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The oil and gas industry has its own version of The Amazing Race, and it involves scouring the globe for analogues to North America's great oil and gas shale plays, like the Bakken and the Barnett. All sorts of Asian energy players have struck joint ventures with independents like Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) and Encana (NYSE: ECA ) , in part to gain knowledge that can be applied in their own backyard. It's very early days yet, but let's see what sort of activity is happening over in that part of the world.
So far, most of the shale headlines are being made in China. Royal Dutch Shell formalized the first shale gas development partnership with PetroChina (NYSE: PTR ) in Sichuan province last November. ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) is reportedly still hammering out an agreement with the same firm in the same province, having signed a Memorandum of Understanding a year ago.
In the neighboring province of Guizhou, BP (NYSE: BP ) is working on a shale project with Sinopec, and Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) is seeking to do the same. Guizhou is the site of China's first shale fracturing operation, which Sinopec declared a success back in May.
To complete our Chinese shale roundup, we also recently learned that Hess (NYSE: HES ) is going to be tackling an oil-bearing formation in the "supergiant" Daqing field in partnership with PetroChina. The hope is that Hess' Bakken experience will translate to this tight rock (which may or may not technically be shale), and that a little horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing will do wonders for production.
In my recent look at the proliferation of shale hunters over in Poland, I cautioned that the early stage analysis and development of that rather hyped play could take years of preliminary study and experimentation before any substantial gas volumes are produced. Sinopec has similarly reined in expectations regarding Chinese shale gas, saying it targets large-scale development in five years.
The majors discussed here can afford to be patient. Investors will have to practice this virtue as well when it comes to international shale development. Note the scale of the enterprises involved to date. I recommend exercising extreme caution if you come across small-cap companies promising quick Chinese shale riches.