Because an “all-time high level” of uncompleted natural wells in the Haynesville Shale await a tie-in to pipelines, don’t expect an immediate drop-off in incremental supply as the rig count drops, analysts with Raymond James & Associates Inc. said in a note Monday.

“Hopefully, the resilient production profile of 2008 made that point perfectly clear,” wrote analyst J. Marshall Adkins and his team. “In this case, we’re not simply alluding to the infrastructure-related three [to] four month lag between rig count changes and when production actually hits the market. Or even the overall high-grading of the natural gas rig count.”

Instead, focus on the uncompleted wells awaiting a hook-up, they wrote.

The overall decline in the Haynesville Shale rig count, which is down around 40 rigs from the June 2010 peak, has had “very little impact” on the uncompleted well inventory, which has remained fairly level since at between 450 and 500 wells, noted the analysts.

According to their calculations, the current uncompleted well count in the shale play equates to first-year production rates — not initial production rates. Average volumes from the uncompleted well count over the entire first year of production were estimated at more than 2 Bcf/d.

“That’s a meaningful amount of supply waiting behind pipe,” said Adkins and his colleagues. “Thus, even if producers stop punching holes in the ground in the play (which recent permitting trends would certainly show is not going to be the case), the oil patch (or rather, gas patch) is likely to have its hands full completing wells for quite some time; and the resulting supply should underpin the overall growth curve.”

By itself the backlog of wells “would be able to keep production levels flat in the Haynesville during 2011 even if drillers completely shut down operations today.” And that’s just in the Haynesville Shale. “Halliburton estimates that there are currently over 3,000 uncompleted wells in the U.S.”

Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar said last October there would be 2,500-3,000 uncompleted wells in North America by the end of 2010, a backlog that was expected to continue for up to a year (see Daily GPI, Oct. 19, 2010).

In addition to the uncompleted well count, other factors also may keep domestic gas supplies strong, noted the Raymond James team.

“Liquids-rich plays still throw off a lot of gas,” they noted. “Over the past year rigs have been slowly migrating out of the older gas shales (such as the Barnett, Fayetteville and Woodford) and moving into the more liquids-rich plays” such as the Granite Wash, Eagle Ford and Cana Woodford. “We have found that the relevance of these plays for U.S. gas supply is often underestimated by investors…

“This makes sense given that the drilling economics in these plays are based far more heavily on the price of oil and natural gas liquids and as such, dry gas is viewed more as a byproduct.”

However, from a supply standpoint, noted the analysts, “the reality is that the dry gas component of these liquids-rich plays is multiples higher than the conventional vertical gas wells. In many cases, these liquids-rich plays have more associated dry gas than even the Barnett or Fayetteville plays.”

In addition, increased drilling efficiencies have cut drilling times and costs, they noted. “In other words, the increased productivity of rigs on a per-well basis requires fewer overall rigs to drill the same amount of wells.”

Drilling days over the 2006-2010 period for shale plays “declined despite increasingly longer lateral lengths. These efficiencies have translated quickly to the newer gassy plays (Haynesville, Marcellus, Eagle Ford, Cana Woodford), and we only expect producers to move faster up the learning curve.”

Why will producers continue to learn faster?

The Haynesville Shale, noted the analysts, recently passed the Barnett Shale as the top gas-producing shale play in the United States, “now producing 5.5 Bcf/d after just two years of large-scale production” (see Shale Daily, March 22). “It took Barnett production nearly a decade to top the 5 Bcf/d mark. So…next up on deck…Marcellus Shale?”