As Shalegas Goes Big-time, Small Players Seek Bigger Pockets

The U.S. shalegas business is dominated by small companies that are not household names and which do not operate the way the better-known tech companies do. (One example: if you're a journalist looking to cover a technology story, generally all you need to do is contact the relevant company or organization, get put in touch with the public affairs department, and go from there once some ground rules are negotiated; reporting on the Marcellus earlier this year, I found that the typical shalegas company does not have a PR or media department, does not return phone calls, and in the rare event it does, tells you bluntly that it sees no advantage in talking with a member of the press.) The situation appears, however, to be rapidly changing--the little unknowns are starting to get gobbled up by the mega energy companies we all know about.

The inflection point came in June when ExxonMobil completed its purchase of XTO Energy, based in Fort Worth, Texas, for $40 billion. The month before, Royal Dutch Shell stated its intention to buy East Resources Inc., which owns gas development rights covering 650,000 acres in the Marcellus.

Now, several other of those companies so unknown outside the shalegas business are putting themselves up for sale. Chief Oil & Gas and Talon Oil & Gas, both based in Dallas, as well as Denver-based Anuschutz Exploration Corp., all have made known they are looking for buyers. According to an estimate cited in the Wall Street Journal, unconventional gas will account for close to two thirds of U.S. natural gas production by 2020, as compared with two fifths today. People familiar with the background to the current situation describe the three companies as "operations limited by their size, leading them to explore sales," commented the Journal.

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