Independent producers are playing an increasingly more important role in Texas and its energy future after drilling 96% of the oil and gas wells in 2006, according to a study conducted by the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TAEP).

The independents also produced 88% of the natural gas and 92% of the crude oil in Texas last year, according to the alliance. In 2005, the independents produced 86% of the gas and 90% of the oil in the state.

"Contrary to the popular public perception in Washington and across the country, Big Oil isn't very big when it comes to onshore oil and gas drilling and production in Texas," said TAEP President Alex Mills. "It is small business -- the independent -- that keeps the oil and gas industry moving forward in Texas."

Even though the number of independents has declined drastically, independents still are responsible for most of the drilling activity in Texas.

According to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC), oil and gas companies operating in Texas produced a total of 344.4 million bbl of oil last year. Six integrated companies -- Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Mobil Production Co., ExxonMobil Corp., Shell Oil Corp. and BP plc -- produced 29.8 million boe in 2006, down 15% from 34.7 million boe in 2005.

The six integrateds' natural gas production also fell last year, down 9.5% to around 5.7 Bcf from 6.2 Bcf in 2005.

TRRC records show that within the last 20 years, 10,593 operators are no longer in the oil business or have merged with other companies. Currently, 6,982 operators filed production with the TRRC, which is down from 17,575 in 1986.

The TAEP has more than 3,000 members in 300 cities and 25 states.

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