In 2011, then-Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) CEO Aubrey McClendon made some very bold claims about Ohio's Utica shale. He called it the "biggest thing economically to hit Ohio, since maybe the plow." He thought the play was "likely most analogous, but economically superior to, the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas," and he pegged its total economic value at upwards of half a trillion dollars.
Within just two years of making those statements, McClendon was forced to take an early retirement from Chesapeake Energy, which at the same time was looking to sell some of its acreage in the Utica. Retirement, however, didn't last long for McClendon. In fact, he is now back in Ohio as his new venture, American Energy Partners, has chosen the southern Utica as its first foray back into the E&P space.
The company has received $1.7 billion in funding from various groups including management. The proceeds will be used to acquire and drill on about 110,000 acres in the southern portion of the play. The plan is to start with one rig this year and increase it to at least a dozen rigs over the next few years.
McClendon has extensive knowledge of multiple plays in the U.S., which makes his choice to buy his first acreage in the Utica very interesting. However, because of his previous deal with Chesapeake, he still owns a small stake in every well the company drills in the Utica. That provides him with unique access to company information on those wells, so he must be seeing something in those numbers that made him want to bet big on that play for his comeback.
It would also seem to give a vote of confidence to other producers in the region like Gulfport Energy (NASDAQ: GPOR ) and Halcon Resources (NYSE: HK ) . As the map on the following slide shows, there is a distinct sweet spot developing in the play that producers are flocking to drill.
Gulfport Energy is the one company that has found real success in the Utica. It is investing nearly $500 million of its $590 million capital budget on the play this year. The reason for this is that Gulfport has drilled some of the best wells in the play with three of its most recent wells all producing seven-day sales rates in excess of 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
It also bodes well for the future of Halcon Resources, which owns 142,000 net acres that are prospective for the Utica. The company is still in the evaluation phase with nine wells drilled across 70 miles and five counties. These tests should give it a much better idea on how to move forward with the development of the play. However, given the success of Chesapeake Energy and Gulfport Energy, as well as McClendon's interest, it does seem likely that Halcon Resources will find success here as well.
One final example is Rex Energy (NASDAQ: REXX ) . What's interesting here is that it has two focused areas, one in the north and one in the south. The recent results that Rex Energy has seen in the southern prospect is actually better-performing wells than those it saw in the north. Given the results Rex is seeing, it's again no real surprise that McClendon is starting his focus on the south when his new company starts drilling.
Aubrey McClendon might have retired from Chesapeake Energy, but he hasn't retired from leading America's energy boom. He is looking to make good on his comments that the Utica shale will be a major economic driver for the state of Ohio. Given his experience and his access to well data, he is someone who knows what he is doing, which would appear to bode well for his fellow peers who are focused on developing the Utica.
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