transaction or resolution is “fair and reasonable,” our general partner may consider the totality of the relationships between the parties involved, including other transactions that may be particularly advantageous or beneficial to us;
Provides that our general partner, its affiliates and their respective officers and directors will not be liable for monetary damages to us or our limited partners or assignees for any acts or omissions unless there has been a final and nonappealable judgment entered by a court of competent jurisdiction determining that our general partner or those other persons acted in bad faith or engaged in fraud or willful misconduct or, in the case of a criminal matter, acted with knowledge that such conduct was criminal;
Provides that in resolving conflicts of interest, if Special Approval (as defined in our partnership agreement) is sought or if neither Special Approval nor unitholder approval is sought and the board of directors of our general partner determines that the resolution or course of action taken with respect to a conflict of interest satisfies certain standards set forth in our partnership agreement, it will be presumed that in making its decision our general partner or the conflicts committee of its board of directors acted in good faith, and in any proceeding brought by or on behalf of any limited partner or us, the person bringing or prosecuting such proceeding will have the burden of overcoming such presumption.
Common unitholders are bound by the provisions in our partnership agreement, including the provisions discussed above.
Affiliates of our general partner, including Williams, are not limited in their ability to compete with us and may exclude us from opportunities with which they are involved. In addition, all of the executive officers and certain of the directors of our general partner are also officers and/or directors of Williams, and these persons will owe fiduciary duties to Williams.
While our relationship with Williams and its affiliates is a significant attribute, it is also a source of potential conflicts. For example, Williams and its affiliates are in the natural gas business and are not restricted from competing with us. Williams and its affiliates may acquire, construct or dispose of natural gas industry assets in the future, some or all of which may compete with our assets, without any obligation to offer us the opportunity to purchase or construct such assets. In addition, all of the executive officers and certain of the directors of our general partner are also officers and/or directors of Williams and certain of its affiliates and will owe fiduciary duties to those entities.
Holders of our common units have limited voting rights and are not entitled to elect our general partner or its directors, which could reduce the price at which the common units will trade.
Unlike the holders of common stock in a corporation, unitholders have only limited voting rights on matters affecting our business and, therefore, limited ability to influence management’s decisions regarding our business. Unitholders will have no right to elect our general partner or its board of directors on an annual or other continuing basis. The board of directors of our general partner, including the independent directors, will be chosen entirely by Williams and not by the unitholders. Unlike publicly traded corporations, we will not conduct annual meetings of our unitholders to elect directors or conduct other matters routinely conducted at annual meetings of stockholders. As a
result of these limitations, the price at which the common units will trade could be diminished because of the absence or reduction of a takeover premium in the trading price.
Cost reimbursements due to our general partner and its affiliates will reduce cash available to pay distributions to unitholders.
We will reimburse our general partner and its affiliates, including Williams, for various general and administrative services they provide for our benefit, including costs for rendering administrative staff and support services to us, and overhead allocated to us. Our general partner determines the amount of these reimbursements in its sole discretion. Payments for these services will be substantial and will reduce the amount of cash available for distributions to unitholders. In addition, under Delaware partnership law, our general partner has unlimited liability for our obligations, such as our debts and environmental liabilities, except for our contractual obligations that are expressly made without recourse to our general partner. To the extent our general partner incurs obligations on our behalf, we are obligated to reimburse or indemnify it. If we are unable or unwilling to reimburse or indemnify our general partner, our general partner may take actions to cause us to make payments of these obligations and liabilities. Any such payments could reduce the amount of cash otherwise available for distribution to our unitholders.
Even if public unitholders are dissatisfied, they have little ability to remove our general partner without the consent of Williams.
Unlike the holders of common stock in a corporation, unitholders have only limited voting rights on matters affecting our business and, therefore, limited ability to influence management’s decisions regarding our business. Unitholders have no right to elect our general partner or its board of directors on an annual or other continuing basis. The board of directors of our general partner is chosen by Williams. As a result of these limitations, the price at which our common units will trade could be diminished because of the absence or reduction of a takeover premium in the trading price.
Furthermore, if our public unitholders are dissatisfied with the performance of our general partner, they will have little ability to remove our general partner. The vote of the holders of at least 66 2/3 percent of all outstanding limited partner units is required to remove our general partner. Williams and its affiliates own approximately 74 percent of our outstanding limited partner units and, as a result, our public unitholders cannot remove our general partner without the consent of Williams.
The control of our general partner may be transferred to a third party without unitholder consent.
Our general partner may transfer its general partner interest to a third party in a merger or in a sale of all or substantially all of its assets without the consent of the unitholders. Furthermore, our partnership agreement effectively permits a change of control without unitholder consent. The new owner of our general partner would then be in a position to replace our general partner’s board of directors and officers with its own designees and thereby exert significant control over the decisions made by the board of directors and officers.
We may issue additional common units without unitholder approval, which would dilute unitholder ownership interests.
Our partnership agreement does not limit the number of additional limited partner interests that we may issue at any time without the approval of unitholders. The issuance by us of additional common units or other equity securities of equal or senior rank, or classes of securities which ultimately convert into common units, will have the following effects:
Our unitholders’ proportionate ownership interest in us will decrease;
The amount of cash available to pay distributions on each unit may decrease;
The ratio of taxable income to distributions may decrease;
The relative voting strength of each previously outstanding unit may be diminished;
The market price of the common units may decline.
The existence and eventual sale of common units or securities convertible into common units, whether held by Williams or which may be issued in acquisitions and eligible for future sale, may adversely affect the price of our common units.
Williams holds common units and Class B units representing approximately 74 percent of our units outstanding. Williams may, from time to time, sell all or a portion of its common units. We may issue additional common units to unaffiliated third parties in connection with future acquisitions. Sales of substantial amounts of common units by Williams or third parties, or the anticipation of such sales, could lower the market price of our common units and may make it more difficult for us to sell our equity securities in the future at a time and at a price that we deem appropriate.
Our general partner has a limited call right that may require unitholders to sell their common units at an undesirable time or price.
Pursuant to our partnership agreement, if at any time our general partner and its affiliates own more than 85 percent of the common units, our general partner will have the right, but not the obligation, to acquire all, but not less than all, of the common units held by unaffiliated persons at a price not less than their then-current market price. Our general partner may assign this right to any of its affiliates or to us. As a result, nonaffiliated unitholders may be required to sell their common units at an undesirable time or price and may not receive any return on their investment. Such unitholders may also incur a tax liability upon a sale of their units. Our general partner is not obligated to obtain a fairness opinion regarding the value of the common units to be repurchased by it upon exercise of the limited call right. There is no restriction in our partnership agreement that prevents our general partner from exercising its call right. If our general partner exercised its limited call right, the effect would be to take us private and, if the units were subsequently deregistered under the Exchange Act, we would no longer be subject to the reporting requirements of such Act.
Our partnership agreement restricts the voting rights of unitholders owning 20 percent or more of our common units.
Our partnership agreement restricts unitholders’ voting rights by providing that any units held by a person that owns 20 percent or more of any class of units then outstanding, other than our general partner, its affiliates, their direct transferees and their indirect transferees approved by our general partner (which approval may be granted in its sole discretion) and persons who acquired such units with the prior approval of our general partner, cannot vote on any matter. The partnership agreement also contains provisions limiting the ability of unitholders to call meetings, to acquire information about our operations and to influence the manner or direction of management.
Your liability may not be limited if a court finds that unitholder action constitutes control of our business.
A general partner of a partnership generally has unlimited liability for the obligations of the partnership, except for those contractual obligations of the partnership that are expressly made without recourse to the general partner. Our partnership is organized under Delaware law and we conduct business in a number of other states. The limitations on the liability of holders of limited partner interests for the obligations of a limited partnership have not been clearly established in some of the other states in which we do business. You could be liable for any and all of our obligations as if you were a general partner if a court or government agency were to determine that:
We were conducting business in a state but had not complied with that particular state’s partnership statute; or
Your rights to act with other unitholders to remove or replace the general partner, to approve some amendments to our partnership agreement or to take other actions under our partnership agreement constitute “control” of our business.
Unitholders may have liability to repay distributions that were wrongfully distributed to them.
Under certain circumstances, unitholders may have to repay amounts wrongfully returned or distributed to them. Under Section 17-607 of the Delaware Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act, we may not make a distribution to you if the distribution would cause our liabilities to exceed the fair value of our assets. Delaware law provides that for a period of three years from the date of the impermissible distribution, limited partners who received the distribution and who knew at the time of the distribution that it violated Delaware law will be liable to the limited partnership for the distribution amount. Substituted limited partners are liable for the obligations of the assignor to make contributions to the partnership that are known to the substituted limited partner at the time it became a limited partner and for unknown obligations if the liabilities could be determined from the partnership agreement. Liabilities to partners on account of their partnership interest and liabilities that are nonrecourse to the partnership are not counted for purposes of determining whether a distribution is permitted.
Our tax treatment depends on our status as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes, as well as our not being subject to a material amount of entity-level taxation by states and localities. If the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) were to treat us as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes or if we were to become subject to a material amount of entity-level taxation for state or local tax purposes, then our cash available for distribution to unitholders would be substantially reduced.
The anticipated after-tax economic benefit of an investment in the common units depends largely on our being treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes. Despite the fact that we are a limited partnership under Delaware law, we will be treated as a corporation for U.S. 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 U.S. federal income tax purposes or otherwise subject us to taxation as an entity.
If we were treated as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes, we would pay U.S. federal income tax on our taxable income at the corporate tax rate, and we would also likely pay state and local income taxes at varying rates. Distributions to unitholders would generally be taxed again as corporate distributions, and no income, gains, losses, deductions, or credits would flow through to unitholders. Because a tax would be imposed upon us as a corporation, our cash available to pay distributions to unitholders would be substantially reduced. In addition, changes in current state law may subject us to additional entity-level taxation by individual states. 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. If any state were to impose a tax upon us as an entity, the cash available for distributions to unitholders would be reduced. Therefore, if we were treated as a corporation for U.S. federal income tax purposes or otherwise subjected to a material amount of entity-level taxation, there would be a material reduction in the anticipated cash flow and after-tax return to unitholders, likely causing a substantial reduction in the value of the common units.
The U.S. federal income tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships or an investment in our common units could be subject to potential legislative, judicial, or administrative changes and differing interpretations, possibly on a retroactive basis.
The present U.S. federal income tax treatment of publicly traded partnerships, including us, or an investment in our common units may be modified by administrative, legislative, or judicial interpretation at any time. For example, from time to time, the U.S. President and members of Congress have proposed and considered substantive changes to the existing U.S. federal income tax laws that would affect certain publicly traded partnerships. Further, Treasury Regulations under Section 7704(d)(1)(E) of the Internal Revenue Code that apply to taxable years beginning on or after January 19, 2017, interpret the scope of qualifying income requirements for publicly traded partnerships by providing
industry-specific guidance. We believe the income that we treat as qualifying satisfies the requirements under these regulations. However, there are no assurances that the regulations will not be revised to take a position that is contrary to our interpretation of current law.
Any modification to the U.S. federal income tax laws and interpretations thereof may or may not be applied retroactively and could make it more difficult or impossible to meet the exception for us to be treated as a partnership for U.S. federal income tax purposes. We are unable to predict whether any of these changes, or other proposals, will ultimately be enacted. Any such changes could negatively impact the value of an investment in our common units.
We prorate our items of income, gain, loss, and deduction between transferors and transferees of the common units each month based upon the ownership of the common units on the first day of each month, instead of the date a particular common unit is transferred. The IRS may challenge this treatment, which could change the allocation of items of income, gain, loss, and deduction among our unitholders.
We prorate our items of income, gain, loss, and deduction between transferors and transferees of the common units each month based upon the ownership of the common units on the first day of each month, instead of the date a particular common unit is transferred. Although Treasury Regulations allow publicly traded partnerships to use a similar monthly simplifying convention to allocate tax items among transferor and transferee unitholders, these regulations do not specifically authorize all aspects of the proration method we have adopted. If the IRS were to successfully challenge our proration method or new Treasury Regulations were issued, we may be required to change the allocation of items of income, gain, loss, and deduction among our unitholders.
An IRS contest of the U.S. federal income tax positions we take may adversely impact the market for the common units, and our cash available for distribution to our unitholders might be substantially reduced.
The IRS may adopt positions that differ from the U.S. federal income tax positions we take and the IRS’s positions may ultimately be sustained. 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 the common units and the price at which they trade. In addition, the costs of any contest with the IRS will result in a reduction in cash available to pay distributions to our unitholders and our general partner and thus will be borne indirectly by them.
Legislation applicable to partnership tax years beginning after 2017 alters the procedures for auditing large partnerships and for assessing and collecting taxes due (including penalties and interest) as a result of a partnership-level federal income tax audit. If the IRS makes audit adjustments to our partnership tax returns, to the extent possible under the new rules our general partner may elect to either pay the taxes (including any applicable penalties and interest) directly to the IRS in the year in which the audit is completed or, if we are eligible, issue a revised information statement to each unitholder and former unitholder with respect to an audited and adjusted partnership tax return. Although our general partner may elect to have our unitholders and former unitholders take such audit adjustment into account and pay any resulting taxes (including applicable penalties or interest) in accordance with their interests in us during the tax year under audit, there can be no assurance that such election will be practical, permissible or effective in all circumstances. If we make payments of taxes and any penalties and interest directly to the IRS in the year in which the audit is completed, our cash available for distribution to our unitholders might be substantially reduced, in which case our current unitholders may bear some or all of the tax liability resulting from such audit adjustment, even if the unitholders did not own units in us during the tax year under audit.
Unitholders will be required to pay taxes on their share of our income even if unitholders do not receive any cash distributions from us.
Because our unitholders will be treated as partners to whom we will allocate taxable income that could be different in amount than the cash we distribute, unitholders will be required to pay U.S. federal income taxes and, in some cases, state and local income taxes on their share of our taxable income, whether or not they receive cash distributions from us. Unitholders may not receive cash distributions from us equal to their share of our taxable income or even equal to the actual tax liability that results from their share of our taxable income.
The tax gain or loss on the disposition of the common units could be different than expected.
If a unitholder sells its common units, it will recognize gain or loss for U.S. federal income tax purposes equal to the difference between the amount realized and its tax basis in those common units. Prior distributions to a unitholder in excess of the total net taxable income that was allocated to a unitholder for a common unit, which decreased its tax basis in that common unit, will, in effect, become taxable income to the unitholder if the common unit is sold at a price greater than its tax basis in that common unit, even if the price the unitholder receives is less than the original cost. A substantial portion of the amount realized, regardless of whether such amount represents gain, may be taxed as ordinary income to the unitholder due to potential recapture items, including depreciation recapture. In addition, because the amount realized may include a unitholder’s share of our nonrecourse liabilities, if a unitholder sells its common units, the unitholder may incur a U.S. federal income tax liability in excess of the amount of cash it received from the sale.
Unitholders may be subject to limitations on their ability to deduct interest expense we incur.
Our ability to deduct business interest expense will be limited for federal income tax purposes to an amount equal to our business interest income and 30 percent of our “adjusted taxable income” during the taxable year computed without regard to any business interest income or expense, and in the case of taxable years beginning before 2022, any deduction allowable for depreciation, amortization, or depletion. Business interest expense that we are not entitled to fully deduct will be allocated to each unitholder as excess business interest and can be carried forward by the unitholder to successive taxable years and used to offset any excess taxable income allocated by us to the unitholder. Any excess business interest expense allocated to a unitholder will reduce the unitholder’s tax basis in its partnership interest in the year of the allocation even if the expense does not give rise to a deduction to the unitholder in that year.
Tax-exempt entities face unique tax issues from owning common units that may result in adverse tax consequences to them.
Investment in common units by tax-exempt entities, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs), raise issues unique to them. For example, virtually all of our income allocated to the unitholders who are organizations that are exempt from U.S. federal income tax, including IRAs and other retirement plans, may be taxable to them as “unrelated business taxable income.” Tax-exempt entities with multiple unrelated trades or businesses cannot aggregate losses from one unrelated trade or business to offset income from another to reduce total unrelated business taxable income. As a result, it may not be possible for tax-exempt entities to utilize losses from an investment in us to offset unrelated business taxable income from another unrelated trade or business and vice versa.
Non-U.S. unitholders will be subject to federal income taxes and withholding with respect to income and gain from owning our common units.
Non-U.S. persons are generally taxed and subject to federal income tax filing requirements on income effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business. Income allocated to our unitholders and, under recently enacted legislation, any gain from the sale of our units will generally be considered to be “effectively connected” with a U.S. trade or business. As a result, distributions to a non-U.S. unitholder will be subject to withholding at the highest applicable effective tax rate and a non-U.S. unitholder who sells or otherwise disposes of a common unit will also be subject to federal income tax on the gain realized from the sale or disposition of that unit.
Recently enacted legislation also imposes a federal income tax withholding obligation of 10 percent of the amount realized upon a non-U.S. person’s sale or exchange of an interest in a partnership that is engaged in a U.S. trade or business. However, application of this withholding rule to dispositions of publicly traded partnership interests has been temporarily suspended by the IRS until regulations or other guidance have been issued. Non-U.S. persons should consult a tax advisor before investing in our common units.
We treat each purchaser of common units in the same calendar month as having the same tax benefits without regard to the actual common units purchased. The IRS may challenge this treatment, which could adversely affect the value of the common units.
Because we cannot match transferors and transferees of common units, we have adopted monthly purchase price allocation conventions and depreciation and amortization positions that may not conform to all aspects of applicable Treasury regulations. Our counsel is unable to opine as to the validity of such filing positions. A successful IRS challenge to those conventions could adversely affect the amount of U.S. federal income tax benefits available to unitholders. It also could affect the timing of these tax benefits or the amount of gain from the sale of common units and could have a negative impact on the value of the common units or result in audit adjustments to unitholder tax returns.
Unitholders will likely be subject to state and local taxes and return filing requirements as a result of investing in our common units.
In addition to U.S. federal income taxes, unitholders will likely be subject to other taxes, such as state and local income taxes, unincorporated business taxes and estate, inheritance, or intangible taxes that are imposed by the various jurisdictions in which we do business or own property, even if the unitholder does not live in any of those jurisdictions. Unitholders will likely be required to file state and local income tax returns and pay state and local income taxes in some or all of these various jurisdictions. Further, unitholders may be subject to penalties for failure to comply with those requirements. As we make acquisitions or expand our business, we may own assets or conduct business in additional states or foreign countries that impose a personal income tax or an entity level tax. It is the unitholder’s responsibility to file all U.S. federal, state, and local tax returns. Our counsel has not rendered an opinion on the state and local tax consequences of an investment in our common units.
We have adopted certain valuation methodologies in determining a unitholder’s allocations of income, gain, loss and deduction. The IRS may challenge these methodologies or the resulting allocations, and such a challenge could adversely affect the value of the common units.
In determining the items of income, gain, loss, and deduction allocable to our unitholders, we must routinely determine the fair market value of our respective assets. Although we may from time to time consult with professional appraisers regarding valuation matters, we make fair market value estimates using a methodology based on the market value of our common units as a means to measure the fair market value of our respective assets. The IRS may challenge these valuation methods and the resulting allocations of income, gain, loss and deduction.
A successful IRS challenge to these methods or allocations could adversely affect the amount, character, and timing of taxable income or loss being allocated to our unitholders. It also could affect the amount of gain from a unitholder’s sale of common units and could have a negative impact on the value of the common units or result in audit adjustments to the unitholder’s tax returns without the benefit of additional deductions.
A unitholder whose common units are loaned to a “short seller” to effect a short sale of common units may be considered as having disposed of those common units. If so, the unitholder would no longer be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partner with respect to those common units during the period of the loan and may recognize gain or loss from the disposition.
Because a unitholder whose common units are loaned to a “short seller” to effect a short sale of common units may be considered as having disposed of the loaned common units, the unitholder may no longer be treated for U.S. federal income tax purposes as a partner with respect to those common units during the period of the loan to the short seller and the unitholder may recognize gain or loss from such disposition. Moreover, during the period of the loan, items of our income, gain, loss, or deduction with respect to those common units may not be reportable by the unitholder and any cash distributions received by the unitholder as to those common units could be fully taxable as ordinary income. Our counsel has not rendered an opinion regarding the treatment of a unitholder whose common units are loaned to a short seller to effect a short sale of common units. Unitholders desiring to assure their status as partners and avoid the risk of gain recognition from a loan to a short seller are urged to consult a tax advisor to discuss whether
it is advisable to modify any applicable brokerage account agreements to prohibit their brokers from loaning their common units.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
Please read “Business” for a description of the location and general character of our principal physical properties. We generally own our facilities, although a substantial portion of our pipeline and gathering facilities are constructed and maintained pursuant to rights-of-way, easements, permits, licenses, or consents on and across properties owned by others.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Certain reportable legal proceedings involving governmental authorities under federal, state, and local laws regulating the discharge of materials into the environment are described below. While it is not possible for us to predict the final outcome of the proceedings which are still pending, we do not anticipate a material effect on our consolidated financial position if we receive an unfavorable outcome in any one or more of such proceedings.
On June 13, 2013, an explosion and fire occurred at our formerly owned Geismar olefins plant and rendered the facility temporarily inoperable (Geismar Incident). On October 21, 2013, the EPA issued an Inspection Report pursuant to the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program following its inspection of the facility on June 24 through June 28, 2013. The report notes the EPA’s preliminary determinations about the facility’s documentation regarding process safety, process hazard analysis, as well as operating procedures, employee training, and other matters. On June 16, 2014, we received a request for information related to the Geismar Incident from the EPA under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act to which we responded on August 13, 2014. The EPA could issue penalties pertaining to final determinations.
On February 21, 2017, we received notice from the Environmental Enforcement Section of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding certain alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at our Moundsville facility as set forth in a Notice of Noncompliance issued by the EPA on January 14, 2016. The notice includes an offer to avoid further legal action on the alleged violations by paying $2 million. In discussion with the DOJ and the EPA, the EPA has indicated its belief that additional similar violations have occurred at our Oak Grove facility and has expressed interest in pursuing a global settlement. On January 19, 2018, we received an offer from the DOJ to globally settle the government’s claim for civil penalties associated with the alleged violations at both the Moundsville and the Oak Grove facilities for $1.955 million. We are currently evaluating the penalty assessment and the proposed global settlement offer and will respond to the agencies.
On May 5, 2017, we entered into a Consent Order with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division (GADNR) pertaining to alleged violations of the Georgia Water Quality Control Act and associated rules arising from a permit issued by GADNR for construction of the Dalton Project. Pursuant to the Consent Order, we paid a fine of $168,750 and agreed to perform a Corrective Action Order to remedy the alleged violations.
On January 19, 2018, we received notice from the PHMSA regarding certain alleged violations of PHMSA regulations in connection with a fire and release of liquid ethane that occurred at our Houston Meter Station located near Houston, Washington County, PA on December 24, 2014. The Notice of Probable Violation and Proposed Civil Penalty issued by PHMSA alleges failure to timely notify the National Response Center of a release of a hazardous liquid resulting in a fire or explosion and failure to verify that the facility was constructed, inspected, tested, and calibrated in accordance with comprehensive written specifications or standards and proposes a total civil penalty of $174,100. We are currently evaluating the penalty assessment and will respond to the agency.
Other environmental matters called for by this Item are described under the caption “Environmental Matters” in Note 17 – Contingent Liabilities and Commitments of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements included under Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements of this report, which information is incorporated by reference into this Item.
The additional information called for by this Item is provided in Note 17 – Contingent Liabilities and Commitments of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements included under Part II, Item 8 Financial Statements of this report, which information is incorporated by reference into this Item.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures
Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Market Information, Holders, and Distributions
Our common units are listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “WPZ.” At the close of business on February 19, 2018, there were 957,529,465 common units outstanding, held by approximately 87 record holders, including common units held by an affiliate of Williams.
We also have issued 18,124,096 Class B units, for which there is no established public trading market. All of the Class B units are held by an affiliate of Williams. Class B units are entitled to paid-in-kind distributions.
For information regarding securities that may be issued under our Long-Term Incentive Plan (LTIP), please read the information under Item 12, which is incorporated by reference into this Item 5.
The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the high and low sales prices for our common units, as reported on the NYSE Composite Transactions Tape, and quarterly cash distributions paid to our unitholders.
per Unit (1)
Represents cash distributions attributable to the quarter and declared and paid within 45 days after quarter end.
Distributions of Available Cash
Within 45 days after the end of each quarter we distribute all of our available cash, as defined in our partnership agreement, to common unitholders of record on the applicable record date. Available cash generally means, for each fiscal quarter, all cash on hand at the end of the quarter:
Less the amount of cash reserves established by our general partner to:
Provide for the proper conduct of our business (including reserves for future capital expenditures and for our anticipated credit needs);
Comply with applicable law, any of our debt instruments or other agreements; or
Provide funds for distribution to our unitholders for any one or more of the next four quarters;
Plus all cash on hand on the date of determination of available cash for the quarter resulting from working capital borrowings made after the end of the quarter for which the determination is being made. Working capital borrowings are borrowings used solely for working capital purposes or to pay distributions made
pursuant to a credit facility or other arrangement provided that, at the time incurred, the borrower’s intent is to repay such borrowings within 12 months from sources other than working capital borrowings.
In January 2017, we engaged in certain Financial Repositioning transactions (see Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations) wherein Williams permanently waived the general partner’s incentive distribution rights and converted its 2 percent general partner interest in us to a non-economic interest.
The Class B units originated under ACMP and are not entitled to cash distributions. Instead, prior to conversion into common units, the Class B units receive quarterly distributions of additional paid-in-kind Class B units. Effective February 10, 2015, each Class B unit became convertible at the election of either us or the holders of such Class B unit into a common unit on a one-for-one basis.
The preceding discussion is based on the assumption that our general partner does not issue additional classes of equity securities.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data
The following financial data at December 31, 2017 and 2016, and for each of the three years in the period ended December 31, 2017, should be read in conjunction with Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Item 8, Financial Statements and Supplementary Data of this Form 10-K. All other financial data has been prepared from our accounting records.
(Millions, except per-unit amounts)
Net income (loss) (1) (2)
Net income (loss) attributable to controlling interests (1) (2)
Net income (loss) per common unit (1) (2)
Total assets at December 31 (1)
Commercial paper and long-term debt due within one year at December 31 (3)
Long-term debt at December 31 (1)
Total equity at December 31 (1)
Cash distributions declared per common unit
The increase in 2014 reflects the merger with ACMP. Because ACMP was under the common control of Williams, effective July 1, 2014, the merger was accounted for as a common control transaction, whereby ACMP’s assets and liabilities were combined with ours at Williams’ historical carrying values and the historical results of ACMP’s operations were combined with ours beginning with the date (July 1, 2014) Williams obtained control of ACMP. Net income (loss) per common unit was recast for years prior to 2014 to reflect the surviving entity’s equity structure. The 2014 increase in Long-term debt reflects $2.8 billion in issuances as well as $4.1 billion in debt assumed as the result of the merger with ACMP.
For 2017 includes $1.156 billion of impairments of certain assets, a $1.095 billion gain on the sale of our Geismar interest, and $713 million of regulatory charges resulting from Tax Reform;
For 2016 includes a $457 million impairment of certain assets and a $430 million impairment of certain equity-method investments;
For 2015 includes a $1.4 billion impairment of certain equity-method investments and a $1.1 billion impairment of goodwill.
The increase in 2014 reflects borrowings under our commercial paper program, which was initiated in 2013.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
We are an energy infrastructure master limited partnership focused on connecting North America’s significant hydrocarbon resource plays to growing markets for natural gas and NGLs through our gas pipeline and midstream businesses. WPZ GP LLC, a Delaware limited liability company wholly owned by Williams, is our general partner.
Our interstate natural gas pipeline strategy is to create value by maximizing the utilization of our pipeline capacity by providing high quality, low cost transportation of natural gas to large and growing markets. Our gas pipeline businesses’ interstate transmission and storage activities are subject to regulation by the FERC and as such, our rates and charges for the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce, and the extension, expansion or abandonment of jurisdictional facilities and accounting, among other things, are subject to regulation. The rates are established through the FERC’s ratemaking process. Changes in commodity prices and volumes transported have limited near-term impact on these revenues because the majority of cost of service is recovered through firm capacity reservation charges in transportation rates.
The ongoing strategy of our midstream operations is to safely and reliably operate large-scale midstream infrastructure where our assets can be fully utilized and drive low per-unit costs. We focus on consistently attracting new business by providing highly reliable service to our customers. These services include natural gas gathering, processing, treating, and compression, NGL fractionation and transportation, crude oil production handling and transportation, marketing services for NGL, oil and natural gas, as well as storage facilities.
Consistent with the manner in which our chief operating decision maker evaluates performance and allocates resources, our reportable segments are Northeast G&P, Atlantic-Gulf, West, and NGL & Petchem Services, which are comprised of the following businesses:
Northeast G&P is comprised of our midstream gathering and processing businesses in the Marcellus Shale region primarily in Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia and the Utica Shale region of eastern Ohio, as well as a 66 percent interest in Cardinal (a consolidated entity), a 62 percent equity-method investment in UEOM, a 69 percent equity-method investment in Laurel Mountain, a 58 percent equity-method investment in Caiman II, and Appalachia Midstream Services, LLC, which owns equity-method investments with an approximate average 66 percent interest in multiple gas gathering systems in the Marcellus Shale (Appalachia Midstream Investments).
Atlantic-Gulf is comprised of our interstate natural gas pipeline, Transco, and significant natural gas gathering and processing and crude oil production handling and transportation assets in the Gulf Coast region, including a 51 percent interest in Gulfstar One (a consolidated entity), which is a proprietary floating production system, and various petrochemical and feedstock pipelines in the Gulf Coast region, as well as a 50 percent equity-method investment in Gulfstream, a 60 percent equity-method investment in Discovery, and a 41 percent interest in Constitution (a consolidated entity), which is developing a pipeline project (see Note 3 – Variable Interest Entities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements).
West is comprised of our interstate natural gas pipeline, Northwest Pipeline, and our gathering, processing and treating operations in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, as well as the Barnett Shale region of north-central Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas, the Haynesville Shale region of northwest Louisiana, and the Mid-Continent region which includes the Anadarko, Arkoma, Delaware, and Permian basins. This segment also includes our NGL and natural gas marketing business, storage facilities, an undivided 50 percent interest in an NGL fractionator near Conway, Kansas and a 50 percent equity-method investment in OPPL, as well as our previously owned 50 percent equity-method investment in the Delaware basin gas gathering system (DBJV) in the Mid-Continent region (see Note 6 – Investing Activities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements).
NGL & Petchem Services is comprised of previously owned operations, including an 88.5 percent undivided interest in an olefins production facility in Geismar, Louisiana, which was sold in July 2017 (see Note 2 –
Acquisitions and Divestitures of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements), and a refinery grade propylene splitter in the Gulf region, which was sold in June 2017. This segment also includes our previously owned Canadian assets which included an oil sands offgas processing plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, and a NGL/olefin fractionation facility at Redwater, Alberta. In September 2016, these Canadian operations were sold.
In January 2017, we entered into agreements with Williams, wherein Williams permanently waived the general partner’s IDRs and converted its 2 percent general partner interest in us to a noneconomic interest in exchange for 289 million newly issued common units. Pursuant to this agreement, Williams also purchased approximately 277 thousand common units for $10 million. Additionally, Williams purchased approximately 59 million common units at a price of $36.08586 per unit in a private placement transaction. According to the terms of this agreement, concurrent with our quarterly distributions in February 2017 and May 2017, Williams paid additional consideration totaling $56 million to us for these units. Following these transactions and as of December 31, 2017, Williams owns a 74 percent limited partner interest in us.
Unless indicated otherwise, the following discussion and analysis of critical accounting estimates, results of operations, and financial condition and liquidity should be read in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements and notes thereto included in Part II, Item 8 of this report.
On February 9, 2018, we paid a quarterly distribution of $0.60 per common unit to unitholders of record as of February 2, 2018.
Net income (loss) attributable to controlling interests for the year ended December 31, 2017, increased $440 million compared to the year ended December 31, 2016, reflecting the absence of $430 million of impairments of equity-method investments incurred in 2016, a $252 million increase in Other investing income (loss) – net primarily associated with the disposition of certain equity-method investments in 2017, and reduced interest expense, partially offset by a decrease of $264 million in operating income and an increase of $86 million in the provision for income taxes. The decrease in operating income is primarily due to a $699 million increase in Impairments of certain assets, $674 million of regulatory charges resulting from Tax Reform, and a $172 million decrease in product margins primarily due to the loss of olefins volumes as a result of the sales of our Gulf Olefins and Canadian operations, partially offset by a gain of $1.095 billion from the sale of our Geismar Interest and increased service revenue primarily associated with expansion projects.
In December 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was enacted, which, among other things, reduced the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent (Tax Reform) . Transco and Northwest Pipeline have recognized regulatory liabilities to reflect the probable return to customers through future rates of the future decrease in income taxes payable associated with Tax Reform. These liabilities represent an obligation to return amounts directly to our customers. The regulatory liabilities were recorded in December 2017 through regulatory charges to operating income totaling $674 million. (See Note 1 – General, Description of Business, Basis of Presentation, and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.) The timing and actual amount of such return will be subject to future negotiations regarding this matter and many other elements of cost-of-service rate proceedings, including other costs of providing service.
As a result of the adoption of Accounting Standards Update 2014-09, Revenues from Contracts with Customers (ASC 606), we expect that our 2018 revenues will increase in situations where we receive noncash consideration, which exists primarily in certain of our gas processing contracts where we receive commodities as full or partial consideration for services provided. This increase in revenues will be offset by a similar increase in costs and expenses when the
commodities received are subsequently sold. Based on commodities received during 2017 as consideration for services and market prices during 2017, we estimate the impact to revenues and costs would have been approximately $350 million.
Additionally, we expect future revenues will be impacted by application of the new accounting standard to certain contracts for which we received prepayments for services and have recorded deferred revenue (contract liabilities). For these contracts, which underwent modifications in periods prior to January 1, 2018, the modification is treated as a termination of the existing contract and the creation of a new contract. The new accounting guidance requires that the transaction price, including any remaining deferred revenue from the old contract, be allocated to the performance obligations over the term of the new contract. As a result, we will recognize the deferred revenue over longer periods than application of revenue recognition under accounting guidance prior to January 1, 2018. The application of ASC 606 to prior periods related to these contracts would have resulted in lower revenues in 2016 and 2017. Revenues will also be lower in 2018 and 2019 than what would have been recorded under the previous guidance, offset by increased revenues in later reporting periods given the longer period of recognition.
We are adopting ASC 606 utilizing the modified retrospective transition approach, effective January 1, 2018, by recognizing the cumulative effect of initially applying ASC 606 for periods prior to January 1, 2018, which we expect to result in a decrease of approximately $315 million to the opening balance of Total equity in the Consolidated Balance Sheet. This adjustment is primarily associated with the impact to the timing of deferred revenue (contract liabilities) for certain contracts as noted above.
Virginia Southside II
In December 2017, the Virginia Southside II expansion project to the Transco system was placed into service. The project expanded Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system together with greenfield facilities to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from our Station 210 in New Jersey and our Station 165 in Virginia to a new lateral extending from our Brunswick Lateral in Virginia. The project increased capacity by 250 Mdth/d.
New York Bay Expansion
In October 2017, the New York Bay expansion to the Transco system was placed into service. The project expanded Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from Station 195 in Pennsylvania to the Rockaway Delivery Lateral transfer point and the Narrows meter station in New York. The project increased capacity by 115 Mdth/d.
In August 2017, the Dalton expansion to the Transco system was placed into service. This project expanded Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system together with greenfield facilities to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from our Station 210 in New Jersey to markets in northwest Georgia. On April 1, 2017, we began providing firm transportation service through the mainline portion of the project on an interim basis and we placed the full project into service in August 2017. The project increased capacity by 448 Mdth/d.
In July 2017, Phase I of the Hillabee Expansion Project was placed into service. The project involves an expansion of Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system from our Station 85 in west central Alabama to a new interconnection with the Sabal Trail pipeline in Alabama. The project will be constructed in phases, and all of the project expansion capacity is dedicated to Sabal Trail pursuant to a capacity lease agreement. We placed a portion of Phase I into service in June of 2017 and the remainder of Phase I into service in July of 2017. Phase I increased capacity by 818 Mdth/d. The in-service date of Phase II is planned for the second quarter of 2020 and together they are expected to increase capacity by 1,025 Mdth/d.
In March 2016, we entered into an agreement with the member-sponsors of Sabal Trail to resolve several matters. In accordance with the agreement, the member-sponsors paid us an aggregate amount of $240 million in three equal installments as certain milestones of the project were met. The first $80 million payment was received in March 2016, the second installment was received in September 2016 and the third installment was received in July 2017. We expect to recognize income associated with these receipts over the term of the capacity lease agreement.
In August 2017, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted an appeal of the FERC certificate order for the Southeast Market Pipelines projects (a group of related projects, including the Hillabee Expansion Project) filed by certain non-governmental organizations. In doing so, the court (i) remanded the matter to the FERC for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that conforms with the court’s opinion regarding quantifying certain greenhouse gas emissions, and (ii) vacated the FERC’s certificate order for the projects, which would be effective following the court’s mandate (by court order, the mandate will not issue until after disposition of all petitions for rehearing). We, along with other intervenors, and the FERC filed petitions for rehearing with the court to overturn the remedy that would involve vacating the FERC certificate order, but on January 31, 2018 the court denied the petitions. In compliance with the court’s directive, on February 5, 2018, the FERC issued a Final Supplemental EIS for the projects, reaffirming that while the projects would result in temporary and permanent impacts on the environment, those impacts would not be significant. On February 6, 2018, we, along with other intervenors, and the FERC filed motions with the court to stay the issuance of the mandate in order to give the FERC time to re-issue the authorizations for the projects. The filing of the motions automatically stays the effectiveness of the court’s mandate. If the court’s mandate is issued prior to the FERC re-issuing the authorizations for the projects, we believe that the FERC will take the necessary steps (which may include issuing temporary certificate authority) to avoid any lapse in federal authorization for the projects.
Exchange of DBJV Interest
During the first quarter of 2017, we exchanged all of our 50 percent interest in DBJV for an increased interest in two natural gas gathering systems that are part of the Appalachia Midstream Investments and $155 million in cash. Appalachia Midstream Investments is part of our Northeast G&P segment. Following this exchange, we have an approximate average 66 percent interest in the Appalachia Midstream Investments. We also sold all of our interest in Ranch Westex JV LLC for $45 million. These transactions resulted in a total gain of $269 million reflected in Other investing income (loss) – net in the Consolidated Statement of Comprehensive Income (Loss) within the West segment. (See Note 6 – Investing Activities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.)
NGL & Petchem Services
Geismar olefins facility monetization
In July 2017, we completed the sale of our Geismar Interest for $2.084 billion in cash. We received a final working capital adjustment of $12 million in October 2017. Additionally, we entered into a long-term supply and transportation agreement with the purchaser to provide feedstock to the plant via our Bayou Ethane pipeline system, which is expected to provide a long-term fee-based revenue stream. (See Note 2 – Acquisitions and Divestitures of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.)
Following this sale, the cash proceeds were used to repay our $850 million term loan. Proceeds have also been funding a portion of the capital and investment expenditures that are a part of our growth portfolio.
NGL per-unit margins were approximately 62 percent higher in 2017 compared to 2016 due to a 42 percent increase in per-unit non-ethane prices. The per-unit margin increase also reflects the absence of our former Canadian operations which had lower per-unit non-ethane margins in the prior year compared to our domestic operations. These favorable impacts were partially offset by an approximate 26 percent increase in per-unit natural gas feedstock prices.
NGL margins are defined as NGL revenues less any applicable Btu replacement cost, plant fuel, and third-party transportation and fractionation. Per-unit NGL margins are calculated based on sales of our own equity volumes at the processing plants. Our equity volumes include NGLs where we own the rights to the value from NGLs recovered at our plants under both “keep-whole” processing agreements, where we have the obligation to replace the lost heating value with natural gas, and “percent-of-liquids” agreements whereby we receive a portion of the extracted liquids with no obligation to replace the lost heating value.
The following graph illustrates the NGL production and sales volumes, as well as the margin differential between ethane and non-ethane products and the relative mix of those products.
The potential impact of commodity prices on our business is further discussed in the following Company Outlook.
Our strategy is to provide large-scale energy infrastructure designed to maximize the opportunities created by the vast supply of natural gas and natural gas products that exists in the United States. We accomplish this by connecting the growing demand for cleaner fuels and feedstocks with our major positions in the premier natural gas and natural gas products supply basins. We continue to maintain a strong commitment to safety, environmental stewardship, operational excellence, and customer satisfaction. We believe that accomplishing these goals will position us to deliver safe and reliable service to our customers and an attractive return to our unitholders.
Our business plan for 2018 includes a continued focus on growing our fee-based businesses, executing growth projects and accomplishing cost discipline initiatives to ensure operations support our strategy. We anticipate operating results will increase through organic business growth driven primarily by Transco expansion projects and continued growth in the Northeast region. We intend to fund planned growth capital with retained cash flow and debt, and based on currently forecasted projects, we do not expect to access public equity markets for the next several years.
Our growth capital and investment expenditures in 2018 are expected to be approximately $2.7 billion. Approximately $1.7 billion of our growth capital funding needs include Transco expansions and other interstate pipeline growth projects, most of which are fully contracted with firm transportation agreements. The remaining growth capital spending in 2018 primarily reflects investment in gathering and processing systems in the Northeast G&P segment limited primarily to known new producer volumes, including volumes that support Transco expansion projects including our Atlantic Sunrise project. In addition to growth capital and investment expenditures, we also remain committed to projects that maintain our assets for safe and reliable operations, as well as projects that meet legal, regulatory, and/or contractual commitments.
As a result of our significant continued capital and investment expenditures on Transco expansions and fee-based gathering and processing projects, fee-based businesses are a significant component of our portfolio and serve to reduce the influence of commodity price fluctuations on our operating results and cash flows. We expect to benefit as continued growth in demand for low-cost natural gas is driven by increases in LNG exports, industrial demand and power generation. For 2018, current forward market prices indicate oil prices are expected to be higher compared to 2017, while natural gas and NGL prices are expected to be lower or comparable with 2017. We continue to address certain pricing risks through the utilization of commodity hedging strategies. However, some of our customers may continue to curtail or delay drilling plans until there is a more sustained recovery in prices, which may negatively impact our gathering and processing volumes. The credit profiles of certain of our producer customers have been, and may continue to be, challenged as a result of lower energy commodity prices. Unfavorable changes in energy commodity prices or the credit profile of our producer customers may also result in noncash impairments of our assets.
In 2018, our operating results are expected to include increases from our regulated Transco fee-based business primarily related to projects recently placed in-service or expected to be placed in-service in 2018, including the Atlantic Sunrise project. For our non-regulated businesses, we anticipate increases in fee-based revenue in the Northeast G&P segment, partially offset by lower fee-based revenue in the West segment. As previously discussed, under the new accounting guidance for revenue recognition, deferred revenue under certain contracts will be recognized over longer periods than under the prior guidance, resulting in a decrease in revenue for the West segment. We expect overall gathering and processing volumes to grow in 2018 and increase thereafter to meet the growing demand for natural gas and natural gas products. We also anticipate lower general and administrative expenses due to the full year impact of prior year cost reduction initiatives.
Potential risks and obstacles that could impact the execution of our plan include:
Certain aspects of Tax Reform, including regulatory liabilities relating to reduced corporate federal income tax rates, could adversely impact the rates we can charge on our regulated pipelines;
Opposition to infrastructure projects, including the risk of delay or denial in permits and approvals needed for our projects;
•Unexpected significant increases in capital expenditures or delays in capital project execution;
•Counterparty credit and performance risk, including that of Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates;
Lower than anticipated demand for natural gas and natural gas products which could result in lower than expected volumes, energy commodity prices and margins;
•General economic, financial markets, or further industry downturn, including increased interest rates;
•Physical damages to facilities, including damage to offshore facilities by named windstorms;
•Production issues impacting offshore gathering volumes;
Other risks set forth under Part I, Item 1A. Risk Factors in this report.
We seek to maintain a strong financial position and liquidity, as well as manage a diversified portfolio of energy infrastructure assets which continue to serve key growth markets and supply basins in the United States.
Our ongoing major expansion projects include the following:
Ohio River Supply Hub Expansion
We agreed to expand our services to a customer to provide 660 MMcf/d of processing wet gas capacity in the Marcellus and Upper Devonian Shale in West Virginia. Associated with this agreement, we expect to further expand the processing capacity of our Oak Grove facility, which has the ability to increase capacity by an additional 1.8 Bcf/d. Additionally, with the same customer, we secured a gathering dedication agreement to gather dry gas in this same region. These expansions will be supported by long-term, fee-based agreements and volumetric commitments.
Susquehanna Supply Hub Expansion
The Susquehanna Supply Hub Expansion, which involves two new compression facilities with an additional 49,000 horsepower and 59 miles of 12 inch to 24 inch pipeline, is expected to increase gathering capacity, allowing a certain producer to fulfill its commitment to deliver 850 Mdth/d to our Atlantic Sunrise development. We placed a portion of this project into service in January 2018 and anticipate this expansion will be fully commissioned in the first quarter of 2018.
In February 2017, we received approval from the FERC to expand Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system along with greenfield facilities to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from the northeastern Marcellus producing area to markets along Transco’s mainline as far south as Station 85 in west central Alabama. We placed a portion of the mainline project facilities into service in September 2017 and it increased capacity by 400 Mdth/d. We plan to place the full project into service during mid-2018, assuming timely receipt of all remaining regulatory approvals. The full project is expected to increase capacity by 1,700 Mdth/d.
We currently own 41 percent of Constitution with three other parties holding 25 percent, 24 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. We are the operator of Constitution. The 126-mile Constitution pipeline is proposed to connect our gathering system in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, to the Iroquois Gas Transmission and Tennessee Gas Pipeline systems in New York, as well as to a local distribution company serving New York and Pennsylvania.
In December 2014, Constitution received approval from the FERC to construct and operate its proposed pipeline, which will have an expected capacity of 650 Mdth/d. However, in April 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) denied the necessary water quality certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act for the New York portion of the pipeline. In May 2016, Constitution appealed the NYSDEC’s denial of the Section 401 certification to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in August 2017, the court issued a decision denying in part and dismissing in part Constitution’s appeal. The court expressly declined to rule on Constitution’s argument that the delay in the NYSDEC’s decision on Constitution’s Section 401 application constitutes a waiver of the certification requirement. The court determined that it lacked jurisdiction to address that contention, and found that jurisdiction over the waiver issue lies exclusively with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. As to the denial itself, the court determined that NYSDEC’s action was not arbitrary or capricious. Constitution filed a petition for rehearing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but in October the court denied our petition.
In October 2017, we filed a petition for declaratory order requesting the FERC to find that, by operation of law, the Section 401 certification requirement for the New York State portion of Constitution’s pipeline project was waived due to the failure by the NYSDEC to act on Constitution’s Section 401 application within a reasonable period of time as required by the express terms of such statute. In January 2018, the FERC denied our petition, finding that Section 401 provides that a state waives certification only when it does not act on an application within one year from the date of the application.
The project’s sponsors remain committed to the project, and, in that regard, we are pursuing two separate and independent paths in order to overturn the NYSDEC’s denial of the Section 401 certification. In January 2018, we filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court to review the decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the merits of the NYSDEC’s denial of the Section 401 certification. And, in February 2018, we filed a request with the FERC for rehearing of its finding that the NYSDEC did not waive the Section 401 certification requirement. If the FERC denies such request, we will file a petition for review with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
We estimate that the target in-service date for the project would be approximately 10 to 12 months following any court or FERC decision that the NYSDEC denial order was improper or that the NYSDEC waived the Section 401 certification requirement. (See Note 3 – Variable Interest Entities of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.)
In April 2016, we received approval from the FERC to expand Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from Station 210 in New Jersey to a new interconnection on our Trenton Woodbury Lateral in New Jersey. The project will be constructed in phases and is expected to increase capacity by 180 Mdth/d. We placed the initial phase of the project into service in September 2017 and plan to place the remaining portion of the project into service during the first quarter of 2018.
In November 2017, we filed an application with the FERC to expand Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from PennEast Pipeline Company's proposed interconnection with Transco’s mainline south of Station 205 in New Jersey to other existing Transco meter stations within New Jersey. We plan to place the project into service in the first quarter of 2021, assuming timely receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals. The project is expected to increase capacity by 65 Mdth/d.
In November 2017, we received approval from the FERC allowing Transco to expand its existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from Station 65 in Louisiana to delivery points in Wharton and San Patricio Counties, Texas. The project will be constructed in two phases and we plan to place both phases into service during the first half of 2019, assuming timely receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals. The project is expected to increase capacity by 475 Mdth/d.
In February 2016, the FERC issued a certificate order for the initial phases of Transco’s Hillabee Expansion Project. The project involves an expansion of Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system from Station 85 in west central Alabama to a new interconnection with the Sabal Trail pipeline in Alabama. The project will be constructed in phases, and all of the project expansion capacity will be leased to Sabal Trail. We placed a portion of Phase I into service in June of 2017 and the remainder of Phase I into service in July of 2017. Phase I increased capacity by 818 Mdth/d. The in-service date of Phase II is planned for the second quarter of 2020 and together they are expected to increase capacity by 1,025 Mdth/d. See Atlantic-Gulf within Overview.
In March 2016, we announced that we have reached an agreement to provide deepwater gas gathering services to the Appomattox development in the Gulf of Mexico. The project will provide offshore gas gathering services to our existing Transco lateral, which will provide transmission services onshore to our Mobile Bay processing facility. We also plan to make modifications to our Main Pass 261 Platform to install an alternate delivery route from the platform, as well as modifications to our Mobile Bay processing facility. The project is scheduled to go into service during the second half of 2019.
Northeast Supply Enhancement
In March 2017, we filed an application with the FERC to expand Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from Station 195 in Pennsylvania to the Rockaway Delivery Lateral transfer point in New York. We plan to place the project into service in late 2019 or during the first half of 2020, assuming timely receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals. The project is expected to increase capacity by 400 Mdth/d.
Rivervale South to Market
In August 2017, we filed an application with the FERC to expand Transco’s existing natural gas transmission system to provide incremental firm transportation capacity from the existing Rivervale interconnection with Tennessee Gas Pipeline on Transco’s North New Jersey Extension to other existing Transco locations within New Jersey. We plan to place the project into service as early as the fourth quarter of 2019, assuming timely receipt of all necessary regulatory approvals. The project is expected to increase capacity by 190 Mdth/d.
North Seattle Lateral Upgrade
In May 2017, we filed an application with the FERC to expand delivery capabilities on Northwest Pipeline’s North Seattle Lateral. The project consists of the removal and replacement of approximately 5.9 miles of 8-inch diameter pipeline with new 20-inch diameter pipeline. We plan to place the project into service as early as the fourth quarter of 2019. The project is expected to increase capacity by up to 159 Mdth/d.
Critical Accounting Estimates
The preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles requires management to make estimates and assumptions. We believe that the nature of these estimates and assumptions is material due to the subjectivity and judgment necessary, or the susceptibility of such matters to change, and the impact of these on our financial condition or results of operations.
Property, Plant, and Equipment and Other Identifiable Intangible Assets
We evaluate our property, plant, and equipment and other identifiable intangible assets for impairment when events or changes in circumstances indicate, in our judgment, that the carrying value of such assets may not be recoverable. When an indicator of impairment has occurred, we compare our estimate of undiscounted future cash flows attributable to the assets to the carrying value of the assets to determine whether an impairment has occurred and we may apply a probability-weighted approach to consider the likelihood of different cash flow assumptions and possible outcomes including selling in the near term or holding for the remaining estimated useful life. If an impairment of the carrying value has occurred, we determine the amount of the impairment recognized by estimating the fair value of the assets and recording a loss for the amount that the carrying value exceeds the estimated fair value. This evaluation is performed at the lowest level for which separately identifiable cash flows exist.
During the third quarter of 2017, we received solicitations and engaged in negotiations for the sale of certain gas gathering assets within the Mid-Continent region. As a result of these events, we evaluated the Mid-Continent asset group, which includes property, plant, and equipment and intangible assets, for impairment. Our evaluation considered the likelihood of divesting certain assets within the Mid-Continent region as well as information developed from the
negotiation process that impacted our estimate of future cash flows associated with these assets. The estimated undiscounted future cash flows were determined to be below the carrying amount for these assets. We computed the estimated fair value using an income approach and incorporated market inputs based on ongoing negotiations for the potential sale of a portion of the underlying assets. For the income approach, we utilized a discount rate of 10.2 percent, reflecting an estimated cost of capital and risks associated with the underlying assets. As a result of this evaluation, we recorded an impairment charge of $1.019 billion for the difference between the estimated fair value and carrying amount of these assets.
Judgments and assumptions are inherent in estimating undiscounted future cash flows, fair values, and the probability-weighting of possible outcomes. The use of alternate judgments and assumptions could result in a different determination affecting the consolidated financial statements.
At December 31, 2017, our Consolidated Balance Sheet includes approximately $6.6 billion of investments that are accounted for under the equity-method of accounting. We evaluate these investments for impairment when events or changes in circumstances indicate, in our management’s judgment, that the carrying value of such investments may have experienced an other-than-temporary decline in value. We continue to monitor our equity-method investments for any indications that the carrying value may have experienced an other-than-temporary decline in value. When evidence of a loss in value has occurred, we compare our estimate of the fair value of the investment to the carrying value of the investment to determine whether an impairment has occurred. We generally estimate the fair value of our investments using an income approach where significant judgments and assumptions include expected future cash flows and the appropriate discount rate. In some cases, we may utilize a form of market approach to estimate the fair value of our investments.
If the estimated fair value is less than the carrying value and we consider the decline in value to be other-than-temporary, the excess of the carrying value over the fair value is recognized in the consolidated financial statements as an impairment charge. Events or changes in circumstances that may be indicative of an other-than-temporary decline in value will vary by investment, but may include:
A significant or sustained decline in the market value of an investee;
Lower than expected cash distributions from investees;
Significant asset impairments or operating losses recognized by investees;
Significant delays in or lack of producer development or significant declines in producer volumes in markets served by investees;
Significant delays in or failure to complete significant growth projects of investees.
As of December 31, 2017, the carrying value of our equity-method investment in Discovery is $534 million. During the fourth quarter of 2017, certain customers of Discovery terminated a significant offshore gas gathering agreement following the shut-in of production after the associated wells ceased flowing. As a result, we evaluated this investment for impairment and determined that no impairment was necessary.
We estimated the fair value of our investment in Discovery using an income approach that primarily considered probability-weighted assumptions of additional commercial development, the continued operation of the business under existing contracts, and a discount rate of 11.3 percent. Higher probabilities were generally assigned to those commercial development opportunities that were more advanced in the discussion and contracting process, utilizing existing infrastructure due to producer capital constraints, and/or we believe Discovery has a competitive advantage due to geographical proximity to the prospect. The estimated fair value of our investment in Discovery exceeded its carrying value by approximately 6 percent and thus no impairment was necessary.
Judgments and assumptions are inherent in our estimates of future cash flows, discount rates, and additional development probabilities. It is reasonably possible that an impairment could be required in the future if commercial development activities are not as successful or as timely as assumed. The use of alternate judgments and assumptions could result in a different calculation of fair value, which could ultimately result in the recognition of an impairment charge in the consolidated financial statements.
Constitution Pipeline Capitalized Project Costs
As of December 31, 2017, Property, plant, and equipment – net in our Consolidated Balance Sheet includes approximately $381 million of capitalized project costs for Constitution, for which we are the construction manager and own a 41 percent consolidated interest. As a result of the events discussed in Company Outlook, we evaluated the capitalized project costs for impairment as recently as December 31, 2017, and determined that no impairment was necessary. Our evaluation considered probability-weighted scenarios of undiscounted future net cash flows, including scenarios assuming construction of the pipeline, as well as a scenario where the project does not proceed. These scenarios included our most recent estimate of total construction costs. The probability-weighted scenarios also considered our assessment of the likelihood of success of the two separate and independent paths to obtain necessary certification, as described in Company Outlook. It is reasonably possible that future unfavorable developments, such as a reduced likelihood of success, increased estimates of construction costs, or further significant delays, could result in a future impairment.
Regulatory Liabilities resulting from Tax Reform
In December 2017, Tax Reform was enacted, which, among other things, reduced the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Rates charged to customers of our regulated natural gas pipelines are subject to the rate-making policies of the FERC, which permit the recovery of an income tax allowance that includes a deferred income tax component. As a result of the reduced income tax rate from Tax Reform and the collection of historical rates that reflected historical federal income tax rates, we expect that our regulated natural gas pipelines will be required to return amounts to certain customers through future rates and have established regulatory liabilities accordingly. These liabilities were recorded in December 2017 through regulatory charges to operating income totaling $674 million. (See Note 1 – General, Description of Business, Basis of Presentation, and Summary of Significant Accounting Policies of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.) The timing and actual amount of such return will be subject to future negotiations regarding this matter and many other elements of cost–of–service rate proceedings, including other costs of providing service.
Our estimation of these regulatory liabilities incorporated the following significant judgments and assumptions involving income taxes collected from our customers.
We utilized current FERC guidance for the default income tax rate for non-corporate taxpayers, which is an element of our overall effective tax rate. It is possible that the FERC will provide updated implementation guidance in the future, including an updated default income tax rate for non-corporate taxpayers. We estimate that a decline of one percentage point in our assumed overall effective tax rate would increase our regulatory liabilities by approximately $42 million.
We made assumptions regarding the allocation of our taxable income between corporate and non-corporate taxpayers. This allocation is subject to annual variation that could impact the weighted average federal tax component of the overall income tax allowance rate.
We made assumptions regarding the allocation of our taxable income among the states in which we conduct business. This allocation is subject to annual variation that could impact the weighted average state tax component of the overall income tax allowance rate. It is possible that certain states may change their income tax laws and/or rates in the future in response to Tax Reform.
In determining the estimated liability that we currently believe is probable of return to customers through future rates, we considered the mix of services provided by our regulated natural gas pipelines, taking into consideration that certain of these services are provided under contractually-based rates, in lieu of recourse-
based rates. The contractually-based rates are designed to recover the cost of providing those services, with no expected future rate adjustment for the term of those contracts. We estimate that a one percent change in the relative mix of services would change the regulatory liability by approximately $8 million.
The use of alternative judgments and assumptions could result in the recognition of different regulatory liabilities and associated charges in the consolidated financial statements.
Results of Operations
The following table and discussion is a summary of our consolidated results of operations for the three years ended December 31, 2017. The results of operations by segment are discussed in further detail following this consolidated overview discussion.
Years Ended December 31,
$ Change from 2016*
% Change from 2016*
$ Change from 2015*
% Change from 2015*
Costs and expenses:
Operating and maintenance expenses
Depreciation and amortization expenses
Selling, general, and administrative expenses
Impairment of goodwill
Impairment of certain assets
Gain on sale of Geismar Interest
Regulatory charges resulting from Tax Reform
Insurance recoveries – Geismar Incident
Other (income) expense – net
Total costs and expenses
Operating income (loss)
Equity earnings (losses)
Impairment of equity-method investments
Other investing income (loss) – net
Other income (expense) – net
Income (loss) before income taxes
Provision (benefit) for income taxes
Net income (loss)
Less: Net income attributable to noncontrolling interests