We've already seen leading shale player XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO ) describe itself in mechanistic terms this year. Now that Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) has dubbed itself "the Chesapeake drilling machine," the onshore natural gas battle is shaping up like a giant-robot throwdown.
This quarter, Chesapeake crowned itself king, declaring itself the largest natural gas producer in the United States. Given enough years, that's what 29% compounded annual production growth will get you.
After adjusting for some clever monetizations of producing properties, Chesapeake turned in -- you guessed it -- 29% year-over-year growth this quarter. If you're wondering how this machine-like expansion is possible for such a massive enterprise, you must not be following the shale story that's driving not only Chesapeake and XTO but other, smaller E&Ps like Range Resources (NYSE: RRC ) and Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN ) as well.
Chesapeake has four huge shale plays, each of which involves tapping into laterally extensive natural gas deposits. The company is No. 1 or No. 2 in each play, of which the Barnett Shale is the most mature. (EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) says the Barnett faces a plateau after next year.) The freshest play is the Haynesville of East Texas and Northern Louisiana. Chesapeake keeps pounding the table on this play in particular, predicting that it will prove to be the country's biggest-ever natural gas discovery.
If that bold prediction becomes reality, Chesapeake might become a screaming bargain in hindsight. The company pointed out in its earnings release that quarter-end enterprise value more or less matched the present value of future cash flows from proved reserves. The implication, then, is that Mr. Market is assigning no value to Chesapeake's unrisked upside of -- wait for it -- 147 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Even if the Haynesville falls short of Holy Grail status, I think this company still has plenty of avenues to unlock a tremendous amount of value that's not reflected in today's share price.