Making Moves in the Barnett Shale

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Natural gas E&P player EnCana (NYS: ECA) stuck a giant for-sale sign in the middle of its Barnett Shale front yard last week. The company is looking to divest its 52,000-acre stake in the North Texas shale play. This move is part of a larger initiative that could yield net divestitures up to $2 billion in 2011, painting a bright picture for investors.

What the sale means for shareholders
Proceeds from the sale are expected to enhance EnCana's financial position. The company currently owns a debt-to-capitalization ratio of 33% and has close to $1 billion in debt maturities due by the first quarter of 2012. This step will also help the company to generate cash flow substantially higher than the $4.4 billion recorded in 2010. The move won't hurt EnCana's ability to pay a stable dividend to the shareholders, either; the company currently yields a solid 3.3%.

It certainly seems like EnCana stands to gain quite a bit from this sale -- if and when the property sells.

How much is that shale play in the window?
EnCana expects the low-end sales figure to be about $19,000 an acre, which is on par with Range Resources' (NYS: RRC) sale in the Barnett Shale earlier this year. EnCana has a few neighbors in the Barnett that may be interested in buying up its property. Here is a quick look at some of the major players in the region:

Company

Barnett Shale Acreage

EnCana

52,000

Devon Energy (NYS: DVN)

630,000

Chesapeake Energy (NYS: CHK)

220,000

EOG Resources (NYS: EOG)

175,000

Source: Annual reports.

If EOG Resources takes an interest in the EnCana property, it can pull right up alongside Chesapeake's stake.

Alternatively, though the EnCana property is paltry compared to its overall acreage, Devon Energy has mastered making the most out of its land. The company's horizontal drilling expertise has already resulted in an unheard-of 31 wells on a mere 12 acres of land.

Bottom line
This sale is subject, of course, to an acceptable bid. EnCana spent almost a year in negotiations with Petrochina (NYS: PTR) before recently walking away from an overseas deal. If nothing else, this reminds us that though the company stands to benefit handsomely once it sells its stake in the Barnett, until there's a signature on that dotted line this is just another maybe deal.

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At the time this article was published

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