Noble Energy, Anadarko, PDC lead the pack in early development of Niobrara Shale

Noble Energy, with headquarters in Houston, is the leading producer in the Niobrara Shale play, which is mostly in the Denver-Julesberg Basin of northeastern Colorado. The company also operates in two other unconventional plays — the Piceance in western Colorado and the Haynesville in northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana.

In March, Noble announced it had closed on the purchase of substantially all of the US Rockies upstream assets of Petro-Canada Resources (USA) Inc. and Suncor Energy (Natural Gas) America Inc. This increased the company's holdings in the Wattenberg and set up additional opportunities in the Niobrara.

A coiled tubing drilling rig drills for gas in northeast Colorado.
Photo courtesy of Anadarko Petroleum.

Total resources acquired were nearly 100 million barrels of oil equivalent, half of which are estimated to be proved reserves. The acquisition adds roughly 10,000 boe/day to Noble Energy's daily production and includes 340,000 total net acres, nearly 200,000 of which are located in the Greater DJ Basin.

The second-largest producer in the Niobrara is Anadarko Petroleum, which has been developing assets acquired from Kerr-McGee in 2006. In a recent analyst call, Anadarko said it believes it is well positioned in the Niobrara because of its history in shallower formations in the Wattenberg. The company believes it has a good understanding of how to drill the Niobrara formation, how it produces, how to stimulate it, etc. Anadarko says it will continue to expand its operations there, as it plans to do in the Eagle Ford and Marcellus shale plays.

The third-, fourth-, and fifth-largest producers in the Eagle Ford are, respectively, Denver-based PDC Energy (formerly Petroleum Development Corporation); Rosewood Resources; and Encana Oil & Gas USA.

PDC Energy has entered into an agreement to increase its acreage in the Wattenberg Niobrara to 70,000 net acres, 92% of which is held by production. PDC says it has identified several new prospective horizontal drilling locations. Chairman and CEO Richard McCullough noted that increasing PDC's position in the Niobrara adds additional oil and NGL-rich gas production to the company's asset portfolio.

The Niobrara Shale play has been compared favorably to the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Montana. While the Niobrara formation is still in the very early stages of development, all indications are that the outlook is promising. Houston-based EOG Resources continues to lease land and is already up to 400,000 acres. Privately-held Samson Oil & Gas has a 50% interest in 50,000 net acres in the Niobrara.

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