In some senses, the frenzied exploration for shale oil and gas in the U.S., which is reminiscent of the gold rush, is coming to a close. Now that companies have gone out and staked their claims on landholdings, their next focus will be on optimizing the process of getting oil from the ground and to the market. Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) vice president Jim Tramudo stated at the recent EIA energy conference that this shift represents the "end of the first quarter" in the shale resource game.

To achieve greater efficiency in drilling and production, it will take both innovative thinking and advancements in technology, which we are seeing some magnificent progress in. One example is in the evolution of drill rigs. Some of the new rigs being built have the capacity to drill several wells at the same sight without being reassembled by crews, and companies are learning to optimize fracking stages. WPX Energy (NYSE:WPX) is reaping some great benefits from utilizing these new rigs. The company was recently able to complete a well in Colorado in only four days compared to average times in other plays that range from 15-30 days. 

Ultimately, these advancements lead to the most important element for exploration and production companies: drilling costs. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK) has made extraordinary progress in bringing its well costs down by 30% in the Utica region. Will these great strides in efficiency help the company realize its potential as a gas giant before the debt bug bites them again? Find out in The Motley Fool's premium report on the company available here.

Also, learn more about how companies are getting better at drilling by tuning into the conversation between Motley Fool analysts Joel South and Taylor Muckerman and contributor Tyler Crowe.

Joel South has no position in any stocks mentioned. Taylor Muckerman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Fool contributor Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has the following options: Long Jan 2014 $20 Calls on Chesapeake Energy, Long Jan 2014 $30 Calls on Chesapeake Energy, and Short Jan 2014 $15 Puts on Chesapeake Energy. 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.