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Eagle Ford a contender for top U.S. play

By Vicki Vaughan

Highly productive wells and the vast size of the Eagle Ford Shale are combining to make the South Texas shale play a contender for being the nation’s best, according to a new report.

The report, from information and analytics firm IHS, looked at well performance for oil and oil-rich liquids in the Eagle Ford as well as in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota and Montana, currently the nation’s top play. The Bakken has more wells than the Eagle Ford, but so far, on a per-well basis, the Eagle Ford seems to be producing more than the Bakken.

The Bakken is more established, and the Eagle Ford is still developing.South Texas

This IHS report is part of a broader study that’s under way of 27 of the nation’s shale plays.

The IHS analysis shows that “Eagle Ford drilling results appear to be superior to those of the Bakken,” said Andrew Byrne, director of equity research at IHS and the study’s author.

The Bakken shale is the play against which others are measured, Byrne said, because “it was the key play that really opened up development of unconventional resources” using high-tech drilling methods and hydraulic fracturing.

The Bakken first began to show great promise about 12 years ago, Byrne said.

“The results from the Bakken were so strong that it set the standard by which all others will be measured. It was the one play that incited the industry into pursuing these opportunities,” he said.

Now, though, comes the Eagle Ford.

Wells in the Eagle Ford Shale have a stronger flow – 300 to 600 barrels a day or oil and oil-rich liquids, based on average production in a peak month – than in the Bakken, where flow ranges from 150 to 300 barrels a day.

“One of the reasons we really like the Eagle Ford is its potential as a large total resource. It could be one of the best, if not the best, in North America,” Byrne said.

“The Eagle Ford covers such a vast area. That also makes this such a strong play.”

The Eagle Ford sweeps 400 miles from East Texas to counties south of San Antonio and on to the border.

The play “gets uniformly strong results, and that’s making the play look that much bigger and better,” Byrne said.

“All plays essentially have sweet spots. What makes the Eagle Ford so good is that the noncore stuff is delivering strong results also. In some other plays, it’s only the sweet spot that’s economic.”

2012 prediction

The Center for Community and Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio has also prepared studies of the Eagle Ford Shale. Center Director Thomas Tunstall predicts that the Eagle Ford Shale will produce 65 million barrels of oil for 2012. Oil production in the Eagle Ford reached 36.6 million barrels in 2011, according to Texas Railroad Commission data.

It’s somewhat difficult to predict production from the shale because the rate of production is accelerating, Tunstall said.

IHS doesn’t yet have an estimate of all the oil that is in the Eagle Ford.

“We’re working on that,” Byrne said.

Last week, Steve Trammel, senior manager of industry affairs for HIS, said in an interview that rig counts are declining in shale plays with much more natural gas than oil because of low natural gas prices.

But drilling is on the rise in shale with oil and “liquids-rich” areas, where wells can tap a mix of oil and condensate, a light oil, and “wet,” or liquid, natural gas, Trammel said.

Looking ahead

In fact, the highest average monthly production in the Eagle Ford is coming from the formation’s liquids-rich window, Byrne said.

Asked which might be the next hot play, Byrne said: “We haven’t officially put out that opinion yet. That will have to be reserved until we finish our study.”

The energy industry is “very creative,” he noted. “It seems like every quarter another play shows up.”

vvaughan@express-news.net

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New drilling, production in Eagle Ford surges

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Drilling in the Eagle Ford shale has dramatically increased in 2012, as producers have frantically turned away from cheap natural gas to production from regions that yield higher priced oils and other liquids.

The number of new wells drilled in Texas’ Eagle Ford shale more than doubled during the first three months of 2012, compared with the same period a year ago, according to Bentek Energy.

Operators started 856 new wells in the first quarter of 2012, compared with 407 in the same period a year ago, the energy market analysis firm reported.

There was also a record high number of 217 rigs active in the Eagle Ford during this month.

The increase in activity ratcheted up production of oil and other liquids, from 182,000-barrels-a-day in April 2011 to more than 500,000-barrels-a-day this month, according to Bentek’s analysis, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration highlighted on its website.

The Eagle Ford currently produces about 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

According to Bentek, Eagle Ford crude oil and liquids production was approaching the levels of the booming Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and eastern Montana during March 2012.

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Energy: Texas Tops Finds From Brazil to Bakken as Best Prospect

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By Edward Klump – Mar 22, 2012 7:00 PM CT

Energy companies in search of oil riches rivaling the biggest finds from Brazil to Angola are flocking to Texas shale, where new wells have triggered a 230- fold increase in crude output in three years

More than 115 years after a gusher 55 miles (88 kilometers) south of Dallas ushered in Texas’ first oil boom, U.S. producers such as ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Corp. (MRO) are counting on the Eagle Ford Shale to boost crude output amid a glut-driven slump in natural-gas prices.

Drilling for oil in the brush-covered plains of south Texas is cheaper and less risky than exploration offshore Brazil, the largest oil find in the Western Hemisphere in 30 years, and more profitable than the remote, rougher terrain of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana.

“The Eagle Ford is the top basin we have in the world today,” David Roberts, chief operating officer at Marathon Oil, told analysts and investors on a conference call last month.

Surging production in shale formations has transformed the U.S. energy landscape, flooding the market with gas and boosting domestic oil production by 14 percent from three years ago after dropping by a third in the previous 17 years, according to Energy Department data. After worries of a global oil shortage drove prices to record highs above $140 a barrel in 2008, politicians and industry executives now are discussing the prospect of the U.S. weaning itself from dependence on imports.

Doubling Down

Marathon Oil and ConocoPhillips (COP) both plan to double their production in the Eagle Ford this year. EOG Resources Inc. (EOG), based in Houston, calls the Texas shale play its biggest source of growth, and last month boosted its estimated recoverable reserves there by 78 percent.

Oil production in the Eagle Ford jumped almost sevenfold in 2011 to surpass 30 million barrels, still less than Bakken production in North Dakota that exceeded 128 million barrels. This year daily oil production in the Eagle Ford is forecast to expand by 200,000 barrels, roughly the same amount as the Bakken, according to estimates by Wood Mackenzie Ltd. cited by Hill Vaden, an analyst with the industry consultant.

The South Texas oil fields are winning a larger portion of producers’ investment because it’s easier and more profitable to drill there compared to many prospects in the U.S. and in the world. Wells are faster and cheaper to develop, and the formation is located closer to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, lowering transportation costs.

Higher Prices

EOG said it costs about $5.5 million per well in the Eagle Ford, compared with more than $8 million per well in the Bakken, because of different well configurations. An offshore Gulf of Mexico well can cost $100 million, said Brian Uhlmer, an analyst at Global Hunter Securities LLC in Houston.

Deep-water wells can take five months or longer to drill, compared to a couple of weeks for a well in the Eagle Ford, said Brian Cain, a spokesman for Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC)

Producers can get a higher price for their Eagle Ford output than they can in the Bakken. Prices for Texas and Louisiana (USCRLLSS) crude this week are as much as about $38 a barrel more than production in the Bakken (USCRLLSS), according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“The economics there are absolutely stellar,” said Danny Brown, a general manager who helps oversee Anadarko’s Eagle Ford operations. Anadarko has said it is considering selling its exploration properties offshore Brazil.

Less Political Risk

Texas provides a more stable investment environment compared to many international projects, said Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates in Houston.

“Clearly, there’s less political risk in Texas than in Libya, let’s say, or Kurdistan,” he said. Marathon Oil last year had output suspended in Libya during unrest in that country.

The Eagle Ford cuts across a 400-mile swath of southern Texas, according to the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production in the state. Producers have unlocked the resource using advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which sends jets of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock.

Petrohawk Energy Corp., acquired by BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) last year, first drew attention to the Eagle Ford when it announced a gas find in 2008, a year when futures for the fuel in New York averaged more than $8 per million British thermal units.

Surging Production

Expanded use of fracturing, or fracking, across the U.S. caused a surge in gas output that drove prices to a 10-year low this month of $2.204 per million Btu. Meanwhile, crude in New York has climbed 15 percent since the end of 2010 and is trading for about $105 a barrel.

While drilling has slowed in U.S. shale gas fields such as the Fayetteville in Arkansas, development has accelerated in South Texas as producers focus on the formation’s oil-rich geology.

The Eagle Ford will help lead a surge in state drilling permits that’s on pace to reach 25,000 this year, the most since 1985, said Barry Smitherman, the commission’s chairman.

“It’s by far the most sought-after play anywhere — not only in this country, but anywhere around the world,” said Fadel Gheit, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York.

A Sanford C. Bernstein report last August estimated Eagle Ford production would reach 1.2 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2015, with 750,000 of that being liquids.

“A long-time oil field axiom is that big fields tend to get bigger over time, and that’s certainly the case here,” EOG Chief Executive Officer Mark Papa told investors during a Feb. 17 conference call. “This continues to be the hottest and highest reinvestment rate-of-return play in North America.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Edward Klump in Houston at eklump@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net

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Brent > LNG > WTI > NG

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Jack H. Barnes

Or said differently; When Brent flies, and WTI dies.

The energy industry has the appearance that it is about to undergo a major shift in pricing structures again. We saw it lately with the spread between crude and NG blowing out. We have seen signs of it happening in Brent and WTI before, and I expect we will see new signs of it again.

To be clear, we could see extremely expensive Brent oil, as international supply fears increase with tension in Iran. This would be happening while the price of WTI, a lighter sweeter standard, crashes in US terms do to its own over supply and lack of demand issues.

This would all be happening under a backdrop of world markets bidding for refined products from a US export happy refining complex. This would lead to US gasoline prices hitting all-time highs, while refinery complexes in the US Midwest would have the highest profit margins in their history.

The US Midwest is growing its own domestic sources of oil, while its own capacity to ship the oil out is limited. This causes a bottle neck in exports in the region. This is causing the price locally to crash.

The planned refinery work in the Midwest has lowered the take-off demand for Bakken oil. This is happening inside of a window of time while the Bakken production sets all new production records every month.

This is causing the price of oil in the Midwest to crash in localized markets, as the take-off capacity does not equal the supply of new barrels. The region is buried in supply, all of which is now seeking a path to Houston refining complex.

The price difference of an equivalent grade of oil in Bakken Terminals & Louisiana terminals is now $40. This imbalance in like qualities will generate a short term arbitrage trucking bonanza, as the profit per trip approaches silly levels.

I expect to hear about a fleet of white trucks driving loads of crude oil from the Midwest to the refining complexes with accessible pipelines capacities. You don’t have to drive it all the way there, to deliver it.

I wish I had a fleet of modern fluid haulers right now. There is more oil supply in the Bakken then local demand, and that won’t change much when the refinery’s turn around. The Bakken supply is still growing every month, and will for a while.

The growth in rail take off capacity will not keep up with the growth in new oil production in the near to intermediate term. This will lead to price differentials that will last longer than people expect. There is always a profit to be made when these events happen. It will be interesting to see who ends up owning those fleets of white trucks.

Just like the old gold rush stories of stores making more then people digging for gold. There just might be more money made in shipping the oil by truck, then there is in producing it, or refining it. As they say, this could get interesting in the near term.

Read more: BI

The Bakken Oil Boom Will End Like Every Other ‘Gold Rush’

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Figure 1: Map of the U.S. Bakken-Lodgepole Total Petroleum System (blue), five continuous assessment units (AU) (green), and one conventional assessment unit (yellow) (Source: USGS)

The Oil Drum

[This post by Derik Andreoli, Senior Analyst at Mercator International LLC, is republished with permission from The Oil Drum.]

In 2009, U.S. oil production began to climb after declining for 22 of the previous 23 years.

The shale oil production of the Bakken formation, which straddles the Montana-North Dakota border and stretches into Canada, has been a significant contributor to this temporary uptick in oil production.

The Bakken boom has inspired a number of prominent commentators to resurrect the energy independence meme. Daniel Yergin was first at bat, asserting in an essay published by The Wall Street Journal that rising prices and emerging technologies (especially hydraulic fracturing) will significantly drive up world liquid fuels production over the coming decade(s). Ultimately, Mr. Yergin argues that tight supplies lead to high fuel prices, and high fuel prices will bring previously inaccessible oil to the market. The trouble with this line of thinking is that high prices aren’t merely a symptom of the supply problem; high prices are the problem.

After Mr. Yergin stole first base through this apparently convincing display of contortionist logic, the next up to bat was Ed Crooks who recently penned an analysis piece for the Financial Times. In this piece, Mr. Crooks declares that “the growth in U.S. and Canadian production from new sources, coupled with curbs on demand as a result of more efficient use of fuel, is creating a realistic possibility that North America will be able to declare oil independence.”

Mr. Crooks thus ‘balances’ rising production from shale oil and Canadian tar sands against declining consumption, which he mistakenly chalks up to efficiency gains rather than the deleterious effects of the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Beyond this obvious blunder, Mr. Crooks manages an even greater and far more common gaffe by neglecting to integrate decline rates of mature fields into his analysis.

But in a game where the media is the referee and the public doesn’t know the rules, Mr. Crooks manages to get on base by knocking a foul ball into the bleachers. With Yergin on second and Crooks on first, Edward Luce steps up to plate and takes a swat at the energy independence meme, directing the ‘greens’ to look away as “America is entering a new age of plenty”. And while the greens looked away, Mr. Luce took a cheap shot at clean energy through an attack on the federal government’s support for the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, Solyndra. Luce thus willingly employs the logical fallacy of hasty generalization to sway his audience. Of course the Solyndra bankruptcy is no more generalizable to the solar energy industry than BP’s Macondo oil spill is to all offshore oil production, but in a game of marketing one-upmanship one should not expect a balanced and rigorous evaluation of the possibilities.

With the bases loaded and oil prices remaining stubbornly high as tensions in the Middle East and North Africa persist, the crowd is getting anxious. And the crowd should be anxious. After all, tight supplies and rising oil prices strain personal finances and threaten to send our fragile economy back into recession. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the public is as eager to consume the myth of everlasting abundance, as they are eager to consume these scarce resources.

While the Bakken boom offers a hopeful story in which American ingenuity and nature’s endless bounty emancipate us from energy oppression and dependence on evil and oppressive foreign dictators, musings of energy independence are premature, misguided, and misleading. The problem with the Bakken story as told by Crooks and others is that it lacks historical context. Referring to recent developments as an energy revolution implies that there are no lessons to be learned from history. But as Mark Twain put it, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

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