An official with Range Resources Corp. said he believes the federal government will eventually allow the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) but cautioned that the industry shouldn’t be complacent and just assume exports will be approved.

“Congress today is very much in favor of capitalism, entrepreneurship and seeing manufacturing and our industry make a lot of money by introducing international markets,” Range COO Ray Walker told attendees of Hart Energy’s DUG East Conference in Pittsburgh on Thursday. “I think that’s the approach that will win out. Most people, when they just use a little bit of common sense and think about it, will realize that there’s no other way to do it. It’s not a big deal and we ought to encourage [exports].

“But one thing we as industry cannot do is just sit back and assume it’s going to be OK. We have to get out there and address some of those issues. We have got to work with Congress and give them the support they need. We have got to educate the public. Commercials, ad campaigns, all of those sorts of things are really critical. And you’re starting to see big industry organizations — like ANGA, IPAA and API — beginning to tackle that.”

Walker predicted that natural gas production would remain steady and largely unaffected by fluctuations in the nation’s rig count.

“The industry is getting a whole lot better every day that goes by,” Walker said. “We’re becoming more efficient, and we’re doing more with less. We drill a lot more footage of lateral today with the same rig, in most cases twice what we did a couple years ago. We frack a lot more wells per day, and frack crews are a lot more efficient. We also sometimes overlook that our geology groups are all becoming very much aware of reservoir description attributes. You’re seeing that we continue to make better and better wells, and in all of these shale plays the decline rates are far less than we thought.

“[But] what this industry really needs to do is create more demand for our product. If we’re going to see prices go up, that’s where it’s going to come from.”

Walker also predicted that natural gas production in the Appalachian Basin would surpass Qatar’s North Field within a couple years and would have higher reserves “in the not too distant future.

“You’ll see numbers like we’ve seen previously in the Marcellus, 400-500 Tcf,” Walker said. “But you have to remember that is only the Marcellus. We’re beginning to recognize that the Utica has a lot of potential. There could be some tremendous reserves there. As an industry we’re also drilling a lot more wells into the Upper Devonian, so it’s essentially a double. So if you take 400-500 Tcf in the Marcellus and add those additional formations and their stacked pay potential, there’s no question that the Appalachian Basin could be much larger than the North Field.”

The COO said producers were still trying to figure out the optimal well spacing in the Marcellus.

“Most people are in the 700-1,500 feet range as far as spacing between laterals,” Walker said. “One of the things that we all get caught in the trap of is thinking that the Marcellus is the Marcellus everywhere. This basin is huge, and even in just a few miles it changes substantially. When you think about things in Greene County at one corner and Susquehanna County at the other corner, it’s vastly different. There will be areas where [laterals] will be very closely spaced, and there will be areas where they may be much farther apart, like 2,000 feet.”

Walker said Range remains a competitive force despite the arrival of the majors, both domestic and foreign.

“The reason that the majors are all coming here is just confirmation of how big this resource is,” Walker said. “When you look at a Shell or a Chevron or even an Exxon, it takes a lot to move the needle at those companies. Now they’re beginning to see that these resource-type plays can in fact move their needle. That’s good news for all of us. They’re coming in, and there’s going to be more technology, more money, more resources and a lot more of an integrated look at midstream and downstream markets.

“The way we compete with that is we stick to our core operating strategies: growth, production and reserves on a per-share debt-adjusted basis. We keep our balance sheet strong and simple and we are good stewards to the environment. It’s one thing to just comply with regulations; it’s another thing to go a little bit beyond and try to develop best practices and new ways to do things. If you can continue to do that, you will end up being a low-cost producer.”

He added that industry consolidation has “ebbed and flowed in my career. At certain times it makes sense and at other times it doesn’t and you don’t see it happening. I can’t say if it’s good or bad. I think it’s just part of our industry. It’s very entrepreneurial by nature, and you get a lot of people that like to start things, build things and then they want to cash out and do it again.”