A report put out the other day by the Kroll Bond Rating Agency stated that the Utica Shale and Marcellus Shale plays could represent more than $10 trillion in new economic activity when fully developed. That's a really, really big number. The total U.S. national debt is "only" about $16.5 trillion dollars.
While the report raised a number of concerns ranging from methane escaping into the environment to water contamination, it saw the exploitation of these shale formations significantly boosting the economies within its footprint. It noted that this could lead to a domestic revitalization of plastics, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer, as well as all the energy-related economic output.
None of this is really new, but it does remind us that there is money to be made by investing in this long-term trend. While there will be many ways to profit from this $10 trillion opportunity, some companies are positioning themselves to deliver long before anyone else.
Drill, baby, drill! The report noted that historical daily gas production is expected to rise from the 4.2 billion cubic feet per day, or Bcfe/d, the region produced in 2010 to 15.4 Bcf/d by 2020, making it the nation's leading production basin. For that to happen, drillers need to be incentivized to increase production, and right now with low natural gas prices that's simply not happening. However, I see two drillers that will see the most effect from a rise in natural gas prices.
Topping the list is Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE:CHK) the nation's No. 2 natural gas producer. While it has dramatically cut back on drilling in dry gas plays like its 1.8 million net acres in the Marcellus, the company is concentrating on developing its liquids-rich areas, which include an industry leading 1.3 million net acres in the Utica. When taken together, Chesapeake's massive position in the region should yield outstanding long-term results.
Joining Chesapeake in the region is Range Resources Corp. (NYSE:RRC) and its more than 1 million net acres in the play. The company sees 24 trillion-32 trillion cubic feet equivalent, or Tcfe, of resource potential in its Marcellus acres, with another 10 Tcfe-14 Tcfe of resource potential in its Upper Devonian Shale position. While the company is currently focusing on the super rich and wet gas formations of the Marcellus, over time it too will enjoy the economic benefits of fully unlocking this vast resource's potential.
Midstream boom With production growth in the Marcellus expected to double from 2011 to 2015 there is a significant amount of midstream infrastructure that still needs to be built. It's estimated that the industry will need to spend $20 billion through 2020 to build critical midstream assets. While there are many companies investing in midstream infrastructure, two really stand out.
While it might be better known as a utility, Dominion Resources, Inc. (NYSE:D) has several assets strategically located within the Marcellus and Utica shales. Its gas transmission business has more than 8,000 miles of pipelines, 776 Bcf of underground natural gas storage and 288 million cubic feet per day of natural gas processing capacity. It also owns the Cove Point LNG facility which has the potential to be transformed into a liquefied natural gas export facility.