The Marcellus Shale Formation: The Rush to Big Natural Gas Profits

The Marcellus Shale Formation

The Rush to Big Natural Gas Profits

By Steve Christ
Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Few people have ever heard of Edwin Drake, but when it comes to the oil industry he started it all with his clever new drilling innovation in 1859.

His brainstorm? It was driving a pipe down the well to keep the hole from caving in.

And contrary to popular opinion, it didn’t happen anywhere near any Texas oilman. Those guys and their ten-gallon hats didn’t even exist yet.

Instead, the first commercially viable oil wells were drilled in Pennsylvania, which is why there is such a thing as Quaker State and Pennzoil in the first place.

Pay dirt for Colonel Drake came 70 feet beneath the surface in Titusville, PA., making him the first person to ever successfully drill for oil. And with that single well, the Pennsylvania oil rush was born as speculators from all over the place gobbled up Pennsylvania land in the name of crude.

One of them was a guy you might have heard of. His name was John D. Rockefeller Sr., the world’s first billionaire.

The Marcellus Shale Formation

Now some 149 years later, it’s happening all over again with the renewed interest in the Marcellus shale formation, an area that runs through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York. But it’s not oil this time that has gotten everyone so excited, it is natural gas.

That’s why 175 landowners showed up in a meeting yesterday in Whitney Point, New York to discuss exactly how to deal with the energy companies that have suddenly shown up on their doorsteps looking to lock up their land in search of natural gas.

The message at the meeting, however, was quite simple. It was don’t give up the farm-which is what some people unwittingly did as they leased their land for as little as $100 an acre.

Meanwhile, others have hit it much bigger by negotiating leases for up to $2500 an acre along with 15 to 18 percent royalties.

"If the wells come to fruition, it will mean life-changing money," said Nicole Gwardyak, who owns 322 acres within the Marcellus formation and negotiates lease deals on behalf of energy companies in Pennsylvania.


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Naturally, the sums of money being spent in search of natural gas the Marcellus shale formation are enormous.

In fact, according to Thomas B. Murphy, an educator who runs a program to instruct landowners on their rights, companies will invest $700 million this year alone developing the Marcellus Shale.

In all, Murphy says up to 20 oil and gas companies are working the region with up to one half of that cash being invested in Pennsylvania.

Fueling this Marcellus land rush, in part is the increasing cost of natural gas. Because at present, the cost of the commodity is rising now right along with the price oil and reduced natural gas inventories.

The only question now it seems is exactly how high the price of natural gas can climb in the future.

But by comparing the price of natural gas to the rising cost of a barrel of oil these days the answer seems to be much higher.

That’s because when you break down the cost of natural gas into its equivalent found in a barrel of oil, natural gas is significantly under priced at the moment.

Here’s why.

Historically, natural gas typically trades at a price that is equal to the price of a barrel of oil divided by 5.8. That’s because each barrel of oil contains approximately 5.8 million BTUs vs. its counterpart in natural gas.

That means with oil now trading as high as $120 a barrel, the price of natural gas would need to rise to $20.69/million BTU(MBTU) to be on par with crude. And even if you go so far to discount the price oil to $80 a barrel, the price of natural gas would need climb to $13.79 to reach its historical relationship with oil.

So with natural gas currently trading at $11.32/MBTU the commodity is likely headed much higher.

The Marcellus Formation’s Land Rush to Profits

That’s the simple math that has helped to spur the rush to develop the energy resources found buried deep within the Marcellus shale formation, even though we have always known that they exist.

One of the companies that is leading the way in the Marcellus is Range Resources Corp. (NYSE:RRC). They have been active in the area since 2004.

In fact, according to reports, the Fort Worth, Texas based company will invest at least $426 million in the region. Moreover, Range owns 1.1 million acres within the Marcellus that the company estimates could add as much as 10 to 15 trillion cubic feet of gas to its reserves.

To date, Range has drilled and completed 63 vertical and 15 horizontal Marcellus Shale wells and has an additional seven verticals and four horizontals waiting on completion.

Those horizontal well are key, since that is the technique considered by most experts to be the most effective in the Marcellus. In this year alone, Range hopes to drill 40 horizontal well in the play.

The results so far have been encouraging to say the least with its latest well drawing 4.7 million cubic feet of natural gas a day setting the high water mark for the company.

But Range is hardly alone in its success. Several other companies are also very active in the region.

That means that the land rush throughout the Marcellus Formation will continue. And with our energy resources currently stretched to the limit it will also mean big profits for investors in the Marcellus Formation now and in the future.

And it is all taking place in the region where it began 149 year ago with Col. Drake and his drilling innovation.

Drake, by the way, never did make much money for his troubles. He failed to patent his new drilling technique and missed out on a fortune.

Others however did earn a bundle on what he discovered. You can join them with an investment in the companies that have returned to the area where it all began.

Your natural-gas-loving analyst,

steve sig

Steve Christ

Chief Investment Analyst

The Wealth Advisory


PS. With the energy situation now getting much worse, I’ve identified a group of energy companies that stand to book big profits as we work our way forward to new solutions. One of them is and under the radar play with positions in both Brazil and the Marcellus. It’s part of an energy portfolio that I’ll be introducing to Wealth Advisory subscribers soon. To learn more about The Wealth Advisory click here.

It’ll be the best $49.00 investment you will ever make.

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