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3 Companies Surfing the Tidal Wave of Marcellus Natural Gas Production

By Bob Ciura - Feb 14, 2014 at 10:53AM

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Natural gas production is soaring in the U.S., thanks in no small part to the Marcellus Shale. Here are three companies focusing intently there.

The natural gas boom in the United States has been well-publicized over the past few years, and for good reason. There are enormous amounts of domestic natural gas for the taking, thanks to rapid technological advancements in recent years such as hydraulic fracturing.

One of the most prominent sources of natural gas in the United States is the Marcellus region, located in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This formation is truly massive, which plays a huge role in the natural gas boom in America. Over the next several years, the Marcellus shale will play an even more significant role because of strong production growth expectations.

This will result in equally impressive growth for companies that have focused on the Marcellus Shale, such as Chesapeake Energy (CHKA.Q), Cabot Oil & Gas (CTRA -0.07%), and CONSOL Energy (CNX 0.88%).

Truly amazing growth at the Marcellus shale
The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently predicted that the Marcellus region will provide 18% of monthly natural gas production in the United States. The organization further notes that the rise of the Marcellus region's production is a "key development in a rapidly evolving U.S. natural gas market".

Not only is the Marcellus production impressive in absolute terms, but growth there has been astounding. The Marcellus region produced less than two billion cubic feet per day as recently as 2010. The EIA expects production to soon reach 13 billion cubic feet per day. To put that in perspective, in a four-year time period that would represent approximately 60% compound annual growth.

Obviously, this means a likely fortune for companies like Chesapeake Energy and Cabot Oil & Gas, which have staked their claims in the Marcellus Shale.

Chesapeake Energy is a major natural gas producer -- the second-largest natural producer in the U.S. Not surprisingly, it operates heavily in the Marcellus region. Its third-quarter cash flow jumped 22% year over year, due in large part to 53% production growth here in the third quarter.

Cabot's Marcellus position is the only gas-producing area in which the company operates. Cabot projects at least 30% production growth in 2014, due largely to its focus on the Marcellus region. Cabot has approximately 200,000 net acres in the area. It's increasing production while simultaneously lowering costs associated with production. Consider that through the first three fiscal quarters of 2013, cash flow soared 69% while total per-unit costs fell by 15%. It's clear that Cabot's strategy to focus so intently on the Marcellus region is paying off.

A natural gas giant in the making
CONSOL Energy is in the midst of a major business restructuring. The new CONSOL Energy intends to split its business between coal and natural gas, which is a good move because its coal production and sales are struggling. Much has been made of coal's downfall in the United States, and CONSOL is right in the middle of it. That's because natural gas usage is taking off in America, resulting in many utility customers switching to natural gas. CONSOL intends to profit on both sides of the trade going forward.

That's because CONSOL will pursue natural gas in a major way. This has proven to be a wise strategy, as CONSOL's gas business is significantly outperforming its coal segment. CONSOL's natural gas production hit a quarterly record in the fourth quarter. Overall natural gas production increased 16% quarter-over-quarter, aided most by 56% growth in the Marcellus region. The potential of the Marcellus Shale compelled CONSOL management to predict 30% gas production growth in 2015 and 2016.

Keep the Marcellus shale in mind
The natural gas boom in the United States is an amazing trend, which will only continue thanks largely to the massive Marcellus shale. Production there is soaring in recent years due to recent discoveries and new technological advancements. As domestic demand grows, continued production growth is virtually assured. That means lots of cash to go around for major players such as Chesapeake Energy, Cabot Oil & Gas, and even CONSOL Energy, after its restructuring.

Bob Ciura has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.

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