Investment in our securities is subject to various risks, including risks and uncertainties inherent in our business. The following sets forth factors related to our business, operations, financial position or future financial performance or cash flows that could cause an investment in our securities to decline and result in a loss.
The current financial crisis and deteriorating economic conditions may have material adverse impacts on our business and financial condition that we currently cannot predict.
As widely reported, economic conditions in the United States and globally have been deteriorating. Financial markets in the United States, Europe and Asia have been experiencing a period of unprecedented turmoil and upheaval characterized by extreme volatility and declines in security prices, severely diminished liquidity and credit availability, inability to access capital markets, the bankruptcy, failure, collapse or sale of various financial institutions and an unprecedented level of intervention from the United States federal government and other governments. Unemployment has risen while business and consumer confidence have declined and there are fears of a prolonged recession. Although we cannot predict the impacts on us of the deteriorating economic conditions, they could materially adversely affect our business and financial condition. For example:
- the demand for natural gas may decline due to the deteriorating economic conditions, which could negatively impact the revenues, margins and profitability of our natural gas business;
- the demand for electricity and/or for steel may decline due to the deteriorating economic conditions, which could negatively impact the revenues, margins and profitability of our steam coal and metallurgical coal businesses;
- the tightening of credit or lack of credit availability to our customers could adversely affect our ability to collect our trade receivables and the amount of receivables eligible for sale pursuant to our accounts receivable facility may decline;
- our ability to access the capital markets may be restricted at a time when we would like, or need, to raise capital for our business including for exploration and/or development of our coal or gas reserves;
- our commodity hedging arrangements could become ineffective if our counterparties are unable to perform their obligations or seek bankruptcy protection.
A significant extended decline in the prices CONSOL Energy receives for our coal and gas could adversely affect our operating results and cash flows.
Our financial results are significantly affected by the prices we receive for our coal and gas. Extended or substantial price declines for coal would adversely affect our operating results for future periods and our ability to generate cash flows necessary to improve productivity and expand operations. Prices of coal may fluctuate due to factors beyond our control such as overall domestic and global economic conditions; the consumption pattern of industrial consumers, electricity generators and residential users; technological advances affecting energy consumption; domestic and foreign government regulations; price and availability of alternative fuels; price of foreign imports and weather conditions. Any adverse change in these factors could result in weaker demand and possibly lower prices for our production, which would reduce our revenues.
Gas prices are closely linked to consumption patterns of the electric generation industry and certain industrial and residential patterns where gas is the principal fuel. Natural gas prices are very volatile, and even relatively modest drops in prices can significantly affect our financial results and impede growth. Changes in natural gas prices have a significant impact on the value of our reserves and on our cash flow. In the past we have used hedging transactions to reduce our exposure to market price volatility when we deemed it appropriate. If we choose not to engage in, or reduce our use of, hedging arrangements in the future, we may be more adversely affected by changes in natural gas and oil prices than our competitors who engage in hedging arrangements to a greater extent than we do. Prices for natural gas may fluctuate widely in response to relatively minor changes in the supply of and demand for natural gas, market uncertainty and a variety of additional factors that are beyond our control, such as: the domestic and foreign supply of natural gas; the price of foreign imports; overall domestic and global economic conditions; the consumption pattern of industrial consumers, electricity generators and residential users; weather conditions; technological advances affecting energy consumption; domestic and foreign governmental regulations; proximity and capacity of gas pipelines and other transportation facilities; and the price and availability of alternative fuels. Many of these factors may be beyond our control. Earlier in this decade, natural gas prices were lower than they are today. Lower natural gas prices may not only decrease our revenues on a per unit basis, but may also limit our access to capital. A significant decrease in price levels for an extended period would negatively affect us in several ways, including our cash flow being reduced, decreasing funds available for capital expenditures employed to replace reserves or increase production; and access to other sources of capital, such as equity or long-term debt markets, being severely limited or unavailable. Additionally, lower natural gas prices may reduce the amount of natural gas that we can produce economically. This may result in our having to make substantial downward adjustments to our estimated proved reserves. If this occurs or if our estimates of development costs increase, production data factors change or our exploration results deteriorate, accounting rules may require us to write down, as a non-cash charge to earnings, the carrying value of our natural gas properties. We are required to perform impairment tests on our assets whenever events or changes in circumstances lead to a reduction of the estimated useful life or estimated future cash flows that would indicate that the carrying amount may not be recoverable or whenever management’s plans change with respect to those assets. We may incur impairment charges in the future, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations in the period taken.
If customers do not extend existing contracts, do not honor existing contracts, or do not enter into new long-term contracts for coal, profitability of CONSOL Energy’s operations could be affected.
During the year ended December 31, 2008, approximately 90% of the coal CONSOL Energy produced was sold under long-term contracts (contracts with terms of one year or more). If a substantial portion of CONSOL Energy’s long-term contracts are modified or terminated or if force majeure is exercised, CONSOL Energy would be adversely affected if we are unable to replace the contracts or if new contracts were not at the same level of profitability. If existing customers do not honor current contract commitments, our revenue would be adversely affected. The profitability of our long-term coal supply contracts depends on a variety of factors, which vary from contract to contract and fluctuate during the contract term, including our production costs and other factors. Price changes, if any, provided in long-term supply contracts may not reflect our cost increases, and therefore, increases in our costs may reduce our profit margins. In addition, in periods of declining market prices, provisions for adjustment or renegotiation of prices and other provisions may increase our exposure to short-term coal price volatility. As a result, CONSOL Energy may not be able to obtain long-term agreements at favorable prices (compared to either market conditions, as they may change from time to time, or our cost structure) and long-term contracts may not contribute to our profitability.
The loss of, or significant reduction in, purchases by our largest customers could adversely affect our revenues.
For the year ended December 31, 2008, we derived over 25% of our total revenues from sales to our four largest coal customers. At December 31, 2008, we had approximately 24 coal supply agreements with these customers that expire at various times from 2009 to 2021. We are currently discussing the extension of existing agreements or entering into new long-term agreements with some of these customers, but these negotiations may not be successful and these customers may not continue to purchase coal from us under long-term coal supply agreements. If any one of these four customers were to significantly reduce their purchases of coal from us, or if we were unable to sell coal to them on terms as favorable to us as the terms under our current agreements, our financial condition and results of operations could suffer materially.
Our ability to collect payments from our customers could be impaired if their creditworthiness declines or if they fail to honor their contracts with us.
Our ability to receive payment for coal sold and delivered depends on the continued creditworthiness of our customers. Some power plant owners may have credit ratings that are below investment grade. If the creditworthiness of our customers declines significantly, our $165 million accounts receivable securitization program and our business could be adversely affected. In addition, if customers refuse to accept shipments of our coal for which they have an existing contractual obligation, our revenues will decrease and we may have to reduce production at our mines until our customers' contractual obligations are honored.
Disruption of rail, barge, overland conveyor and other systems that deliver CONSOL Energy’s coal, or an increase in transportation costs, could make CONSOL Energy’s coal less competitive.
Coal producers depend upon rail, barge, trucking, overland conveyor and other systems to provide access to markets. Disruption of transportation services because of weather-related problems, strikes, lock-outs, breakdowns of locks and dams or other events could temporarily impair our ability to supply coal to customers and adversely affect our profitability. Transportation costs represent a significant portion of the delivered cost of coal and, as a result, the cost of delivery is a critical factor in a customer’s purchasing decision. Increases in transportation costs could make our coal less competitive.
Competition within the coal and gas industries may adversely affect our ability to sell our products. A loss of our competitive position because of overcapacity in these industries could adversely affect pricing, which could impair our profitability.
CONSOL Energy competes with coal producers in various regions of the United States and with some foreign coal producers for domestic sales primarily to power generators. CONSOL Energy also competes with both domestic and foreign coal producers for sales in international markets. Demand for our coal by our principal customers is affected by the delivered price of competing coals, other fuel supplies and alternative generating sources, including nuclear, natural gas, oil and renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric power. CONSOL Energy sells coal to foreign electricity generators and to the more specialized metallurgical coal market, both of which are significantly affected by international demand and competition.
Recent increases in coal prices could encourage existing producers to expand capacity or for new producers to enter the market. If overcapacity results, our revenues could be reduced if prices fell or we cannot sell our coal.
The gas industry is intensely competitive with companies from various regions of the United States and we may compete with foreign companies for domestic sales, many of whom are larger and have greater financial, technological, human and other resources. If we are unable to compete, our company, our operating results and financial position may be adversely affected. For example, one of our competitive strengths is being a low-cost producer of gas. If our competitors can produce gas at a lower cost than us, it would effectively eliminate our competitive strength in that area. In addition, larger companies may be able to pay more to acquire new gas properties for future exploration, limiting our ability to replace gas we produce or to grow our production. Our ability to acquire additional properties and to discover new gas resources also depends on our ability to evaluate and select suitable properties and to consummate these transactions in a highly competitive environment.
We require a skilled workforce to run our business. If we cannot hire qualified people to meet replacement or expansion needs, we may not be able to achieve planned results.
Most of our workforce is composed of people with technical skills related to the production of coal and gas. Approximately 50 percent of our workforce is 50 years of age or older. Based on our experience, we expect a high percentage of our employees to retire between now and the next five to seven years. This will require us to conduct an expanded and sustained effort to recruit new employees to replace those who retire and to fill new jobs as we grow our business. Some areas of Appalachia, most notably in eastern Kentucky, currently have a shortage of skilled labor. Because we have operations in this area, the shortage could make it more difficult to meet our staffing needs and therefore, our results may be adversely affected. Finally, a lack of qualified people may also affect companies that we use to perform certain specialized work. If these companies cannot find enough qualified workers, it may delay projects done for us or increase our costs.
The characteristics of coal may make it difficult for coal users to comply with various environmental standards. These standards are continually under review by international, federal and state agencies, related to coal combustion. As a result, coal users may switch to other fuels, which would affect the volume of CONSOL Energy’s coal sales.
Coal contains impurities, including sulfur, mercury, chlorine and other elements or compounds, many of which are released into the air when coal is burned. Stricter environmental regulations of emissions from coal-fired electric generating plants could increase the costs of using coal, thereby reducing demand for coal as a fuel source, the volume of our coal sales and price. Stricter regulations could make coal a less attractive fuel alternative in the planning and building of utility power plants in the future.
For example, in order to meet the federal Clean Air Act limits for sulfur dioxide emissions from electric power plants, coal users will need to install scrubbers, use sulfur dioxide emission allowances (some of which they may purchase), or switch to other fuels. Each option has limitations. Lower sulfur coal may be more costly to purchase on an energy basis than higher sulfur coal depending on mining and transportation costs. The cost of installing scrubbers is significant and emission allowances may become more expensive as their availability declines. Switching to other fuels may require expensive modification of existing plants. Because higher sulfur coal currently accounts for a significant portion of our sales, the extent to which power generators switch to alternative fuel could materially affect us if we cannot offset the cost of sulfur removal by lowering the delivered costs of our higher sulfur coals on an energy equivalent basis.
Proposed reductions in emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter or greenhouse gases may require the installation of additional costly control technology or the implementation of other measures, including trading of emission allowances and switching to other fuels. The Environmental Protection Agency continues to require reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions in a number of eastern states and the District of Columbia and will require reduction of particulate matter emissions over the next several years for areas that do not meet air quality standards for fine particulates. In addition, Congress and several states may consider legislation to further control air emissions of multiple pollutants from electric generating facilities and other large emitters. Any new or proposed reductions will make it more costly to operate coal-fired plants and could make coal a less attractive fuel alternative to the planning and building of utility power plants in the future. To the extent that any new or proposed requirements affect our customers, this could adversely affect our operations and results.
CONSOL Energy may not be able to produce sufficient amounts of coal to fulfill our customers’ requirements, which could harm our relationships with customers.
CONSOL Energy may not be able to produce sufficient amounts of coal to meet customer demand, including amounts that we are required to deliver under long-term contracts. CONSOL Energy’s inability to satisfy contractual obligations could result in our customers initiating claims against us.
Foreign currency fluctuations could adversely affect the competitiveness of our coal abroad.
We compete in international markets against coal produced in other countries. Coal is sold internationally in U.S. dollars. As a result, mining costs in competing producing countries may be reduced in U.S. dollar terms based on currency exchange rates, providing an advantage to foreign coal producers. Currency fluctuations among countries purchasing and selling coal could adversely affect the competitiveness of our coal in international markets.
Coal mining is subject to conditions or events beyond CONSOL Energy’s control, which could cause our financial results to deteriorate.
CONSOL Energy’s coal mining operations are predominantly underground mines. These mines are subject to conditions or events beyond CONSOL Energy’s control that could disrupt operations and affect production and the cost of mining at particular mines for varying lengths of time. These conditions or events may have a significant impact on our operating results. Conditions or events have included:
- variations in thickness of the layer, or seam, of coal;
- amounts of rock and other natural materials intruding into the coal seam and other geological conditions that could affect the stability of the roof and the side walls of the mine;
- equipment failures or repairs;
- fires and other accidents; and
- weather conditions.
Our mining operations consume significant quantities of commodities, the price of which is determined by international markets. If commodity prices increase significantly or rapidly, it could impact our cost of production.
Coal mines consume large quantities of commodities such as steel, copper, rubber products and liquid fuels. Some commodities, such as steel, are needed to comply with roof control plans required by regulation. The prices we pay for these products are strongly impacted by the global commodities market. A rapid or significant increase in cost of some commodities could impact our mining costs because we have a limited ability to negotiate lower prices, and, in some cases, do not have a ready substitute for these commodities.
For mining and drilling operations, CONSOL Energy must obtain, maintain, and renew governmental permits and approvals, which can be a costly and time consuming process and can result in restrictions on our operations.
Regulatory authorities exercise considerable discretion in the timing and scope of permit issuance. Requirements imposed by these authorities may be costly and time consuming and may result in delays in the commencement or continuation of exploration or production operations. For example, CONSOL Energy often is required to prepare and present to federal, state and local authorities data pertaining to the effect or impact that proposed exploration for or production of coal may have on the environment. Further, the public has the right to comment on and otherwise participate in the permitting process, including through administrative appeals of permits and possibly further appeals in the courts. Accordingly, the permits CONSOL Energy needs may not be issued, or if issued, may not be issued in a timely fashion, or may involve requirements that restrict our ability to conduct our mining or gas operations or to do so profitably.
Proposals to regulate greenhouse gas emissions could impact the market for our fossil fuels, increase our costs, and reduce the value of our coal and gas assets.
Global climate change continues to attract considerable public and scientific attention with widespread concern about the impacts of human activity, especially the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide and methane. Combustion of fossil fuels, such as the coal and gas we produce, results in the creation of carbon dioxide that is currently emitted into the atmosphere by coal and gas end users, such as coal-fired electric generation power plants. Numerous proposals have been made and are likely to continue to be made at the international, national, regional, and state levels of government that are intended to limit emissions of GHGs. Several states have already adopted measures requiring reduction of GHGs within state boundaries. Further regulation of GHGs could occur in the United States pursuant to treaty obligations, regulation under the Clean Air Act, or states enacting new laws and regulations. Internationally, the Kyoto Protocol, which set binding emission targets for developed countries (including the United States but has not been ratified by the United States), expires in 2012 and negotiations are underway for a new protocol. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that the EPA had authority to regulate GHG’s under the Clean Air Act and a number of states have filed lawsuits seeking to force the EPA to adopt GHG regulations. President Obama has pledged to implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and that he would cause the United States to be a world leader on GHG reduction and re-engage with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to develop a global GHG program. Apart from governmental regulation, on February 4, 2008, three of Wall Street’s largest investment banks announced that they had adopted climate change guidelines for lenders to evaluate carbon risks in the financing of utility power plants, which may make it more difficult for utilities to obtain financing for coal-fired plants. If comprehensive laws focusing on GHGs emission reductions were to be enacted by the United States, individual states, in other countries where we sell coal, or if utilities were to have difficulty obtaining financing in connection with coal-fired plants, it may adversely affect the use of and demand for fossil fuels, particularly coal, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.
In July 2008, the EPA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPR”) seeking comments and discussion of the complex issues associated with the possible regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The deadline for comments on the ANPR was November 28, 2008. The EPA sought comments and discussion on: (i) advantages and disadvantages of regulating greenhouse gases under various provisions of the Clean Air Act; (ii) how a decision to regulate greenhouse gases under one provision of the Clean Air Act would lead to regulation under other provisions; (iii) issues relevant to legislation to regulate greenhouse gases and the potential overlap of the Clean Air Act and such future legislation; and (iv) scientific information relevant to, and the issues raised by, an analysis as to whether greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.
Coalbed methane must be expelled from our underground coal mines for mining safety reasons. Coalbed methane enhances the greenhouse gas effect to a greater degree than carbon dioxide. Our gas operations capture coalbed methane from our underground coal mines, although some coalbed methane is vented into the atmosphere when the coal is mined. If regulation of GHG emissions does not exempt the release of coalbed methane, we may have to curtail coal production, pay higher taxes, or incur costs to purchase credits that permit us to continue operations as they now exist at our underground coal mines. The amount of coalbed methane we capture is recorded, on a voluntarily basis, with the U.S Department of Energy. We have recorded the amounts we have captured since the early 1990s and our subsidiary, CNX Gas has registered as an offset provider of credits with the Chicago Climate Exchange. If regulation of GHGs does not give us credit for capturing methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere at our coal mines, any value associated with our historical or future credits would be reduced or eliminated.
Government laws, regulations and other legal requirements relating to protection of the environment, health and safety matters and others that govern our business increase our costs of doing business for both coal and gas, and may restrict our operations.
We are subject to laws, regulations and other legal requirements enacted or adopted by federal, state and local, as well as foreign, authorities relating to protection of the environment and health and safety matters, including those legal requirements that govern discharges of substances into the air and water, the management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, the cleanup of contaminated sites, groundwater quality and availability, plant and wildlife protection, reclamation and restoration of mining or drilling properties after mining or drilling is completed, the installation of various safety equipment in our mines, control of surface subsidence from underground mining and work practices related to employee health and safety. Complying with these requirements, including the terms of our permits, has had, and will continue to have, a significant effect on our costs of operations and competitive position. In addition, we could incur substantial costs, including clean up costs, fines and civil or criminal sanctions and third party damage claims for personal injury, property damage, wrongful death, or exposure to hazardous substances, as a result of violations of or liabilities under environmental and health and safety laws.
For example, the federal Clean Water Act and corresponding state laws affect coal mining and gas operations by imposing restrictions on discharges into regulated surface waters. Permits requiring regular monitoring and compliance with effluent limitations and reporting requirements govern the discharge of pollutants into regulated waters. In combination with existing requirements under the Clean Water Act and corresponding state laws (including those relating to protection of “impaired waters” so designated by individual states through the use of new effluent limitations known as Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) limits; anti-degradation regulations that protect state designated “high quality/exceptional use” streams by restricting or prohibiting “discharges” that result in degradation; and requirements to treat discharges from coal mining properties for non-traditional pollutants, such as chlorides and selenium; and “protecting” streams, wetlands, other regulated water sources and associated riparian lands from the surface impacts of underground mining), may cause CONSOL Energy to incur significant additional costs that could adversely affect our operating results, financial condition and cash flows or may prevent us from being able to mine portions of our reserves. In addition, CONSOL Energy incurs and will continue to incur significant costs associated with the investigation and remediation of environmental contamination under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (Superfund) and similar state statutes and has been named as a potentially responsible party at Superfund sites in the past.
Additionally, the gas industry is subject to extensive legislation and regulation, which is under constant review for amendment or expansion. Any changes may affect, among other things, the pricing or marketing of gas production. State and local authorities regulate various aspects of gas drilling and production activities, including the drilling of wells (through permit and bonding requirements), the spacing of wells, the unitization or pooling of gas properties, environmental matters, safety standards, market sharing and well site restoration. If we fail to comply with statutes and regulations, we may be subject to substantial penalties, which would decrease our profitability.
Our mines are subject to stringent federal and state safety regulations that increase our cost of doing business at active operations, and may place restrictions on our methods of operation. In addition, government inspectors under certain circumstances, have the ability to order our operations to be shut down based on safety considerations.
Stringent health and safety standards were imposed by federal legislation when the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 were adopted. The Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 expanded the enforcement of safety and health standards of the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 and imposed safety and health standards on all (non-coal as well as coal) mining operations. Regulations are comprehensive and affect numerous aspects of mining operations, including training of mine personnel, mining procedures, the equipment used in mine emergency procedures, mine plans and other matters. Several mining accidents at our competitors’ mines that resulted in fatalities in early 2006 led to adoption of additional safety regulations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the adoption in June 2006 of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act of 2006 (“the MINER Act”). The additional requirements of the MINER Act and implementing federal regulations include, among other things, expanded emergency response plans, providing additional quantities of breathable air for emergencies, installation of refuge chambers in underground coal mines, installation of two-way communications and tracking systems for underground coal mines, new standards for sealing mined out areas of underground coal mines, more available mine rescue teams and enhanced training for emergencies. Most states in which CONSOL Energy operates have programs for mine safety and health regulation and enforcement. We believe that the combination of federal and state safety and health regulations in the coal mining industry is, perhaps, the most comprehensive system for protection of employee safety and health affecting any industry. Most aspects of mine operations, particularly underground mine operations, are subject to extensive regulation. The various requirements mandated by law or regulation can place restrictions on our methods of operations, creating a significant effect on operating costs and productivity. In addition, government inspectors under certain circumstances have the ability to order our operation to be shut down based on safety considerations.
CONSOL Energy has reclamation and mine closure obligations. If the assumptions underlying our accruals are inaccurate, we could be required to expend greater amounts than anticipated.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act establish operational, reclamation and closure standards for all aspects of surface mining as well as most aspects of deep mining. CONSOL Energy accrues for the costs of current mine disturbance and of final mine closure, including the cost of treating mine water discharge where necessary. Estimates of our total reclamation and mine-closing liabilities, which are based upon permit requirements and our experience, were approximately $464 million at December 31, 2008. The amounts recorded are dependent upon a number of variables, including the estimated future closure costs, estimated proven reserves, assumptions involving profit margins, inflation rates, and the assumed credit-adjusted risk-free interest rates. Furthermore, these obligations are unfunded. If these accruals are insufficient or our liability in a particular year is greater than currently anticipated, our future operating results could be adversely affected.
CONSOL Energy faces uncertainties in estimating our economically recoverable coal reserves, and inaccuracies in our estimates could result in lowers than expected revenues, higher than expected costs and decreased profitability.
There are uncertainties inherent in estimating quantities and values of economically recoverable coal reserves, including many factors beyond our control. As a result, estimates of economically recoverable coal reserves are by their nature uncertain. Information about our reserves consists of estimates based on engineering, economic and geological data assembled and analyzed by our staff.
Some of the factors and assumptions that impact economically recoverable reserve estimates include:
- geological conditions;
- historical production from the area compared with production from other producing areas;
- the assumed effects of regulations and taxes by governmental agencies;
- assumptions governing future prices; and
- future operating costs, including cost of materials.
Each of these factors may in fact vary considerably from the assumptions used in estimating reserves. For these reasons, estimates of the economically recoverable quantities of coal attributable to a particular group of properties, and classifications of these reserves based on risk of recovery and estimates of future net cash flows, may vary substantially. Actual production, revenues and expenditures with respect to our reserves will likely vary from estimates, and these variances may be material. As a result, our estimates may not accurately reflect our actual reserves.
Fairmont Supply Company, a subsidiary of CONSOL Energy, is a co-defendant in various asbestos litigation cases, which could result in making payments in the future that are material.
One of our subsidiaries, Fairmont Supply Company (Fairmont), which distributes industrial supplies, currently is named as a defendant in approximately 25,000 asbestos claims in state courts in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi and New Jersey. Because a very small percentage of products manufactured by third parties and supplied by Fairmont in the past may have contained asbestos and many of the pending claims are part of mass complaints filed by hundreds of plaintiffs against a hundred or more defendants, it has been difficult for Fairmont to determine how many of the cases actually involve valid claims or plaintiffs who were actually exposed to asbestos-containing products supplied by Fairmont. In addition, while Fairmont may be entitled to indemnity or contribution in certain jurisdictions from manufacturers of identified products, the availability of such indemnity or contribution is unclear at this time and, in recent years, some of the manufacturers named as defendants in these actions have sought protection from these claims under bankruptcy laws. Fairmont has no insurance coverage with respect to these asbestos cases. For the year ended December 31, 2008, payments by Fairmont with respect to asbestos cases have not been material. Our current estimates related to these asbestos claims, individually and in the aggregate, are immaterial to the financial position, results of operations and cash flows of CONSOL Energy. However, it is reasonably possible that payments in the future with respect to pending or future asbestos cases may be material to the financial position, results of operations or cash flows of CONSOL Energy. CONSOL Energy has also been sued in a limited number of asbestos cases in Pennsylvania and Illinois. All involve claims that the plaintiffs developed asbestos-related disease as a result of working with or around asbestos containing products used at mines operated by subsidiaries of Consolidation Coal Company or CONSOL of Kentucky. CONSOL Energy has raised a number of defenses including lack of jurisdiction and that it is not properly named as a party since CONSOL Energy did not own or operate the mines at which the alleged exposures occurred. Discovery is still in the early stages in each matter. The Company believes it is not responsible for these claims, and it will vigorously defend the cases. However, it is reasonably possible that the ultimate liability in the future with respect to these claims may be material to the financial position, results of operations or cash flows of CONSOL Energy.
CONSOL and its subsidiaries are subject to various legal proceedings, which may have a material effect on our business.
We are party to a number of legal proceedings incident to normal business activities. There is the potential that an individual matter or the aggregation of many matters could have an adverse effect on our cash flows, results of operations or financial position. See Note 25 in the Notes to the Audited Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion.
CONSOL Energy has obligations for long-term employee benefits for which we accrue based upon assumptions which, if inaccurate, could result in CONSOL Energy being required to expense greater amounts than anticipated.
CONSOL Energy provides various long-term employee benefits to inactive and retired employees. We accrue amounts for these obligations. At December 31, 2008, the current and non-current portions of these obligations included:
- post retirement medical and life insurance ($2.6 billion);
- coal workers’ black lung benefits ($200.1 million);
- salaried retirement benefits ($196.5 million); and
- workers’ compensation ($159.8 million).
However, if our assumptions are inaccurate, we could be required to expend greater amounts than anticipated. These obligations are unfunded, except for salaried retirement benefits. The 2008 plan year funding ratio was 92%. In addition, several states in which we operate consider changes in workers’ compensation and black lung laws from time to time. Such changes, if enacted, could increase our benefit expense.
Due to our participation in multi-employer pension and benefit plans, we have exposure under those plans that extend beyond what our obligation would be with respect to our employees.
We are obligated to contribute to multi-employer defined benefit plans for UMWA retirees which provides pension, medical and death benefits. In the event of a partial or complete withdrawal by us from any plan that is underfunded, we would be liable for a proportionate share of such plan’s unfunded vested benefits. Based on the limited information available from plan administrators, which we cannot independently validate, we believe that our portion of the contingent liability in the case of a full withdrawal or termination could be material to our financial position and results of operations. In the event that any other contributing employer withdraws from any plan which is underfunded, and such employer (or any member in its controlled group) cannot satisfy their obligations under the plan at the time of withdrawal, then we, along with the other remaining contributing employers, would be liable for our proportionate share of such plan’s unfunded vested benefits.
The minimum funding level requirements of the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (“Pension Act”) applicable to single employer and multi-employer defined benefit pension plans, coupled with significant investment asset losses suffered by such pension plans during the current historic decline in equity markets and the current volatile economic environment, have exposed CONSOL Energy to having to make additional cash contributions to fund the pension benefit plans which we sponsor and the multi-employer pension benefit plans in which we participate.
CONSOL Energy sponsors a defined benefit retirement plan that covers substantially all employees not participating in multi-employer pension plans. For this pension plan, the Pension Act requires a funding target of 100% of the present value of accrued benefits. The Pension Act includes a funding target phase-in provision that establishes a funding target of 92% in 2008, 96% in 2010, and 100% thereafter for the defined benefit pension plan. Any such plan with a funded ratio of less than 80%, or less than 70% using special assumptions, will be deemed to be “at risk” and will be subject to additional funding requirements under the Pension Act. The 2008 plan year funding ratio was 92%. The current volatile economic environment and the rapid deterioration in the equity markets have caused investment income and the value of investment assets held in our pension trust to decline and lose value. As a result, CONSOL Energy may be required to increase the amount of cash contributions it makes into the pension trust in order to meet the funding level requirements of the Pension Act.
Certain subsidiaries of CONSOL Energy also participate in a defined benefit multi-employer pension plan negotiated with the United Mine Workers of America (“UMWA”) and contained in the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (“NBCWA”). The NBCWA currently calls for contribution amounts to be paid into the multi-employer 1974 Pension Trust based principally on hours worked by UMWA-represented employees. The current contribution rates called for by the NBCWA are: $3.50 per hour worked in 2008, $4.25 per hour worked in 2009, $5.00 per hour worked in 2010, and $5.50 per hour worked in 2011. These multi-employer pension plan contributions are expensed as incurred. The Pension Act requires a minimum funding ratio of 80% be maintained for this multi-employer pension plan and if the plan is determined to have a funded ratio of less than 80% it will be deemed to be “endangered,” and if less than 60% it will be deemed to be “critical”, and will in either case be subject to additional funding requirements. Based on an estimated funding percentage of 91.4%, a certification was provided by the multi-employer plan actuary, stating that the plan is in neither “endangered” nor “critical” status for the plan year beginning July 1, 2008. However, the current volatile economic environment and the rapid deterioration in the equity markets have caused investment income and the value of investment assets held in the 1974 Pension Trust to decline and lose value. In the event that an estimate or a certification of the funding ratio were to be performed by the multi-employer pension plan actuary at December 31, 2008, a likely result would be the plan being deemed to be in “endangered” or “critical” status because the funding ratio under the Pension Act would be less than 80%. Such a determination would require certain subsidiaries of CONSOL Energy to make additional contributions pursuant to a funding improvement plan implemented in accordance with the Pension Act and, therefore, could have a material impact our operating results.
If lump sum payments made to retiring salaried employees pursuant to CONSOL Energy’s defined benefit pension plan exceed the total of the service cost and the interest cost in a plan year, CONSOL Energy would need to make an adjustment to operating results equaling the unrecognized actuarial gain or loss resulting from each individual who received a lump sum payment in that year, which may result in an adjustment that could materially reduce operating results.
CONSOL Energy’s defined benefit pension plan for salaried employees allows such employees to receive a lump-sum distribution for benefits earned up through December 31, 2005, in lieu of annual payments when they retire from CONSOL Energy. Statement of Financial Accounting Standards No. 88, “Employers’ Accounting for Settlements and Curtailments of Defined Benefit Pension Plans for the Terminations Benefits,” requires that if the lump-sum distributions made for a plan year, which currently for CONSOL Energy is January 1 to December 31, exceed the total of the service cost and interest cost for the plan year, CONSOL Energy would need to recognize for that year’s results of operations an adjustment equaling the unrecognized actuarial gain or loss resulting from each individual who received a lump sum in that year.
Various federal or state laws and regulations require CONSOL Energy to obtain surety bonds or to provide other assurance of payment for certain of our long-term liabilities including mine closure or reclamation costs, workers’ compensation, coal workers’ black lung and other post employment benefits.
Federal and state laws and regulations require us to obtain surety bonds or provide other assurances to secure payment of certain long-term obligations including mine closure or reclamation costs, water treatment costs, federal and state workers’ compensation costs, and other miscellaneous obligations. The requirements and amounts of security are not fixed and can vary from year to year. It has become increasingly difficult for us to secure new surety bonds or renew such bonds without posting collateral. CONSOL Energy has satisfied our obligations under these statutes and regulations by providing letters of credit or other assurances of payment. The issuance of letters of credit under our bank credit facility reduces amounts that we can borrow under our bank credit facility for other purposes.
Acquisitions that we have completed, acquisitions that we may undertake in the future, as well as expanding existing company mines involve a number of risks, any of which could cause us not to realize the anticipated benefits.
We have completed several acquisitions and mine expansions in the past. We continually seek to grow our business by adding and developing coal and gas reserves through acquisitions; and by expanding the production at existing mines and existing gas operations. If we are unable to successfully integrate the companies, businesses or properties we acquire, our profitability may decline and we could experience a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, or results of operations. Mine expansion, gas operation expansion and acquisition transactions involve various inherent risks, including:
- Uncertainties in assessing the value, strengths, and potential profitability of, and identifying the extent of all weaknesses, risks, contingent and other liabilities (including environmental liabilities) of expansion and acquisition opportunities;
- The potential loss of key customers, management and employees of an acquired business;
- The ability to achieve identified operating and financial synergies anticipated to result from an expansion or an acquisition opportunity;
- Problems that could arise from the integration of the acquired business; and
- Unanticipated changes in business, industry or general economic conditions that affect the assumptions underlying our rationale for pursuing the expansion or the acquisition opportunity.
CONSOL Energy’s rights plan may have anti-takeover effects that could prevent a change of control.
On December 19, 2003, CONSOL Energy adopted a rights plan which, in certain circumstances, including a person or group acquiring, or the commencement of a tender or exchange offer that would result in a person or group acquiring, beneficial ownership of more than 15% of the outstanding shares of CONSOL Energy common stock, would entitle each right holder to receive, upon exercise of the right, shares of CONSOL Energy common stock having a value equal to twice the right exercise price. For example, at an exercise price of $80 per right, each right not otherwise voided would entitle its holders to purchase $160 worth of shares of CONSOL Energy common stock for $80. Assuming that shares of CONSOL Energy common stock had a per share value of $16 at such time, the holder of each right would be entitled to purchase ten shares of CONSOL Energy common stock for $80, or a price of $8 per share, one half its then market price. This and other provisions of CONSOL Energy’s rights plan could make it more difficult for a third party to acquire CONSOL Energy, which could hinder stockholders’ ability to receive a premium for CONSOL Energy stock over the prevailing market prices.
CONSOL Energy faces uncertainties in estimating proved recoverable gas reserves, and inaccuracies in our estimates could result in lower than expected reserve quantities and a lower present value of our reserves.
Natural gas reserve engineering requires subjective estimates of underground accumulations of natural gas and assumptions concerning future natural gas prices, production levels, and operating and development costs. As a result, estimated quantities of proved reserves and projections of future production rates and timing of development expenditures may be incorrect. We have in the past retained the services of independent petroleum engineers to prepare reports of our proved reserves. Over time, material changes to reserve estimates may be made, taking into account the results of actual drilling, testing, and production. Also, we make certain assumptions regarding future natural gas prices, production levels, and operating and development costs that may prove incorrect. Any significant variance from these assumptions to actual figures could greatly affect our estimates of our reserves, the economically recoverable quantities of natural gas attributable to any particular group of properties, the classifications of reserves based on risk of recovery, and estimates of the future net cash flows. Numerous changes over time to the assumptions on which our reserve estimates are based, as described above, often result in the actual quantities of gas we ultimately recover being different from reserve estimates.
The present value of future net cash flows from our proved reserves is not necessarily the same as the current market value of our estimated natural gas reserves. We base the estimated discounted future net cash flows from our proved reserves on prices and costs. However, actual future net cash flows from our gas and oil properties also will be affected by factors such as:
- geological conditions;
- changes in governmental regulations and taxation;
- assumptions governing future prices;
- the amount and timing of actual production;
- future operating costs; and
- capital costs of drilling new wells.
The timing of both our production and incurrence of expenses in connection with the development and production of natural gas properties will affect the timing of actual future net cash flows from proved reserves, and thus their actual present value. In addition, the 10% discount factor we use when calculating discounted future net cash flows may not be the most appropriate discount factor based on interest rates in effect from time to time and risks associated with us or the natural gas and oil industry in general.
Our exploration and development activities may not be commercially successful.
The exploration for and production of gas involves numerous risks. The cost of drilling, completing and operating wells for coalbed methane or other gas is often uncertain, and a number of factors can delay or prevent drilling operations or production, including:
- unexpected drilling conditions;
- title problems;
- pressure or irregularities in geologic formations;
- equipment failures or repairs;
- fires or other accidents;
- adverse weather conditions;
- reductions in natural gas prices;
- pipeline ruptures; and
- unavailability or high cost of drilling rigs, other field services and equipment.
Our future drilling activities may not be successful, and our drilling success rates could decline. Unsuccessful drilling activities could result in higher costs without any corresponding revenues.
We have a limited operating history in certain of our operating natural gas areas, and our increased focus on new development projects in these and other unexplored areas increases the risks inherent in our gas and oil activities.
In 2009 and beyond we plan to conduct testing and development activities in areas where we have little or no proved reserves, such as certain areas in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee. These exploration, drilling and production activities will be subject to many risks, including the risk that coalbed methane or other natural gas is not present in sufficient quantities in the coal seam or target strata, or that sufficient permeability does not exist for the gas to be produced economically. We have invested in property, and will continue to invest in property, including undeveloped leasehold acreage, that we believe will result in projects that will add value over time. Drilling for coalbed methane, other natural gas and oil may involve unprofitable efforts, not only from dry wells but also from wells that are productive but do not produce sufficient net reserves to return a profit after deducting drilling, operating and other costs. We cannot be certain that the wells we drill in these new areas will be productive or that we will recover all or any portion of our investments.
Our natural gas business depends on transportation facilities owned by others. Disruption of, capacity constraints in, or proximity to pipeline systems could limit sales of our gas.
We transport our gas to market by utilizing pipelines owned by others. If pipelines do not exist near our producing wells, if pipeline capacity is limited or if pipeline capacity is unexpectedly disrupted, our gas sales could be limited, reducing our profitability. If we cannot access pipeline transportation, we may have to reduce our production of gas or vent our produced gas to the atmosphere because we do not have facilities to store excess inventory. If our sales are reduced because of transportation constraints, our revenues will be reduced, which will also increase our unit costs. If we cannot obtain transportation capacity and we do not have the ability to store gas, we may have to reduce production. If pipeline quality tariffs change, we might be required to install additional processing equipment which could increase our costs. The pipeline could curtail our flows until the gas delivered to their pipeline is in compliance.
Increased natural gas industry activity may create shortages of field services, equipment and personnel, which may increase our costs and may limit our ability to drill and produce from our natural gas properties.
The demand for well service providers, related equipment, and qualified and experienced field personnel to drill wells and conduct field operations, including geologists, geophysicists, engineers and other professionals in the natural gas and oil industry can fluctuate significantly, often in correlation with natural gas and oil prices, causing periodic shortages. These shortages may lead to escalating prices, the possibility of poor services, inefficient drilling operations, and personnel injuries. Such pressures will likely increase the actual cost of services, extend the time to secure such services and add costs for damages due to accidents sustained from the over use of equipment and inexperienced personnel. Higher oil and natural gas prices generally stimulate increased demand and result in increased prices for drilling equipment, crews and associated supplies, equipment and services. In addition, the costs and delivery times of equipment and supplies are substantially greater in periods of peak demand. Accordingly, we cannot assure that we will be able to obtain necessary drilling equipment and supplies in a timely manner or on satisfactory terms, and we may experience shortages of, or material increases in the cost of, drilling equipment, crews and associated supplies, equipment and services in the future. Any such delays and price increases could adversely affect our ability to pursue our drilling program and our results of operations.
Unless we replace our natural gas reserves, our reserves and production will decline, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Producing natural gas reservoirs generally are characterized by declining production rates that vary depending upon reservoir characteristics and other factors. Because total estimated proved reserves include our proved undeveloped reserves at December 31, 2008, production is expected to decline even if those proved undeveloped reserves are developed and the wells produce as expected. The rate of decline will change if production from our existing wells declines in a different manner than we have estimated and can change under other circumstances. Thus, our future natural gas reserves and production and, therefore, our cash flow and income are highly dependent on our success in efficiently developing and exploiting our current reserves and economically finding or acquiring additional recoverable reserves. We may not be able to develop, find or acquire additional reserves to replace our current and future production at acceptable costs.
We may incur additional costs and delays to produce gas because we have to acquire additional property rights to perfect our title to the gas estate.
Some of the gas rights we believe we control are in areas where we have not yet done any exploratory or production drilling. Most of these properties were acquired by CONSOL Energy primarily for the coal rights, and, in many cases were acquired years ago. While chain of title work for the coal estate was generally fully developed, in many cases, the gas estate title work is less robust. Our practice is to perform a thorough title examination of the gas estate before we commence drilling activities and to acquire any additional rights needed to perfect our ownership of the gas estate for development and production purposes. We may incur substantial costs to acquire these additional property rights and the acquisition of the necessary rights may not be feasible in some cases. Our inability to obtain these rights may adversely impact our ability to develop those properties. Some states permit us to produce the gas without perfected ownership under an administrative process known as “forced pooling,” which require us to give notice to all potential claimants and pay royalties into escrow until the undetermined rights are resolved. As result, we may have to pay royalties to produce gas on acreage that we control and these costs may be material. Further, the forced pooling process is time-consuming and may delay our drilling program in the affected areas.
In addition, although we have the rights to coal, in some cases CONSOL Energy may not possess the rights to extract and produce gas from coal seams and from shale locations. If we are unable in such cases to obtain those rights from their owners, we will not enjoy the rights to develop the coalbed methane with our mining of coal. Our failure to obtain these rights may adversely impact our ability in the future to increase gas production and gas reserves. For example, we have substantial acreage in West Virginia for which we have not reviewed the title to determine what, if any, additional rights would be needed to produce coalbed methane from those locations or the feasibility of obtaining those rights.
Currently the majority of our natural gas producing properties is located in three counties in southwestern Virginia, making us vulnerable to risks associated with having our production concentrated in one area.
The vast majority of our producing properties are geographically concentrated in three counties in Virginia. As a result of this concentration, we may be disproportionately exposed to the impact of delays or interruptions of production from these wells caused by significant governmental regulation, transportation capacity constraints, curtailment of production, natural disasters or interruption of transportation of natural gas produced from the wells in this basin or other events which impact this area.
Our natural gas drilling and production operations require the removal of water from the coal, shale and other strata from which we produce gas. In addition, we must find adequate sources of water to facilitate the drilling and fracturing process. If we are unable to acquire supplies of water for drilling or are unable to dispose of the water we use or remove from the strata at a reasonable cost and within applicable environmental rules, our ability to produce gas commercially and in commercial quantities could be impaired.
Coal, shale and other strata frequently contain water that must be removed in order for the gas to detach from the coal and flow to the wellbore. Our ability to remove and dispose of sufficient quantities of water from the coal seam will determine whether or not we can produce gas in commercial quantities. Also, the cost of water disposal may affect our profitability. We use a substantial amount of water in our gas well drilling operations. Our inability to locate sufficient amounts of water, or dispose of water after drilling, could impact our operations. Moreover, the imposition of new environmental initiatives and regulations could include restrictions on our ability to conduct certain operations such as hydraulic fracturing or disposal of waste, including, but not limited to, produced water, drilling fluids and other wastes associated with the exploration, development or production of natural gas. Furthermore, new environmental regulations governing the withdrawal, storage and use of surface water or groundwater necessary for hydraulic fracturing of wells may also increase operating costs and cause delays, interruptions or termination of operations, the extent of which cannot be predicted, all of which could have an adverse affect on our operations and financial performance.
Coalbed methane and other gas that we produce often contain impurities that must be removed, and the gas must be processed before it can be sold, which can adversely affect our operations and financial performance.
A substantial amount of our gas needs to be processed in order to make it salable to our intended customers. At times, the cost of processing this gas relative to the quantity of gas produced from a particular well, or group of wells, may outweigh the economic benefit of selling that gas. Our profitability may decrease due to the reduced production and sale of gas.
Enactment of a Pennsylvania severance tax on natural gas could adversely impact our results of existing operations and the economic viability of exploiting new gas drilling and production opportunities in Pennsylvania.
As a result of a funding gap in the Pennsylvania state budget due to significant declines in anticipated tax revenues, the Pennsylvania governor has proposed to its legislature the adoption of a wellhead or severance tax on the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania. The amount of the proposed tax is 5 percent of the value of the natural gas at wellhead plus 4.7 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas severed. In Pennsylvania we have rights in significant acreage for coalbed methane and other natural gas extraction on which we have drilled and expect to continue to drill producing wells. In 2008, 12%, or 9.1 bcf, of our production was from Pennsylvania. In addition, a significant amount of our Marcellus shale play acreage is in Pennsylvania. We cannot predict whether Pennsylvania will adopt any such tax, nor if adopted the rate of tax. If Pennsylvania adopts such a tax, it could adversely impact our results of existing operations and the economic viability of exploiting new gas drilling and production opportunities in Pennsylvania.
Our hedging activities may prevent us from benefiting from price increases and may expose us to other risks.
To manage our exposure to fluctuations in the price of natural gas, we enter into hedging arrangements with respect to a portion of our expected production. As of December 31, 2008, we had hedges on approximately 41.9 Bcf of our targeted 2009 natural gas production. To the extent that we engage in hedging activities, we may be prevented from realizing the benefits of price increases above the levels of the hedges.
In addition, such transactions may expose us to the risk of financial loss in certain circumstances, including instances in which:
- our production is less than expected;
- the counterparties to our contracts fail to perform the contracts; or
- the creditworthiness of our counterparties or their guarantors is substantially impaired.
If our gas hedges would no longer qualify for hedge accounting, we will be required to mark them to market and recognize the adjustments through current year earnings. This may result in more volatility in our income in future periods.