The Eagle Ford Shale saw much activity in 2009, as this new shale play gained increased attention from operators eager to find it a place among the various North American shale plays. Operators also reported high liquids gas wells there, boosting the economics of the play.
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Among the independent exploration and production companies, Petrohawk Energy (NYSE:HK) had the most activity in the Eagle Ford shale in 2009. The company drilled its second test well in early 2009, and was using a one-rig program there. The Dora Martin No.1H well reported an initial production rate of 8.3 million cubic feet equivalent of natural gas. By the end of 2009, Petrohawk Energy had 314,000 net acres under leases in two separate fields, and has set up a joint venture with Swift Energy (NYSE:SFY) to develop a small part of that company's acreage.

The company proudly declared that the Eagle Ford Shale "is one of the highest quality shale reservoirs discovered to date in the United States."

Among the major oil companies, Conoco Phillips (NYSE:COP) disclosed a 300,000-acre position in the Eagle Ford shale at its analyst meeting in March 2009. The company likes the play due to the high amount of liquids in the wells there.

Some companies used 2009 to get set up for next year. Murphy Oil (NYSE:MUR) also has acreage in the Eagle Ford Shale, but has not disclosed much beyond that it is engaged in a three well drilling program to test its acreage. The company will drill vertical wells at first and then move forward with a horizontal program next year if the tests are successful. (Before jumping into this hot sector, learn how these companies make their money in the Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)

This is an interesting move for Murphy Oil because the company is not generally known for onshore development. Also, several years ago it started accumulating acreage in the Floyd Shale in Alabama and Mississippi but did not go beyond testing that acreage.

Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD) has 310,000 gross acres in the Eagle Ford Shale. The company started a five-well test program in August 2009, and just reported its first completion. The Sinor No.5 came in at an initial production rate of 11.3 million cubic feet equivalent, including 500 barrels of condensate per day.

The Bottom Line
The exploration and production industry gushed about the Eagle Ford Shale in 2009, and spent the year building acreage positions and testing those properties in preparation for more extensive horizontal drilling programs in 2010. (Unit investment trusts provide direct exposure to the energy sector, fueling better returns see Investing In Oil And Gas UITs.)

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