By 2020 exploration and development across the Marcellus Shale could generate more than $6 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue and employ up to 300,000 people across the region, according to Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson.

Watson, who spoke to the Greater Houston Partnership last Wednesday, said economic growth in the shale play and others across North America has resulted from advances in technology. And energy companies still haven’t reached their potential.

Ten years ago the Marcellus Shale’s “size was unknown, and its resources seemed well beyond reach,” he said. “Since then, the Marcellus has been estimated to be one of the largest natural gas resources in the world. And technology has now been developed to tap that resource — safely, efficiently and economically.”

Gas from the Marcellus Shale, “along with other major shale resources like the Barnett and Haynesville formations in Texas, as well as the advances we’ve made in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, have the potential to transform the energy equation in the United States,” Watson told the audience. “This is an energy opportunity like no other — demanding the best engineering talent and the highest environmental standards. In other words, it’s a job for Americans. And the time to get moving is right now.”

Chevron already is on the move. Last November the San Ramon, CA-based major acquired Atlas Energy Inc.’s million-acre-plus U.S. leasehold in a deal that when closed in February totaled close to $5 billion (see Daily GPI, Feb. 10 and Shale Daily, Nov. 10, 2010). The Atlas deal gave Chevron close to 486,000 net acres in the Marcellus and 623,000 in the promising Utica Shale. The Atlas transaction also gave it 370,000 net acres in Michigan’s Antrim Shale, 120,000 in the Chattanooga Shale of Tennessee and 123,000 acres in Ohio’s New Albany Shale.

This year Chevron acquired another 228,00 net acres in the Marcellus from privately held Chief Oil & Gas LLC and related entity Tug Hill Inc.; financial details were not disclosed (see Shale Daily, May 5).

The Chevron chief said he would “match the ingenuity and know-how of my industry with any other. Our best minds are overcoming some steep obstacles, especially in deepwater production. The work our industry is doing in the deepwater about 120 miles offshore here is one of the greatest deployments of technology in our history. How we develop new technology and apply it to our business is something we focus on a great deal at Chevron. And we’ve found the best approach to doing that is through collaboration and partnership.”

One of Chevron’s research partners is Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Chevron also recently partnered with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California “to jointly develop technology that can benefit energy production. These partnerships have the potential to make a significant contribution to America’s energy future…Los Alamos and NASA are just two examples of the investments we’re making in the future of energy.”

This year Chevron expects to spend “more than $7 billion in capital investments in the United States and $26 billion worldwide. Our colleagues across the industry have been quite busy themselves. This year, worldwide, capital investments made by energy companies will approach half a trillion dollars.

Investment on that order, he said, “is a powerful driver of growth and job creation, and my industry is primed to make even more. We’ll do the investing, hiring, exploring and producing, if only the policymakers will let us do so. Even the best of energy companies can perform only as well as the legal and regulatory environment allows.”

The United States is poised for an “energy renaissance” that would free it from independence on foreign energy supplies and create thousands of jobs, but it won’t happen without federal policies that expand domestic access to resources and give companies more regulatory clarity, Watson said.

“Even the best of energy companies can perform only as well as the legal and regulatory environment allows…We could achieve great things if America had a rational, robust and comprehensive energy policy,” said Watson, but “contradictory” federal policies have moved the nation in the opposite direction.

Watson also took issue with suggestions that oil and gas producer tax subsidies be discarded. “The suggestion is that an industry paying an effective tax rate of 43%, or about $86 million a day in taxes, royalties and fees, is somehow not paying its full share.

“What is actually at issue here are fundamental provisions of the tax code that apply to all manufacturers — thousands of companies…To single out one category of manufacturers — the large U.S. oil companies — for punitive tax treatment is neither consistent nor fair.”