North American oil and natural gas producers are in the “middle to latter stages of the land grab” for unconventional properties, but there still will be opportunities down the road for others to pitch a claim, said Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Inc.’s (TPH) Bobby Tudor.

Tudor discussed his firm’s take on what’s ahead for the unconventional oil and gas industry at IHS CERAWeek 2013 in Houston.

“In regards to the land grab, if you will, this is the first stage of the whole movement,” he said. “I would say we’re now in the middle to latter stages of the land grab, which is to say that the major players for the most part have staked out their positions in the various unconventional basins in North America…

“That’s not completely true, but it’s well on its way to being rule,” Tudor said.

The operators now are “going to move into a new phase in the unconventional game, which is going to be that of development of these resources.” The development will center on driving down the cost curve to produce the resources. “That will be the next big, important movement.”

Already, many operators are posting significant reductions in costs to produce tight oil and gas and shale resources, said the TPH chief. “A big driver of the rate of return is the cost of drilling the wells,” said Tudor. “The history, certainly in the industry, is that the cost gets driven down, typically by new technology…We certainly would expect that to be the case this time.”

The next three years will be different from the past three years, he said.

“I think it will be different in that there will be fewer new entrants to these basins. There will be some rationalization, and that happens among the players that have entered the basins…and the size [of the leaseholds], which is to say they will be divesting themselves of the bits they don’t think they will get to over time and that will allow opportunities for new entrants…

“But on the whole, capital and industry have to look at some other places than just to the North American unconventional game for growth,” said Tudor. “The million dollar question is ‘where?'”

According to the analyst, there still are some finds in North America, particularly in Canada, were vast acreage is “much less well developed today than in the Lower 48…So we would expect to see a lot of activity in Canada.”

Beyond North America, TPH’s expectation is for unconventional activity to increase, in some areas slightly and more “dramatically” in Australia, China and Latin America. Those three areas are expected to see a lot of unconventional activity, as well as a “high degree of conventional activity” in eastern and western Africa.

“We think this is particularly true for larger companies,” he said. “The returns they see on those projects are very competitive with anything they see in the North American unconventional game.”

North America has been “the only game in the last three or four years,” said Tudor. “We think that’s about to shift a little bit to something that looks more like the historical pattern of North America being active but other parts of the world being very active as well.”