The gauntlet has been thrown down, and now it's time to see what will be the energy play that everyone will talk about. During EOG Resources' (NYSE:EOG) most recent conference call, EOG CEO Mark Papa made a very bold claim that "the aggregate industry wide Eagle Ford oil production to surpass the Bakken within the next two years."
Those are fightin' words.
Rather than take complete faith in Mr. Papa's claims, let's do a weigh-in with the two energy plays and see which one comes out as the crowned champion of tight oil production in the United States.
In the northern corner ...
Getting its start back in 2000, the Bakken Formation is the oldest tight oil play in the United States, measuring in at 6,500 square miles and 5 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This behemoth almost triples the acreage of the Eagle Ford and has more than a 2 billion-barrel recoverable oil advantage. The play has put up an impressive record of 430 million barrels of cumulative production thus far, and it has continued its reign as tight oil champion thanks to its powerful punch of 704,000 barrels of oil production per day. The Bakken doesn't like to waste its time on the light stuff, as much as one-third of its natural gas is flared off rather than brought to market. If you're talking about the Bakken, then you better be talking about oil.
Refiners from far and wide have lined up to work with the Bakken. Valero (NYSE:VLO) and Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) have both invested big in rail cars to get a piece of the of the Bakken's light sweet crude despite the price premium to move it via rail. Although Bakken has its mobility weakness, it has still managed to take down its East and West coast challengers, the Alaskan North Slope and Brent crudes.
The one big gaping hole in the Bakken's game is its stamina. Kodiak Oil & Gas (UNKNOWN:KOG.DL) reports that some of its wells will lose 85% of their production by 2015. Some analysts see this and wonder if the play can go into the late rounds, but like any wise old veteran, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve. The Bakken's main promoter, Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR), recently announced that it had nearly doubled its reserves in the play, and it's quite possible that there is still more left to be discovered.
Ladies and gentlemen, your reigning champion, the Dakotan Destroyer, the Bakken.
In the southern corner ...
Despite growing up in America's Energy Production Central around legends like Spindletop Hill and the East Texas oil fields, the Eagle Ford just got its start back in 2008. It hasn't taken long for it to develop a solid reputation, though. Event hough it doesn't impress during the weigh-in, with a slender 2,200 square miles and 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil, the formation has its weight where it counts. The Eagle Ford has a formation thickness almost triple that of the thickest point in the Bakken, meaning each well packs a much stronger punch. Daily per-well production rates of 300 to 600 bpd dwarf the Bakken's paltry numbers of 150 to 300 bpd.
The Eagle Ford poses a strong foe to the Bakken because its strengths are the opposite of the Bakken's. Thanks to being raised close to one of the most robust pipeline networks in the U.S., the Eagle Ford has the agility to turn its assets into big profits for its landholders. The play is also getting more mobile by the day. Last year, Enterprise Products Partners, Kinder Morgan and Plains All American all brought pipelines online that can take away at least 300,000 barrels per day each, and it's one of the few plays in the U.S. where pipeline access is expected to outpace production. With that kind of room to work the ring, Eagle Ford producers will be happy to open up the wells.
What makes the Eagle Ford an even more formidable foe is its ability to fight using multiple styles. Not only does the play produce almost 340,000 barrels per day of oil, but it also flirts with natural gas production numbers close to a billion cubic feet per day.
If you plan on getting into the ring with the Eagle Ford, though, be ready to pay the price. This glitzy performer commands top dollar for acreage right now, with some deals for the play reaching more than $25,000 an acre. Compared with the Bakken's more modest price of about $5,000 an acre, the Eagle Ford doesn't let anyone jump in to the ring with it.
Ladies and gentlemen, your challenger, the Tenacious Texan, the Eagle Ford.
The Foolish scorecard
While the Bakken just kept surging along with strong production numbers supported by its new best ringside helper, the rail industry, the Eagle Ford bobbed and weaved itself through thousands of miles of pipelines that fed straight into the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. No one could land a true knockout punch, so this one went to the cards.
With EOG holding more than 600,000 acres in both the Bakken and the Eagle Ford, it does have some of the greatest insight into how these two heavyweights will play out for the next couple of years. EOG was one of the first developers of the Bakken rail idea, and it is the largest holder of land in the Eagle Ford. The company's CEO has made a pretty bold claim, but it has the assets in the region to back it up. The company will probably have one of the deciding votes on whether one of these two tight oil plays will turn out to be the winner.
Luckily for investors, we don't need to worry about who is better, because opportunities abound in both plays. Kodiak Oil & Gas is a strong emerging play in the Bakken that many investors are looking at as a strong growth stock in the exploration and production space. To see if Kodiak is currently a buy or sell, check out our new premium report, which comes with a year of timely updates and analysis.
Fool contributor Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned.You can follow him on Fool.com under TMFDirtyBird, Google +, or Twitter: @TylerCroweFool.
The Motley Fool recommends Enterprise Products Partners and Kinder Morgan. The Motley Fool owns shares of Kinder Morgan. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.