Having helped lead the natural gas shale revolution, Chesapeake Energy Corp. is working to tie down the acreage it won during that battle; convince lawmakers and consumers of the bounty that was won; and build its position for the next energy resource revolution in natural gas liquids-rich and oil plays.
The "gas revolution" has been a game changer for consumers, Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon told attendees at Bentek Energy LLC's Benposium in Houston Thursday. Domestic onshore production from gas shales has helped harden the gas industry against the threat of hurricanes and it has driven down gas prices and is reducing gas price volatility, McClendon said. All this has been good for consumers, but will there be a similar game-changing renaissance on the oil side? Chesapeake hopes to be a part of whatever comes to pass.
Up until about two years ago gas was all that Chesapeake cared about, McClendon admitted. The "original unconventional company" is nearly a pure-play gas producer. About 92% of its production is natural gas. It is the most active driller in the United States, drilling one out of every eight wells in the United States, McClendon said.
But over the last two years Chesapeake has been working to figure out the "moveability of oil through shales" and has identified 12 new oil plays where it has had drilling success, McClendon said.
But until about the end of 2012/beginning of 2013 Chesapeake will be drilling to hold its acreage, particularly in the Haynesville Shale of North Louisiana. Of the unconventional producers, Chesapeake probably has the most work ahead of it in this regard, McClendon said. But the labor will pay off, even if Wall Street doesn't recognize it, he said.
Chesapeake is running 35 rigs in the Haynesville. "If I had my druthers, we'd be running no more than a couple," McClendon said. But worse than drilling so furiously in a low-price environment would be having to sacrifice leases for failure to drill. Drill today and hold 640 acres forever is the rationale, he said.
The super-independent is creating an enormous call value by drilling to hold its acreage, McClendon said. In the future it will have the option to bring production online from the inventory it is establishing today when prices are more attractive.
"We're given no value [by Wall Street], really, for most of the upside that we control."
The Oklahoma City, OK-based company is not alone. Most producers wouldn't be drilling in most plays today if they didn't have to do so to hold acreage, McClendon said. "You'd be surprised how much drilling is not voluntary today."
While the Haynesville, Marcellus, Fayetteville and Eagle Ford shales are in their ascendancy, the Barnett Shale is in decline, McClendon said. Many would like to find the next Barnett, and they're willing to scour the globe in the hope of securing just such a prize. McClendon said he's looked and hasn't seen much that would work.
To replicate the success of the Barnett, for instance, requires good rock, reasonable commercial terms, some rule of law, some indigenous gas demand and some indigenous gas transportation infrastructure, McClendon said.
"When you stack those five things the world actually gets kind of small..." he said. "From what I have seen in the last two years I wouldn't have a fear that the world is about to be overrun by unconventional shale gas anytime soon."
So U.S. consumers and lawmakers should be thankful for what's in their own backyard. McClendon said he and others active in America's Natural Gas Alliance are working to convince lawmakers of the value of the gas in the states they represent. The independent producer noted how certain lawmakers will often describe themselves as representing "coal states." It's time that "natural gas state" lawmakers started stepping up, he said.
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