US shale plays take center stage

Despite all the negative news coming out of the Gulf of Mexico, US onshore is seeing a revival of activity centered around the massive natural gas assets contained in the many shale plays across the nation.

In fact, America's Natural Gas Alliance just reported that the shale plays make the US the largest producer of clean energy in the world. Furthermore, a study by Penn State University found that the Marcellus Shale alone is injecting billions of dollars into the economy and providing tens of thousands of jobs.

In reviewing traffic and trends on the energy website I manage PennEnergy, shale stories consistently rank as the biggest drivers of page views. In addition, shale deals have earned the biggest dollar amounts for contracts and JVs -- a new trend. For the past couple of years, offshore -- and namely deepwater -- has typically seen the most activity.

Although I don't think the change can be solely pinned on the Deepwater Horizon incident and subsequent deepwater drilling moratorium, certainly it helped.

When Anadarko announced last week that it was going to have to force majeure three of its four ultra-deepwater drilling rigs contracted in the Gulf of Mexico, the company said that it would refocus that exploratory budget onshore the US, specifically on its Marcellus, Haynesville and Eagle Ford shale plays.

"Although our Gulf of Mexico drilling activity has been suspended due to the moratorium, we are evaluating opportunities to reallocate some of the 2010 capital from the Gulf to other areas of our global portfolio, including our numerous onshore liquids-rich opportunities, and we remain committed to our worldwide exploration, appraisal and development programs," said Jim Hackett, Anadarko chairman and CEO.

Just today, India's Reliance Industries committed $1.15 billion in a joint venture agreement with Pioneer Natural Resources to enter into its Eagle Ford Shale acreage in South Texas. This is the second major investment the Indian major has made in the last few months. In April, Reliance paid $1.7 billion to form a JV with Atlas Resources on its Marcellus Shale properties.

The work the US shale plays offer has been bulking up jobs and company backlogs for months. In addition to a growing number of onshore rigs working in the US, pipeline construction contracts abound. 

Also, Cheniere has decided to add liquefaction capabilities to its LNG terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana. The company has contracted Bechtel for the design and construction of the liquefaction facilities to be able to export excess natural gas produced by the prolific shale plays.

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