Shale and liquids-rich production will be the primary focus for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. this year, with dry natural gas efforts receiving less than 10% of its 2012 exploration and production budget, the Houston-based company said Tuesday.

Total 2012 capital expenditures (capex) are expected to be $6.6-6.9 billion, with 55% of that amount dedicated to U.S. onshore -- with a focus on liquids-rich opportunities in the Wattenberg field, Eagle Ford Shale, Permian Basin and emerging liquids-rich East Texas area -- 25% to international, 10% to the Gulf of Mexico and 10% to midstream/other, Anadarko officials said at the super independent's annual investors conference in The Woodlands, TX.

Anadarko has doubled the number of identified drill sites in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas to about 4,000 and increased its estimated net resources in the field to more than 600 million boe. The company plans to run 10 operated rigs in the Eagle Ford and expand its midstream infrastructure this year to align with anticipated production growth. Anadarko has identified more than 450 drill sites with strong economics and an estimated 300 million boe of net resources in the Carthage area of East Texas, where it plans to operate six to eight rigs and drill approximately 75 wells this year.

In the Wattenberg field of northeastern Colorado, where the company has identified net resources of between 500 million and 1.5 billion boe in its Wattenberg HZ program, Anadarko plans to increase the number of operated rigs from six horizontal rigs currently to eight by the middle of this year. Anadarko is the largest producer in the Wattenberg, where last year it acquired the Wattenberg Processing Plant (see Shale Daily, Nov. 16, 2011).

"It's clear what we want to do in this type of environment is put as much as we possibly can into the Wattenberg and Eagle Ford type of investments, and that's what we're doing," said Senior Vice President Chuck Meloy, who runs worldwide operations for Anadarko. "We're going to jam as much capital investment into those assets as is reasonable given the constraints of those assets, and then we work our way down the stack."

Anadarko said it has increased average well recoveries in the Marcellus Shale to about 8 Bcf per well and has continued to improve efficiencies, resulting in a 30% reduction in drilling cycle times compared with 2010. Given current market conditions, the company expects the number of rigs (operated and nonoperated) in the play to decrease from 21 to 13 over the course of the year.

CFO Robert Gwin said Anadarko is considering a joint venture (JV) for some of its holdings in the Denver-Julesburg Basin and has an initial agreement for a JV for its Salt Creek enhanced oil recovery project.

Last month Anadarko said its shale operations in the United States grew substantially last year, and its emphasis at home will continue to be on shales and liquids-rich production (see Shale Daily, Feb. 8). It is the latest in a growing line of companies transitioning from dry natural gas targets to more liquids-rich plays due to market economics. ExxonMobil Corp. is scooping up more liquids-weighted land and has begun to shift some of its natural gas development to more oily plays (see Shale Daily, March 9). QEP Resources Inc. has said it will devote most of its 2012 capex to crude oil and liquids-rich natural gas plays (see Shale Daily, Feb. 27), Range Resources Corp. will focus 75% of its capital budget on liquids-rich plays in Appalachia and the Midcontinent (see Shale Daily, Feb. 23a) and Chesapeake Energy Corp. will focus on liquids and oil until gas prices strengthen (see Shale Daily, Feb. 23b).

Anadarko and two other sponsors of the proposed Texas Express Pipeline (TEP) last week said shippers have stepped up for long-term contracts for capacity and the natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline project will move forward (see Shale Daily, March 7). Originating near Skellytown in Carson County, TX, the 20-inch diameter TEP mainline would run 580 miles to Enterprise's NGL fractionation and storage complex at Mont Belvieu, TX, and would provide access to other third-party facilities in the area.