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I'm not sure when it started in earnest, but the trend of independent producers dumping conventional natural gas assets is now firmly established.
At its investor day, EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) announced a plan to sell $1 billion to $1.5 billion of "non-core natural gas properties" by early next year. This divestiture will not only support a stepped-up budget, but also help to push the company toward the 50/50 oil and gas production mix the firm has been targeting since at least last summer.
EOG was an early entrant in the North Dakota Bakken, and has more recently unlocked oily plays like the Barnett Combo and the Eagle Ford shale. In the latter play, the company estimates that it has total resource potential of 900 million barrels of oil equivalent. That's three times its estimated Bakken resource, and a pretty astonishing figure.
EOG's motivation to shift away from natural gas isn't hard to understand -- oil plays are a heck of a lot more profitable today. SandRidge Energy (NYSE: SD ) CEO Tom Ward said his company, which recently acquired oil-focused Arena Resources (NYSE: ARD ) , and other independents could make 10 times more money producing oil rather than gas.
Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) is now busily looking for new oil resource plays in the Rockies, a region it had historically knocked for its "political/environmental hassles." I guess the company is willing to be flexible on those issues in its quest to achieve a 20% liquids component in its heavily gas-weighted production mix.
Another leading independent, Canada's Talisman Energy (NYSE: TLM ) , has just completed a series of asset sales totaling $1.9 billion, with natural gas accounting for 90% of the production mix. On an oil equivalent basis, the company received $44,000 per daily flowing barrel. Earlier this week, I calculated that SandRidge paid around $188,000 per barrel of daily production at Arena, which is actually oil. Oil equivalency is clearly theoretical when it comes to real-world transactions today.
The shale gas boom, which has dovetailed so inconveniently with a major slump in industrial demand, has really made life difficult for natural gas-weighted producers. If the pricing chasm persists or widens further, I would expect to see increasingly silly transactions by E&Ps desperate to get more oil into their production mix. Do I hear $200,000 per flowing barrel? $250,000? Going once.. going twice.. sold to the man in the 10-gallon hat!