The Bakken isn’t the Only Big Shale Oil Play

by David Fessler, Investment U Senior Analyst
Friday, November 11, 2011

A few days ago, I wrote about the incredible growth in the liquid portion of North Dakota’s Bakken formation.

If you want the short version, read on. The Bakken is an oil- and natural gas-rich formation covering a 200,000 square mile area encompassing parts of Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. According to an April 2008 survey by the USGS, it’s estimated to contain as much as 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable reserves.

While initially drilling activity was slow and drill rigs were sparse, it eventually picked up. Rapid growth ensued starting in 2006, and continues to the present day.

The reason production saw such a rapid rise was the introduction of horizontal drilling and fracking, similar to what’s fueled the meteoric rise of other oil and natural gas shale plays.

The Eagle Ford Play: Another Spindletop for Texas?

The same thing is happening in the Eagle Ford in southern Texas. Initially, the play was developed for the natural gas it potentially contained, estimated to be about 150 trillion cubic feet.

But the real reason companies are flocking to the play is the potential oil it contains. According to the Eagle Ford Shale Blog, estimates of oil reserves are as high as 900 million barrels of oil equivalent.

That has companies moving rigs from the gas parts of the plays and other regions of the country to drill in the oil-rich part of the play. Take a look at the graphic below. You can see the Eagle Ford play is comprised of three “windows.” A dry gas window, a mixture of wet gas and condensate, and a section that’s mostly oil.

Eagle Ford Shale Drilling 2009

You can see most of the drilling just two years ago was occurring in the wet gas area of the play, with only a few wells drilled in the oil-rich part of the field. Now let’s take a look at a current view of drilling activity in the graph below.

Eagle Ford Shale Drilling 2011

You can clearly see that while there are more wells in the wet gas area, much of the current activity has shifted to the oil-rich section of the play. That will continue to be the case with the Eagle Ford, just as it has been with the Bakken.

As oil prices continue to rise and natural gas prices remain at near historic lows, companies are rapidly shifting their capital dollars to drill for oil.

Some are predicting that the development of the Eagle Ford could be the most significant economic development in the history of Texas. If the number of drilling permits being issued is any indication, those predictions could turn out to be correct.

The number jumped to 1,010 in 2010, up from just 94 in 2009, a 10-fold increase.

Who’s Active in the Eagle Ford?

The Eagle Ford players are essentially a who’s who in the energy business. Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE: CHK) has the most acreage, at 600,000. Chesapeake sold a 33 percent share of its stake to CNOOC of China for $1.08 billion.

EOG Resources, Inc. (NYSE: EOG) is next, with 520,000. The third-largest player is Apache Corporation (NYSE: APA), with 450,000 acres.

Petrohawk Energy Corporation was one of the largest operators in the Eagle Ford. In July of this year, it was acquired by BHP Billiton Limited (NYSE: BHP).

Any of the top three players is a great way to invest in the Eagle Ford. Buy on big dips, and you will be rewarded in the long run.

Good investing,

David Fessler