US shale gas deposits were known to have existed for decades. The problem was how to turn them into flowing wells. The natural gas was tightly compressed into small pockets in virtually impermeable rock. In the late 1990s, a small company called Mitchell Energy figured out how to fracture the rock and get the gas flowing. That happened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a gas deposit known as the Barnett shale.
Another deposit off to the northeast was known as the Haynesville shale, most of which is located in northwestern Louisiana with related deposits into southwestern Arkansas and east Texas. As exploration developed in the Haynesville shale, the estimated size of the resource was calculated at more than 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s more than enough to supply the entire US consumption of natural gas for 10 years at current rates. The Haynesville shale is believed to be the largest natural gas reservoir in North America.
Drilling began in the Haynesville shale in about 2008 and the area is now dotted with wells drilled by more than two dozen companies. The following list names the 15 largest publicly traded companies by their net acreage holdings in the Haynesville shale as reported on their 2009 annual reports. Net acreage is equal to wholly-owned leases plus participation shares in jointly held leases.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) – 514,425 net acres
EnCana Corp. (NYSE: ECA) – 429,000 net acres
EOG Resources, Inc. (NYSE: EOG) – approximately 370,000 net acres
Petrohawk Energy Corp. (NYSE: HK) – 360,000 net acres
Forest Oil Corp. (NYSE: FST) – 250,098 net acres
Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) – 166,000 net acres
EXCO Resources Inc. (NYSE: XCO) – 155,945 net acres
Plains Exploration & Production Co. (NYSE: PXP) – 111,000 net acres
Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: GDP) – 84,859 net acres
Comstock Resources Inc. (NYSE: CRK) – 72,638 net acres
St. Mary Land & Exploration Co. (NYSE: SM) – approximately 41,000 acres
El Paso Corp. (NYSE: EP) – approximately 40,000 net acres
Continental Resources Inc. (NYSE: CLR) – 24,200 net acres
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE: COG) – 5,852 net acres
Plains also owns 20% of Chesapeake’s interest in the Haynesville shale. Exxon got its share of the play with its purchase last year of XTO Energy.
Three pipeline companies also have extensive operations in the Haynesville play. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners, L.P. (NYSE: KMP) owns a 50% share of a joint venture with PetroHawk, which owns and operates a pipeline and gathering system that will handle more than 800 million cubic feet/day by the end of 2010. Energy Transfer Partners L.P. (NYSE: ETP) is completing the Tiger Pipeline, a 175-mile, 42-inch interstate pipeline that will interconnect with other interstate pipelines to haul the gas to the east and northeast US. DCP Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: DPM) owns and operates some 4,660 miles of gathering and transport pipeline in the Haynesville play.
Oil field services companies also participate by providing the high pressure pumping systems and fluids that break up the shales and allow the gas to flow to the surface. Halliburton Co. (NYSE: HAL), Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB), and Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE: BHI) are among the players here.
The fracturing techniques and the fluids used to force the cracking have come under some scrutiny. The services companies have long held that their fluid formulas are proprietary, and they have refused to give up the exact formulas for the fluids. Some localities and environmental groups are trying to force the companies to release the formulas in order to determine if the chemicals are making their way into local drinking water supplies.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) has recently introduced a new mobile fracking solution in what appears to be a giant opportunity in what the company called “energy efficient, fully transportable, cost effective and that it will enable onsite frac water recycling.”
Haynesville and other natural gas regions have been highlighted in many documentaries and many articles of late. Some are favorable, some are very critical. T. Boone Pickens and others are also touting natural gas as the bridge fuel that can get America off of foreign energy dependence. This is work in progress with an unfinished outcome. There are billions upon billions of dollars at stake.