While numerous U.S. metropolitan areas are being hit by severe economic downturns, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is gassing up for growth. The "gassing" part relates at least in part to the activity surrounding the exploitation of the Barnett Shale natural gas play by Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and a group of other independent producers.

The Barnett, a huge 5,000-square-mile natural gas discovery, lies beneath several North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, the latter of which includes metropolitan Fort Worth. In addition to Chesapeake, a Motley Fool Inside Value selection, the Barnett is being developed by such other producers as Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), Calgary-based EnCana (NYSE: ECA), and Fort Worth's XTO Energy (NYSE: XTO).

To facilitate the leasing of mineral rights in the area, Chesapeake has deployed about 1,000 landmen and brokers to meet with private parties and governments. The leases typically include a signing bonus -- usually about $20,000 per acre -- along with a percentage cut in the production profits.

The company is endeavoring to make the mineral rights leasing decision easier for property owners by publishing a magazine called The Play, and it's begun advertising its message on other media. It's also conducting a series of Barnett Shale Expos to familiarize owners with the leasing process and its benefits.

Perhaps the Barnett's contribution to the area has played a role in the metroplex being the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country between 2006 and 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And while it'll be working with smaller municipalities, let's hope that Chesapeake will have a similarly positive effect on the economy of at least part of Louisiana.

There the company has just announced a new discovery, the Haynesville Shale, which it expects to eclipse the size of the Barnett and the Fayetteville Shale, an Arkansas play where it's also increasing its drilling.

All of this activity has helped Chesapeake to become the nation's third-largest natural gas producer behind major integrated companies BP (NYSE: BP) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP). It's bearing down on the supremacy of that pair, and has also rewarded stockholders with almost a 50% share price gain since August. At this point, it's hard to see this solidly run, fast-moving company pausing for a prolonged rest.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your comments, questions, or other communications. The Fool has a disclosure policy.