1. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Introduction
  2. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Shale
  3. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Williston, Bakken And Three Forks
  4. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Eagle Ford
  5. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Niobrara
  6. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Marcellus
  7. Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Conclusion
Antrim Shale
The Antrim shale lies within the Michigan Basin. It covers 39,000 square miles and is located in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, and mainly produces methane and carbon dioxide. Most of the development is in the counties of Ostego and Montmorency in Michigan. The thicknesses range from 60 to 220 feet. In the 1990s, the Antrim was one of the most active shale plays in the U.S. It has produced over 9,000 wells to date. Well costs are low as the Antrim Shale is most economic between 600 and 2,200 feet. The resource is estimated to be between 31 and 76 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas, and the total technically recoverable resource is estimated between 11 and 18.9 Tcf. To complete wells, the cost ranges from $240,000 to $280,000. Producers in this play are Breitburn Energy (Nasdaq:BBEP) and Atlas Energy (NYSE:ATLS).

New Albany Shale
This is located in the Illinois Basin. This shale produces natural gas from Indiana and western Kentucky. Natural gas reserves are estimated at 86 to 160 Tcf with technically recoverable resource of 1.3 billion of cubic feet (BCF). The Eastern Devonian shale contains a substantial oil resource and is shallow with depths averaging 600 to 5,000 feet.

Utica Shale
Located in the Appalachian Basin, this oil and gas field covers New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and parts of Quebec in Montreal. This is not to be confused with the Marcellus Shale as it is located above the Utica. The Utica is gas dominant to the north but becomes oily to the south in Ohio. It has large variations in depth, from 2,000 feet below sea level in the north and western parts of the play to 14,000 feet towards the center in southwest Pennsylvania. This bodes well for the oil play in Ohio as well costs should be reasonable. It is estimated the Utica has a recoverable potential of 1.3 to 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 3.8 to 15.7 Tcf of natural gas. The source rock ranges in thickness of 100 to 500 feet. Producers in the Utica are Chesapeake (NYSE:CHK), EV Energy (Nasdaq:EVEP), Consol (NYSE:CNX), Hess (NYSE:HES), Exxon (NYSE:XOM), Devon (NYSE:DVN), Rex Energy (Nasdaq:REXX), Anadarko (NYSE:APC), Encana (NYSE:ECA), Forest Oil (NYSE:FST), Talisman Energy (NYSE:TLM), EQT(NYSE:EQT), Dominion Resources (NYSE:D), Range Resources (NYSE:RRC), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), PDC Energy (Nasdaq:PDCE) and Magnum Hunter (NYSE:MHR).

Thickness of Utica Shale in feet.
Figure 2: Map showing the thickness of Utica Shale in feet.
Image: The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR)

Cumnock Shale
Located in North Carolina, this shale is prospective for natural gas. This rock is 800 feet thick and has good organic content. There has not been enough activity here to know how good this play is.

Conasauga Shale
Located in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, the Conasauga Shale extends as far south as Talladega County and as far north as Cherokee County Alabama. It also extends northeast into northwest Georgia. The Conasauga is one of the thickest shales in the world. Shale gas is being produced from some areas and it is much like that of the Barnett Shale.

Chattanooga Shale
Also known as the Ohio Shale, the Chattanooga Shale is generally targeted at a depth of 3,000 to 5,000 feet. It covers a large area from Kentucky to New York, and it has an estimated total resource of 12.2 Tcf of natural gas. It was initially believed that the Chattanooga was only in Tennessee and Kentucky, but was later found to be an extension of the Appalachian Basin. In Alabama, it is referred to as the Black Warrior Basin. This shale has thicknesses in excess of 1,000 feet in Kentucky, but thins to the south as much as 80 feet in some areas of Tennessee. Players in the Chattanooga Shale are Atlas Energy, GeoMet (OTC:GMET), Range Resources, Energen (NYSE:EGN) and Chesapeake.

Floyd Shale
This shale is located in the Black Warrior Basin in Mississippi and northwest Alabama. It has an average thickness of approximately 500 feet, and has been described as an equivalent to the Barnett Shale. This is still considered a natural gas prospective play.

Neal Shale
Located in the lower part of the Floyd Shale, the Neal Shale is a prospective play in Alabama and Mississippi. Given its lack of thickness, it may only be possible for horizontals to provide commercial wells in this play. It is a prospective play on natural gas.

Tuscaloosa Marine Shale
The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is located in Louisiana and Mississippi, and there has been some significant interest in this area due to it being an oil and gas play. Although a little younger, the formation has been compared the Eagle Ford. This is still a prospective play, but if it is found to be commercial it should be a significant source of liquids. It could be costly to drill given its depth of 10,000 to 15,000 feet though. It runs from 500 to 800 feet in thickness, and has a potential reserve of 7 billion barrels of oil. Oil producers in this play are Devon, Encana and Goodrich Petroleum (NYSE:GDP).

Activity in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.
Figure 3: Activity in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.
Image: Goodrich Petroleum Corporation

Smackover Brown Dense Shale
Located in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas, the Smackover Brown Dense Shale is a prospective oil play. Interest has been building in this play as it could hold as much as 1 billion barrels of oil. It has a thickness of between 300 and 500 feet, and is found at depths of 8,000 to 10,000 feet below the surface. The lower member of the Smackover Formation has as much as 50 feet of sandstone and 100 feet of dolomite. Early estimates believe this formation could stretch into Mississippi, Texas and possibly Florida. Producers in this area are Bonanza Creek Energy (NYSE:BCEI), Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) and Cabot Oil & Gas (NYSE:COG).

Haynesville Shale
The Haynesville Shale is located in southwestern Arkansas, northwest Louisiana and in east Texas. It is 10,500 to 13,000 feet below the surface, covers an area of 9,000 square miles and is 200 to 300 feet thick. Estimated recoverable reserves are 60 Tcf with each well having an average production of 6.5 Bcf. It is possible the Haynesville Shale could be the largest natural gas field in the contiguous 48 states. The Haynesville was once classified as part of the Bossier shale, but now both are classified as separate formations. In March 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported the Haynesville was the number one natural gas U.S. shale play. Producers in the Haynesville Shale are PetroHawk ((which was purchased by BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) and is now known as BHP Billiton), Encana, Exxon, EXCO Resources (NYSE:XCO), Forest Oil, Anadarko, Cabot Oil & Gas, SM Energy (NYSE:SM), Plains Exploration (NYSE:PXP), Comstock Resources (NYSE:CRK), Goodrich Petroleum, GMX Resources (NYSE:GMXR), PetroQuest Energy (NYSE:PQ) and Cubic Energy (AMEX:QBC).

Bossier Shale
The Bossier Shale is found 500 to 800 feet above the Haynesville Shale. Like the Haynesville, the Bossier is over pressured and organic-rich with a matrix porosity from 8 to 10%. Gas reserves seem to be close to that of the Haynesville. Producers in this play are GMX Resources, Comstock Resources, Gastar (AMEX:GST), Cabot Oil & Gas, EXCO Resources, Southwestern Energy, BHP, Encana, Exxon, Chesapeake and Forest Oil.

Fayetteville Shale
Located in Arkansas, the Fayetteville Shale is in the Arkoma Basin. The thicknesses start at 50 feet, but in some areas can reach 550 feet. The Fayetteville is at depths of 1,500 to 6,500 feet below the surface. It is 50 miles from north to south and resides much deeper in the east. It has shale gas resources of 32 Tcf. Fayetteville Shale natural gas producers are BHP Billiton, Southwestern, PetroQuest and Exxon.

Excello Shale
Located in the Cherokee Basin is the Excello Shale. The Cherokee Basin has an estimated resource of 6 Tcf, and is located in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Anadarko Woodford Shale
Located in the Anadarko Basin, the Anadarko Woodford Shale runs from northwest to south central Oklahoma. The Anadarko Woodford is also known as the Cana-Woodford and is a gas play to the northwest. To the east and south, the play turns into a condensate and then an oil window. This is a liquids dominated play, and it is found at depths of 11,500 to 14,500 feet and is 50 to 300 feet thick. The Cana-Woodford covers 688 square miles. Total recoverable resource is 5.7 Tcf. Shale gas resource is estimated at 6 Tcf. Oil, NGLs and natural gas producers in the Cana-Woodford are Range Resources, Newfield (NYSE:NFX), Evolution (AMEX:EPM), Marathon (NYSE:MRO), Cimarex (NYSE:XEC), SM Energy, Penn Virginia (NYSE:PVA), Devon, Exxon and Continental (NYSE:CLR).

The Anadarko Woodford Shale runs from northwest to south central Oklahoma.
Figure 4: The Anadarko Woodford Shale (Cana-Woodford) runs from northwest to south central Oklahoma.

SEE: Uncovering Oil And Gas Futures

Granite Wash
The Granite Wash is in the eastern Texas Panhandle located in the Anadarko Woodford. These wells have a high percentage of condensate and NGLs (50%), and a low cost to drill and complete. Wells have an estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of 1.1 million barrels of oil equivalents (BOE). This reservoir is 160 miles long and 30 miles wide. It is 11,000 to 13,000 feet below the surface with a thickness ranging from 1,500 to 3,500 feet. The Granite Wash was formed by the erosion of materials from granite and formed a rock with the same major mineral constitutes. The Granite Wash is located in the counties of Beckham, Greer, Gray, Wheeler, Roberts and Hemphill. Wells costs are estimated at $9 million. Operators are Chesapeake, Newfield, Penn Virginia, Cimarex Energy, Questar (NYSE:STR), Linn Energy (Nasdaq:LINE), Forest Oil, Apache Corp. (NYSE:APA), BNK Petroleum (TSE:BKX.TO) and Devon Energy.

Hogshooter Wash
It is much like the Granite Wash but oilier. Some very good well results have come from this play. Initial production (IP) rates have exceeded 2,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/D), with short laterals and around nine stages. Of this rate, approximately 700 barrels of oil or 57% total liquids are expected. EURs of 350 thousand barrels of oil equivalent (MBOE) are expected. Producers have been targeting this pay zone at right around 11,000 feet. The Hogshooter is in the counties of Gray, Roberts, Wheeler, Roger Mills, Beckham, Custer, Washita, Kiowa and Greer. Producers that are active in this field include Apache and Forest Oil.

Woodford Shale
Located in southeastern Oklahoma, the Woodford Shale is also called the Arkoma Woodford because it is in the Arkoma Basin. The Woodford is mainly a gas play but increases in liquids production to the west. Shale gas resource is estimated at 22 Tcf. Its shale thickness ranges from 120 to 220 feet, and is found at depths between 6,000 and 12,000 feet below the surface. Natural gas producers in the Arkoma are Range Resources, Panhandle Oil And Gas (NYSE:PHX), Unit Corp. (NYSE:UNT), Newfield, Evolution, Marathon, Questar, SM Energy, PetroQuest, Penn Virginia, Devon, Exxon and Continental.

Horizontal Mississippian Shale
Located from western Kansas to central Oklahoma in a southeastern direction is the Horizontal Mississippian Shale. This shallow carbonate oil play is not only at a low cost but it also has EURs from 300 to 500 MBOE. It is found at depths of 4,500 to 6,000 feet, and has a thickness of 200 to 700 feet. It covers a 17 million acre prospective area. To give an idea of its significance, the Bakken is 10 million to 15 million acres in area. Percentages of oil recovery increases significantly to the east. This area has also had success in vertical programs. EURs lower to the 60 to 200 MBOE, but well costs are much lower.

he Mississippian play is shown in blue and the Kansas Central Uplift is shown in red.
Figure 5: The Mississippian play is shown in blue and the Kansas Central Uplift is shown in red.

Ways to play the horizontal Mississippian are Sandridge (NYSE:SD), Chesapeake, Range, PetroQuest and Shell (NYSE:RDS-A, RDS-B)

Bend Shale
Located in the Palo Duro Basin in the southern part of the Texas Panhandle is the Bend Shale. The thickness ranges from 500 to 1,000 feet, and depths range between 7,000 and 10,500 feet. The Bend shale is prospective for natural gas.

Barnett Shale
The Barnett Shale is located in the Bend Arch-Fort Worth Basin in Texas. It is thought the shale may have more producible reserves than any onshore natural gas field in the lower 48 states. It has a shale gas resource of 43 Tcf. The Barnett Shale covers over 5,000 square miles and has already produced 4.8 Tcf of natural gas. It is found 6,500 to 8,500 feet below the ground. Natural gas producers in the Barnett are Carrizo Oil & Gas (Nasdaq:CRZO), Forest Oil, Williams (NYSE:WMB), Range Resources, Quicksilver (NYSE:KWK), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) and Devon.

Barnett Combo Shale
This Barnett Shale is mainly a natural gas play located around Fort Worth, Texas. This gassy area is towards the southeast of the Barnett play. The northwest is liquids rich and is referred to as the Barnett Combo. Liquids production has been around 85%, and the thickness can reach 1,500 to 1,700 feet, which allows for less expensive vertical wells to be used. EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) estimates the formation contains 70 million barrels of oil and 175 Bcf in place/square mile. Producers in the Barnett Combo include Denbury (NYSE:DNR), PDC, Range Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD), EOG Resources, ConocoPhillips and Chesapeake.

Austin Chalk
Located in Louisiana, Mississippi and south Texas is the Austin Chalk. It is a play on both oil and natural gas and it is intermingled with the Eagle Ford shale in some areas, although there are questions as to its (Eagle Ford) commerciality. The Austin Chalk is 250 miles long by 50 miles wide and the thickness ranges from 50 to 600 feet. Target depth is 5,600 feet and is just above the Eagle Ford shale. There are three main areas of interest in the Austin Chalk: Pearsall, Giddings and Brookeland. Oil producers with interests here are Clayton Williams (Nasdaq:CWEI), Evolution, Swift Energy (NYSE:SFY), GeoResources ((which was purchased by Halcon Resources (NYSE:HK)), Anadarko and EV Energy (Nasdaq:EVEP).

Pearsall Shale
This formation is gassy and is located below the Eagle Ford in the Maverick Basin. The Pearsall shale is at a depth of 4,000 to 14,000 feet. Its most shallow areas are in the oil window and it gradually deepens into the dry gas window. It has a shale thickness of 500 to 600 feet. Chesapeake has a large leasehold in the Pearsall.

Barnett-Woodford Shale (Marfa Basin)
The Marfa Basin is the smallest of the three basins in the Permian. This area has a shale thickness ranging from 400 to 1,200 feet. It is a play on natural gas, has depth and is high in organic content and thermal maturity. Drill depths in this basin are around 17,000 feet.

Avalon Shale (Leonard)
Also known as the Leonard Shale in the Midland Basin, the Avalon generally refers to the Delaware Basin. It encompasses the counties of Chaves, Eddy and Lea in New Mexico. The Avalon is part of the first Bone Spring Formation.

Bone Spring Oil Field
This formation consists of three zones, and is located in the Delaware Basin. The first zone includes the Avalon Shale. The first through third Bone Spring pay zones have a thickness of 150 to 350 feet. The Bone Springs extends 4,390 square miles. Wells here are producing 41% oil, 31% NGLs and 28% gas. It is found at depths of 6,000 to 9,800 feet.

Wolfcamp Shale
Located in the Permian Basin, the Wolfcamp is also referred to as the Wolfberry in the Midland Basin because it is just below the Spraberry Formation. In the Delaware Basin, the Wolfcamp is located below the Bone Spring Field. The Wolfcamp yields 42% oil, 30% NGLs and 28% gas. It is estimated to cover 1 million acres and is at a depth of 7,000 to 10,500 feet. Oil producers in the Wolfcamp are Chesapeake, EOG Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources, Devon, Linn Energy, Sandridge (NYSE:SD), Cimarex, Whiting (NYSE:WLL), ConocoPhillips, BHP, Approach (Nasdaq:AREX), Apache, Forest Oil, Concho Resources (NYSE:CXO), El Paso (NYSE:EPB) and SM Energy.

Spraberry Shale
The Spraberry Shale is found in the eastern Permian Basin and is referred to as the Midland Basin. It is found below the Leonard Shale. It covers approximately 2,500 square miles. The Spraberry was ranked third in total proved reserves and seventh in total production back in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Energy. The best producing average depth is at 6,800 feet. The Dean Formation is directly below the Spraberry and is generally combined with or considered part of the Spraberry.

Pennsylvania Shale
This shale is found in the Permian Basin. It is located below the Wolfcamp in the Delaware, Midland and Central Platform Basins. It is just one of several pay zones.

Cline Shale
Located in the Midland Basin, the Cline Shale has shown promise to companies working the deeper pay zones in this area. EURs are estimated to be 340 MBOE with a well cost $4.3 million with 210,000 of these barrels being oil. Using 10 stages, laterals of 3,000 feet are expected. It has a spacing of 160 acres and 15 stage 4,000 feet lateral wells have EURs of 420 MBOE (60% is oil). Well costs are higher at $7.7 million. Ways to play this shale are Range, Chesapeake, Devon, Apache, Concho, Laredo (NYSE:LPI), Energen, Pioneer, Occidental (NYSE:OXY) and EXCO.

Monterey Shale
Located in California, the Monterey Shale is present in the Santa Maria, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Joaquin basins. This shale is a play on both natural gas and oil, but mostly oil. In the San Joaquin Basin, the Monterey is between 500 and 3,000 feet thick. In deeper areas, the Monterey Formation is 13,000 to 16,000 feet below the surface and between 8,000 and 9,600 feet in shallower areas. This shale is thought to be a part of the Kern Oil Field. Oil producers in the Monterey Shale are Venoco, Occidental, Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE:CNQ) and Plains Exploration and Production.

Lewis Shale
In the San Juan Basin, there is a gas shale play called the Lewis Shale. It covers over 1,100 square miles and is estimated to contain 96 Tcf of gas. Lewis wells are not very lucrative by themselves but when other pay zones are added results can be quite good.

Pierre Shale
Located in the Raton Basin of southeast Colorado the Pierre Shale is 700 feet thick in some spots. It is seen as far west as the Lewis shale mentioned earlier. It has produced natural gas in this area.

Piceance Basin
The Piceance Basin is in western Colorado and has generally been referred to as a gas play, but some areas are prospective for NGLs. The Williams Fork is a shale that is several thousand feet thick within the Piceance. It has five of the top 50 gas fields by proved reserves in the U.S. The Piceance also has 1.525 trillion barrels of in place of oil shale resource. It is difficult to know how much will be recoverable due to difficulties in recovery. Bill Barrett (NYSE:BBG) is active here along with Exxon, Encana, Williams, Delta Petroleum and PDC Energy.

Uinta Basin
Located in Utah, this basin is a play on both oil and gas. It recently received some press when Newfield announced it was making this one of its top plays. The Uinta is very interesting due to multiple targets with some vertical and horizontal oil pay zones. Wells have a very low cost, which creates short payback times. Bill Barrett and Newfield are active in this play.

Heath Shale
In Montana, the Heath Shale is prospective for oil. This play has been found to be spotty and inconsistent. It has a shallow depth between 4,900 and 5,200 feet and creates a low estimate well cost. Current players are Noble Energy (NYSE:NBL), Voyager Oil and Gas, Cabot, EOG Resources and Endeavour (NYSE:END).

Cody Shale
Also in Montana is the Cody Shale. This shale has received little press. Still prospective, the commerciality has not yet been proven. It is mainly a gas play and is between 900 and 2,000 feet thick and between 3,000 and 7,000 feet below the surface.

Alberta Bakken
Located in northwest Montana, the Alberta Bakken is prospective for oil from several pay zones including the Bakken and Three Forks. Estimated original oil in place/section of land ranges from 13 to 15 million barrels. This play does not have the upside of the Williston Basin Bakken but could be commercial. Rosetta (Nasdaq:ROSE), Newfield, Deethree Exploration (OTC:DTHRF), Murphy Oil (NYSE:MUR), Shell, Crescent Point (OTC:CSCTF), Vecta Energy (OTC:VCTEF), LGX (OTC:ROAOF), Mountainview Energy (OTC:MNVWF), Guardian Exploration, Nexen (NYSE:NXY), Legacy Oil and Gas (OTC:LEGPF), Quicksilver, FX Energy (Nasdaq:FXEN), American Eagle Energy (OTC:AMZG), Stone Energy (NYSE:SGY), Arkanova Energy (OTC:AKVA) and Primary Petroleum (OTC:PETEF) are all ways to play the upside.

Due to the dropping price of natural gas, many of these plays are not commercial. Some producers have let permits cancel while others have pulled rigs. Only the most economical of plays still are producing, but with gas being at $2.50 even those are losing money.

SEE: Investing In Oil And Gas UITs

Guide To Oil And Gas Plays In North America: Williston, Bakken And Three Forks
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