The Safest Bet in Natural Gas

ExxonMobil's (NYS: XOM) revenue is 400 times more than that of Range Resources (NYS: RRC) . Chesapeake Energy (NYS: CHK) has half a million more acres in the Marcellus Shale as Range Resources. And yet, when it comes down to it, Range is the company it's easiest to get behind.

Range is arguably the most visible operator in the Marcellus Shale right now -- and with good reason. The company goes out of its way to establish itself as a positive presence, doing everything from using billboards to wax poetic about safe drilling to sponsoring the Pittsburgh Pirates' strike zone. Range has been in the Marcellus since day one, drilling one of the first vertical wells in 2004 and with its 2007 publicly reported findings kicking off the land-grab frenzy that quickly turned the Marcellus region into the hottest U.S. natural gas play.

Range does it first. Always.
Keeping with its first mover tradition, Range recently sealed the deal for the first ethane contract coming out of the Marcellus Shale. Through a partnership with pipeline operators Sunoco Logistics (NYS: SXL) and MarkWest Energy (NYS: MWE) , Canada's NOVA Chemicals will begin to receive deliveries from Range by the end of 2013.

Range also lays claim to a few other important firsts:

  • First horizontal driller in the Marcellus

  • First to recycle water used in fracking

  • First to disclose chemicals in fracking water

The last two bullets are increasingly important these days with all the controversy about hydraulic fracturing. The EPA is gently encouraging drillers to reveal the chemicals that go into fracking water, but Range has already done it. When I say "first to disclose," I don't mean a special report written just for the government; I mean that you or I can go to Range's website and look up exactly what chemicals, and in what amounts, go into their fracking solution.

Black sheep? Try green sheep.
In fact, Range's outlook toward the environment really goes against the grain relative to other drillers in the Marcellus. Take, for example, Cabot Oil & Gas (NYS: COG) . Fifteen families in Pennsylvania sued the driller last year, claiming the company was responsible for explosions and the presence of methane in tap water. Industry experts say Cabot handled the battle with homeowners and state investigators so poorly that it has hurt the entire industry.

On the flip side, this past May, Range Resources ceased the legal practice of discharging waste saltwater into rivers and streams because the company recognized it could have a negative effect over time. Range recycles the water instead, which, as it happened, turned out to be economical anyway. You know what else is economical? Avoiding lawsuits.

Don't worry, there's more
On top of that, Range discovered that if it skips weekend drilling, dedicating Saturdays to maintenance and taking Sundays off, the neighbors don't complain and worker efficiency improves. Ray Walker, a senior vice president at Range, sums up the mission nicely: "We understand that our greatest responsibility is continued environmental stewardship, transparency and providing a safe workplace for our employees and the community."

Fools, this is a gas company even the socially responsible Alyce Lomax could love.

Foolish bottom line
Range Resources' success ultimately boils down to the future price of natural gas in the U.S. Though it's expected to rise eventually, there are can't be any guarantees that will happen anytime soon. Range's innovation in the Marcellus and dedication to "doing the right thing" sets it apart from other oil and gas companies -- and makes it a great long-term pick.

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At the time thisarticle was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Range Resources. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Range Resources and Chesapeake Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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