Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s decision to increase its natural gas drilling in the Haynesville Shale this year may have startled some investors, but the gaggle of government approvals for proposed natural gas export facilities on the Gulf Coast may be playing right into the Oklahoma City operator’s wheelhouse.

It may take a year or three before any of the proposed Gulf Coast export facilities are fully permitted and operational, but Chesapeake already plans to raise as many as nine rigs in its East Texas/North Louisiana operations (see Shale Daily, Feb. 6).

Chesapeake long ago put in place the largest acreage position in the Haynesville Shale at about 570,000 gross acres, said Motley Fool’s Mark Holder. The gas is deep in the shale, up to 13,500 feet below the surface, covering about 9,000 square miles. Well before drilling technologies advanced, technically recoverable resources were estimated at 251 Tcf.

The company now operates about 700 producing wells in the play and plans to use up to nine rigs this year.

“The company has an inventory of approximately 4,500 wells based on 80-acre spacing,” said Holder. “The key, though, is the expected reduction in drilling costs for a well from over $10 million back in 2012 to around $8 million in 2014. Combined with sufficient pipeline and takeaway capacity already in place, the shale might finally have some advantages over the more prolific Marcellus Shale.”

Chesapeake’s capital expenditure budget this year is set at $5.6 billion, and the Haynesville is set to receive 10% of it — as much as the liquids-rich northern section of the Marcellus.

Encana Corp., also an early mover in the Haynesville, stands to gain from gas exports as well. Like Chesapeake, the onshore operator has cut back on its gas spending, but in 2011 it was touting the potential for liquefied natural gas exports using Haynesville gas (see Shale Daily, Nov. 8, 2011). Last year the Calgary independent tiptoed back into the play with one rig (see Shale Daily, April 24, 2013).

“The Haynesville Shale is in an advantageous position with the proximity to the Louisiana coast, but the other prolific shale plays also have numerous infrastructure problems,” said Holder. Proposed liquids pipelines from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast, such as the Bluegrass pipeline sponsored by Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners LP, won’t be finished until 2017 or 2018, he said, “providing limited ability to even ship natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to fulfill the growing demands of the Gulf Coast.

The natural gas sector today has many moving parts, and it’s never a certainty what may happen in two years, said Holder.

“One certainty is that natural gas demand around the Gulf Coast is set to surge due to exports and manufacturing facilities under construction, leaving producers from the Haynesville Shale positioned to prosper from the increase in demand. Chesapeake Energy is the best positioned producer in that region, and the company is starting to increase drilling in order to situate itself for the growing demand.”