Chesapeake CEO: Utica Shale Acres Worth $15B-$20B

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug. 1, 2011

Chesapeake Chief Executive Aubrey McClendon said Friday that the company believes its acreage above the Utica Shale formation in eastern Ohio, 1.25 million acres the company has quietly pieced together over the last year and a half, is worth $15 billion to $20 billion.

"That's a big number to share but we believe we understand the hydrocarbon potential under our acreage and we also know a fair amount about how to create and extract value from a play such as this," McClendon told investors during a conference call to discuss the company's second-quarter earnings. "The Utica should emerge as a key driver in the future growth of U.S. energy supplies, especially in natural gas liquids."

Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake reported earnings of $510 million, or 68 cents a share, compared with a prior-year profit of $255 million, or 37 cents a share. Excluding mark-to-market and other impacts, adjusted earnings rose to 76 cents from 75 cents. Revenue jumped 65% to $3.32 billion on higher production and rising oil and gas prices.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a per-share profit of 72 cents on revenue of $2.77 billion.

In order to contend with rising oilfield service costs and ramp up drilling in Ohio, Chesapeake said it will boost spending by $1 billion over the next two years to between $6 billion and $6.5 billion annually.

McClendon said Chesapeake, which is drilling into the Utica with five rigs, plans to add three more rigs by the end of the year and eventually have as many as 40 drilling in eastern Ohio by the end of 2014.

Chesapeake has spent between $1.5 billion and $2 billion on leasing property in eastern Ohio and continues to add parcels, McClendon said. The acreage will exceed the $15 billion to $20 billion range once more of it is developed into producing oil fields, but that is its value now as Chesapeake shops it to potential joint venture partners.

Chesapeake plans to sell a stake in the property during the fourth quarter.

The Utica, a deeply buried rock formation, lies below parts of eight states, from Tennessee to New York, as well as parts of Canada. Oil companies, however, have concentrated their leasing and exploration efforts in eastern Ohio, which they believe will yield more valuable oil and natural gas liquids.

While McClendon decline to detail the results from the 15 Utica wells it's drilled so far, he said the activity that will come there should lift an Ohio work force that has suffered for years as manufacturers flee the Rust Belt. Abundant water, needed to hydraulically fracture shale formations, easy transport by rail, highway and river, and a large base of industrial workers make the Utica more attractive and potentially more profitable than many other recent shale discoveries, McClendon said.

"We think that our activity can help rejuvenate this area and we're quite pleased with the size of the work force and the quality of the work force," he said. "This is pretty much the most ideal place in America for a new play."

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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