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First LNG-Fueled Hydraulic Fracturing Completed in Eagle Ford Play

by  Karen Boman
Rigzone Staff

The liquefied natural gas (LNG) division of Calgary-based Ferus LP successfully completed in October what the company believes to be the first-ever hydraulic fracturing operation utilizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) as engine fuel in North America.

Ferus’ LNG Division was engaged by a major oil and gas service company in the United States to conduct the pilot project, which involved six dual-fuel 2,250 horsepower pressure pumper units, powered by LNG, to stimulate well performance in the south Texas Eagle Ford shale.

The dual fuel systems allow for natural gas and diesel to be consumed simultaneously with no decrease in performance, Jed Tallman, manager of market development for Ferus LNG, told Rigzone. Approximately 10,000 gallons of LNG was used in the pilot project, which took place in the southwestern portion of the Eagle Ford play.

While the company cannot discuss the plans of the operator involved in the pilot project, Ferus LNG has been contacted by numerous operators and service companies regarding LNG as a low-cost, environmentally superior alternative fuel, Tallman said.
The increase in interest by operators and service companies in using LNG for hydraulic fracturing has been dramatic.

“Because of the large amounts of diesel consumed in fracturing fleets, the use of LNG as an alternative fuel will result in cost savings for the operator or service company, not to mention a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” Tallman commented.

“LNG offers significant environmental and cost-saving advantages and is quickly becoming the alternative fuel of choice for heavy-duty high horsepower on-road and off-road applications in North America,” said Ferus President and CEO Dick Brown in a Nov. 28 statement. “We were very pleased to play such a critical role in this ground-breaking project, and we intend to be at the forefront of this growing industry as more and more diesel consumers make the switch to North America’s abundant supply of natural gas.”

It is difficult to estimate the specific size of the market for LNG in hydraulic fracturing and in other areas such as railroad transportation and trucking moving forward, Tallman commented.

“But given the economic benefits, improved emissions profile, and increased gas production, we feel that LNG will make up a considerably larger percentage of our domestic energy consumption in the future.”

While the use of LNG for hydraulic fracturing is not being specifically done to alleviate criticism of hydraulic fracturing, the improved emissions profile of natural gas certainly is a benefit, Tallman said.

To complete this project, which marks a significant milestone in the adoption of natural gas as an alternative engine fuel, Ferus managed the entire supply chain on behalf of its client including LNG supply, transportation, and on-site storage and vaporization using specialized equipment and highly-trained personnel.

In addition to being a cleaner-burning and less expensive fuel alternative, LNG is non-toxic, non-combustible, non-flammable as a liquid, and dissipates into the atmosphere in the event of a leak or a spill, making it safer than diesel and gasoline, the company said in a statement.

The use of LNG requires specialized fuel handling equipment and additional training for individuals involved in the LNG supply chain.

“As a leading provider of cryogenic liquids for the energy sector, Ferus is uniquely qualified for the undertaking,” Tallman said.

The increased use of natural gas to fuel not only hydraulic fracturing but transportation has grown thanks to the abundance of shale gas in the United States.

The use of natural gas over diesel is becoming more widespread, likely due to the cost benefits associated with fuel switching, according to a Nov. 28 analyst report from GHS Research. GHS referenced Baker Hughes‘ Nov. 26 announcement that it would convert a fleet of its Rhino hydraulic fracturing units to bifuel pumps as a way to improve operational efficiency, lower costs and reduce health, safety and environment impacts. Bifuel is a mix of gas and diesel.

The new pumps use a mixture of gas and diesel, reducing diesel use by up to 65 percent with no loss of hydraulic horsepower. The converted fleet, which meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards, can also reduce a number of emissions including nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide and particulate matter.

Baker Hughes first converted a small fleet of its units in Canada; the success Baker Hughes saw with this endeavor prompted to company to convert an entire fleet in the United States. The company is converting several more fleets of Rhino trucks to Rhino Bifuel equipment. Baker Hughes also has a test program in Oklahoma, where a number of light-duty vehicles have been converted to natural gas.

Westport Innovations, which manufactures natural gas-powered truck engines, recently reported it is building a railroad locomotive engine that can run on LNG. During 2012, the company saw “broad consensus” for the first time that natural gas will take material market share in every global transportation market within the next five years, said David Demers, chief executive officer for Westport, during the company’s third quarter 2012 earnings update Nov. 8.

Demers noted that consensus suggests that the company will see 7 percent to 15 percent of the North American trucking industry run on natural gas in 2017.

Westport Innovations will also introduce new natural gas-powered versions of the Ford F-450 and F-550 Super Duty trucks in mid-2013, the company said in a Dec. 3 statement.

“Although current demand for natural gas used in vehicles is minor relative to the demand associated with power generation, industry and residential heating, it is catching on and may soon reach a tipping a point where growth rapidly accelerates, with or without government intervention,” GHS reported.

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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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Eagle Ford banks challenged as deposits skyrocket

By Patrick Danner
San Antonio Express-News

South Texas landowners getting fat checks from oil companies for drilling on their land have been a boon to banks based in the Eagle Ford Shale.

Deposits at most of those banks have surged. The Karnes County National Bank’s deposits rocketed 110 percent to almost $168 million from the end of 2009 through the first quarter of this year.

Eleven other institutions registered jumps in deposits that ranged from 46.8 percent to 82.7 percent. By comparison, domestic deposits at U.S. banks increased 14.7 percent during the same period.

But the influx of deposits has left the Eagle Ford-area banks with something of a challenge: how to deploy that money at a time when loan demand isn’t nearly as strong.

“It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem,” said H.B. “Trip” Ruckman III, president and chairman of The Karnes County National Bank in Karnes City. Its deposits rose by $88 million from the end of 2009 to March 31, while its loans rose by $19 million.

“We have had depositors come in with more than a million dollars at a whack,” he added. “So it is a challenge to keep the money invested.”

The San Antonio Express-News tracked deposits and loans from the end of 2009, when activity started picking up in the Eagle Ford Shale, through the first quarter of this year at 20 banks based in the 14 counties directly affected by the oil and gas activity. Most of the banks tracked are small community banks with assets of less than $220 million.

Eighteen of the 20 banks had deposit growth above the national average of 14.7 percent over the 27 months ending March 31.

Deposits at Security State Bank in Pearsall, for example, climbed by $150 million from 2009 through March 31, mostly as a result of the oil and gas activity, said Mike Wilson, president and CEO.

“Where we used to hunt for money, we don’t have to hunt anymore,” he said.

Curtis Carpenter, who follows banks as managing director of Sheshunoff & Co. Investment Banking in Austin, likened the situation to having “more than you can say grace over.”

Still, the deposit windfall has yet to translate to the same growth in loans.

“You can only loan money where it makes sense,” Carpenter said. “And the fact that all of these deposits are coming in doesn’t necessarily translate into lending opportunities.”

Those lending opportunities will pick up as the Eagle Ford area prospers from all the oil and gas activity, Carpenter said. Bankers agreed, saying they are eager to loan on both multifamily and single-family residential projects. There is some reticence to loan on RV parks and motels because of concerns that they’ve saturated the area.

Bankers offered other reasons why loan growth hasn’t corresponded with deposit growth. Banks have to comply with lending standards — set by banking regulators — that are designed to prevent bank failures. Many existing bank customers are paying off loans with their newfound wealth rather than borrowing money. In addition, many of the oil services companies operating in the Eagle Ford Shale have pre-existing relationships with banks outside the area, so they are not turning to South Texas banks for loans.

Lagging loan growth

All but six of the 20 banks studied reported loan growth over the period. That growth ranged from as little as 6.5 percent at Texas Community Bank in Laredo to 62.2 percent at The Karnes County National Bank.

The increase for those 14 banks was well above the 1.8 percent increase for all U.S. banks combined. Nevertheless, the pace of growth significantly lagged the rise in deposit growth that Eagle Ford-area banks experienced.

“Nobody’s been able to keep up with that,” said Fred Hilscher, executive vice president of the First National Bank of Shiner. Its deposits are up $78 million, or 78.5 percent, versus $7.7 million for loans. The bank borders two counties directly affected by the Eagle Ford Shale. He attributed most of the increase in deposits to the shale.

“We would hope that we could have a larger loan growth, more investments, but … we’re very conservative in what we do,” he added.

Security State Bank’s lending is up about $46 million, or 29 percent since the end of 2009, though its deposits were up $150 million. Wilson, the bank’s president and CEO, has been assessing loans for new oil field buildings and yards in the area to ensure that the bank doesn’t concentrate too heavily on these types of investments.

“If this oil play was to quit or really slow down, there’s going to be an oversupply of that type of thing,” he said. “Just like RV parks and motels. The whole Eagle Ford Shale, every major community in it, is inundated with motels.”

Every week, the bank turns down at least one loan application for motel construction, Wilson said. He’d prefer to provide construction financing for apartments or duplexes because there is such a shortage of permanent housing in the area, but developers aren’t interested.

“Everybody wants the immediate huge payback,” he said.

At Dilley State Bank, with nearly $100 million in assets, deposits increased by $33 million, or 70 percent, to $80.4 million. Loans, meanwhile, increased $3.4 million, or 36.2 percent, to almost $12.8 million.

“Our loans are higher now,” said Jeff W. Avant, the bank’s president and CEO. “But they are still relatively low (versus assets) for most banks our size. It’s not that we’re not (looking to lend) — we’re looking. We look at all the loans and possible loans that come in.”

Like most other banks, Dilley State Bank isn’t willing to ease its lending standards to make a loan. And while oil services companies have come into the area, the bank hasn’t had a bump in lending to them.

“A lot of oil companies, they are banking wherever they come from,” Avant said.

Straining capital ratios

The flood of deposits has led to one serious issue for some of these small banks: having enough capital.

Banking regulators require that banks maintain a minimal level of capital. Deposits are listed on a bank’s balance sheet as liabilities, so as deposits swell, the institutions’ owners might have to put up more of their own money — capital — as a hedge against potential losses to satisfy regulators’ requirements.

It’s an issue banks will have to grapple with as long as landowners continue to deposit big checks from royalties and leases. The solution is either to turn away customers or to raise more capital, Sheshunoff’s Carpenter said. Selling stock or retaining earnings are ways to boost capital.

Security State Bank has chosen the latter. The bank has been retaining about half its profits — rather than paying them out to shareholders — to increase its capital so its capital ratios remain stable.

Meanwhile, The Karnes County National Bank is seeking authority from federal banking regulators to sell $5 million in stock to boost its capital, Ruckman said.

“You’ve got to be proactive in these situations, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Picky about customers

Dilley State Bank hasn’t gone to the extreme of turning away new customers to limit new deposits, but it’s particular about who it wants banking there.

“We’re not trying to grow deposits. We’re not short on cash,” president and CEO Avant said.

One of Avant’s lieutenants refused to share the bank’s CD rates with a reporter out of fear that it they were published it would generate a slew of phone calls from prospective customers wanting to park their money there for just a short time.

“We are looking for long-term-relation-type customers,” Avant said.

All the activity in the Eagle Ford Shale has created exciting times, Security State Bank’s Wilson said. Yet he can’t quit worrying that it won’t last as long as many predict.

“Everything tells us that this is going to be a long-term play, but we’ve all been through some of these before and nobody saw the end coming until the day after it happened,” he said.

pdanner@express-news.net

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EIA: Horizontal Drilling Boosts Gas Production in Pennsylvania, USA

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report that between 2009 and 2011, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production more than quadrupled due to expanded horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing.

This drilling activity, which is concentrated in shale formations that cover a broad swath of the state, mirrors trends seen in the Barnett shale formation in Texas.

Historically, natural gas exploration and development activity in Pennsylvania was relatively steady, with operators drilling a few thousand conventional (vertical) wells annually. Prior to 2009, these wells produced about 400 to 500 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. With the shift to and increase in horizontal wells, however, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production more than quadrupled since 2009, averaging nearly 3.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2011. Natural gas wells accounted for virtually all (99%) of the horizontal wells started over this period.

Drilling programs in Pennsylvania’s shale formations, like those in other, more established plays such as the Barnett and Eagle Ford in Texas, are migrating to more liquids-rich areas due to the price premium of crude oil and natural gas liquids. The effect of low natural gas prices is apparent in Pennsylvania’s 2012 well count for the first third of the year. From January through April, drilling began on 618 new natural gas wells; over 700 new natural gas wells were started over the same period in 2011. In contrast, 263 new oil and “combination” (oil and natural gas) wells were started in Pennsylvania from January through April 2012, well above the 164 new wells that began drilling during the corresponding period in 2011.

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Texas: Experts deliver another round of Eagle Ford bullishness

Welding crews are busy laying pipelines such as this one east of Karnes City, Texas in order to get oil and gas extracted from the Eagle Ford shale formation to market. Pipelines are critical because hauling by truck is more expensive. JOHN DAVENPORT/jdavenport@express-news.net

Welding crews are busy laying pipelines such as this one east of Karnes City, Texas in order to get oil and gas extracted from the Eagle Ford shale formation to market. Pipelines are critical because hauling by truck is more expensive. JOHN DAVENPORT/jdavenport@express-news.net

Posted on by Dan X. McGraw

SAN ANTONIO – The development of the Eagle Ford shale continues to prompt dazzling assessments and predictions from experts, who said at an energy symposium Wednesday that in four years, the oil-rich formation could become the nation’s second-most productive shale play.

Production in the Eagle Ford could reach 1 million barrels a day by 2016, said Trevor Sloan, director of energy research at ITG Investment Research in Calgary, Alberta.

Read More: Fuel Fix » Experts deliver another round of Eagle Ford bullishness.

Marathon Oil in $750m Eagle Ford splash

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Bill Lehane
09 May 2012 14:15 GMT

Marathon Oil has splashed out $750 million to acquire Houston-based private Paloma Partners II and its Eagle Ford assets.

The US independent will pay in cash for the acquisition, which is expected to close subject to approvals in the third quarter.

Paloma II owns roughly 17,000 net acres in the Eagle Ford shale play, primarily in Karnes and Live Oak counties.

Net production at the properties as of 1 April was around 7000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Paloma II’s principal shareholders are Paloma Resources, Encap Energy Capital Fund VII and Macquarie Americas Corporation.

Marathon Oil has previously flagged its intentions to hone in the Eagle Ford, telling the Howard Weil conference earlier this year it would ramp up activity in the oil window of the South Texas shale play.

The Eagle Ford is a key plank of the New York-listed outfit’s $4.82 billion capital expenditure budget for this year.

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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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