Earlier this month, two oil & gas operators that I follow fairly closely held their annual analyst meetings. After flipping through their massive PowerPoint slide decks, some of the companies' estimates left me scratching my head.

Early in Forest Oil's (NYSE: FST) presentation, the company highlights three of its core areas -- the Texas Panhandle, East Texas/North Louisiana, and Canada's Deep Basin. Forest is directing 75% of its 2010 drilling budget to these plays, each of which offers a greater than 15% rate of return at $5 natural gas and $60 oil.

The phrase "'profitable' organic growth" appears in Forest's slides seven times. I think the firm felt the need to underscore its focus on profitable growth, following a year in which many companies drilled just to hold onto leases. The consequences of those decisions are still with us, as natural gas futures touch six-month lows. The chart of the US Natural Gas (NYSE: UNG) ETF is a sorry sight indeed.

Ground zero for this questionable drilling activity appears to be the Haynesville. Petrohawk Energy (NYSE: HK) might be forgiven for going full throttle, given its industry-leading results, but not every shop is so lucky to be sitting in the sweet spot in Northern Louisiana. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) says this drill-to-hold impetus will continue to drive activity in the play for the next year or two.

Getting back to Forest Oil, the company pegs its core Haynesville/Bossier rate of return at 15%, given the price assumptions outlined earlier. Returns drop to 5% at $4 gas/$50 oil prices and hit 28% at $6 gas/$70 oil prices. It looks like the average Haynesville well is uneconomic at today's gas price of around $4 per million BTU.

You wouldn't get that impression from Encana's (NYSE: ECA) analyst day slides, however. The Canadian firm posits early in its U.S. division presentation that its Haynesville play offers rates of return in excess of 50%. This, despite the firm's estimated "supply cost" of $3.75 to $4.45 per million BTU. That's Encana's estimate of a breakeven gas price -- excluding land costs, which have run quite high in the Haynesville.

Not only is this slide inconsistent with Forest Oil's, it's also inconsistent with EnCana's own supplemental slides. Way in the back of the presentation, we see that Haynesville wells generated 19% after-tax returns in 2009. The firm projects 26% returns from the 2010 program.

It seems that in talking about 50%-plus returns in the Haynesville, Encana is factoring in the $6 to $7 gas prices it expects to see in future years. While that's not an unreasonable long-term assumption, Encana really should make it explicit, to avoid misleading investors. That's especially important, given that Encana's accelerated "land retention program" places it firmly in the Haynesville drill-to-hold camp. Consider this a bit of constructive criticism for an otherwise very shareholder-friendly shop

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Fool has opened a diagonal call spread position and written puts on United States Natural Gas. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.