The Eagle Ford Shale doesn't get as much attention as the better-known shale plays in Texas, like the Barnett or Haynesville Shale, but recent results by several exploration and production companies has led to a growing level of interest in the shale, tempered by the reality of lower commodity prices and credit restrictions. (Drill down into financial statements to tap into the right companies and let returns flow Unearth Profits In Oil Exploration And Production.)

The Eagle Ford Shale is located in South Texas, near the state's border with Mexico. The shale is an upper-cretaceous deposit, which puts it somewhere between 65 and 100 million years old. Its depth can range from 4000-10,000 feet and can be anywhere from 100-300 feet thick. The Eagle Ford lies just below the Austin Chalk, which is a well known producing zone throughout Texas.

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Active Companies
The largest company active in the shale is ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), which has 300,000 acres under net lease. The company doesn't say much about the area, only that it would develop it in 2009 along with several other promising on shore areas in North America.

A micro cap name involved with the area, and one that has devoted a large amount of resources is TXCO Resources (Nasdaq:TXCO), which has 442,000 acres under net lease in the Eagle Ford project area, where several different shale zones are accessible. The company believes that it has 1,950 drilling locations into the Eagle Ford Shale, and is partnering with other companies on some of its acreage, including St. Mary Land & Exploration Company (NYSE:SM).

Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC) is also involved in the Eagle Ford Shale, and has 349,000 gross acres under lease. The company drilled a third horizontal well during the fourth quarter of 2008, and said that it would drill at least four more wells there in 2009. At its analyst meeting in March, 2009, the company said that some of the wells had an initial production rate of six million cubic feet of equivalent per day.

Petrohawk (NYSE:HK) is an active driller in the Eagle Ford Shale, and believes that the play has characteristics similar to the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana. The company has 156,000 acres under net lease, and has targeted the area with $50 million in capital expenditures in 2009. The company has announced the results of two wells so far, and is drilling two more.

During its most recent conference call, the management of Petrohawk sounded optimistic about the results. "We've just racked our third well. We're not in a position to talk about it right now, but we're encouraged," said Richard Stoneburner, Petrohawk Energy's COO and executive vice president. "We're drilling our fourth well. We'll bring another rig in right first quarter or early second. I'm very encouraged and we'll be talking more about it at the end of the first quarter."

Although the Eagle Ford Shale is viewed by the industry as a potential source of future production growth, operators are treading slowly into this area as they warily eye commodity prices and their own leverage levels. (Find out which futures, options or funds will be your perfect commodity portfolio fit, see How To Invest In Commodities.)

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