A deal is on the table and could be completed in the coming weeks to bring in a partner to develop the Eagle Ford Shale, an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. executive said Thursday.

The management team at the Woodlands, TX-based independent last year hinted that adding a joint venture (JV) partner to help defray costs in the South Texas play was a possibility (see Daily GPI, July 8, 2010). Anadarko has a leasehold there that encompasses close to 400,000 gross acres.

"We're very pleased with this tentative agreement that we've reached and hope to have a definitive agreement to discuss with you in the coming weeks on the Eagle Ford," President Al Walker said during a conference call with financial analysts and investors.

Early last year the producer clinched a JV deal with Japan's Mitsui & Co. Ltd. worth an estimated $1.4 billion to help develop the Marcellus Shale (see Daily GPI, Feb. 17, 2010). The structure of that JV is one Anadarko prefers, said Walker.

The Mitsui JV allowed Mitsui E&P USA LLC to earn about 100,000 net acres in the Marcellus leasehold in exchange for funding 100% of 2010 development costs and 90% of the development costs after, with an estimated completion of the obligations by 2012. In addition, Mitsui would have the opportunity to purchase a one-third stake in existing wells and new acreage acquisitions by reimbursing a proportionate share of Anadarko's prior expenditures, which in early 2010 were estimated to be $100 million.

Bringing on a partner would help Anadarko double its drilling activity in the Eagle Ford, Walker told analysts. Anadarko wants to double drilling activity in the play to more than 200 wells in 2011. Estimated ultimate recoveries (EUR) are on average producing more than 450,000 boe per well.

Anadarko also continues to enhance well performance in the Marcellus Shale, where EURs are trending toward the higher end of the company's previous estimates of 4-6 Bcf/well. Ten rigs are scheduled to be in operation in the play this year; Anadarko also expects to participate in more than 250 wells.

"The Marcellus will continue to be the only domestic dry natural gas field where the company will be actively drilling, due to the play's proximity to premium natural gas markets that enhance the already robust economics," said CEO Jim Hackett.

More investments are on the table in several emerging onshore oil plays, Hackett said. These include the Bone Spring, Avalon Shale and Wolfcamp plays in the Permian Basin of West Texas, and the horizontal Niobrara Shale play, primarily within the company's land grant acreage in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

Capital spending this year is expected to be up from 2010 to $5.6-6 billion from $5.17 billion. More than half of the total is for U.S. onshore operations; 10% of total spending will target Marcellus and Eagle Ford shales. Estimated spending doesn't include development through the company's controlling interest in Western Gas Partners LP.

"This level of spending reflects the net benefit of our existing JV agreement in the Marcellus and also assumes the near-term completion of a similar agreement in the Eagle Ford," said Hackett. "During 2011 Anadarko plans to continue accelerating growth in the shale plays and, by the end of the year, expects shale production to account for approximately 10% of the company's total daily sales volumes."