The World's Fast-Changing Oil Map: North America


It wasn't long ago that yours truly -- along with most other energy observers -- was mightily concerned about the potential for a slurping sound indicating that our continent's oil and gas reserves had been drained. What a difference a half-decade can make, however. Today, our thoughts have moved to such different considerations as how to transport and refine bitumen from Canada's tar sands and whether we'll be overwhelmed by our newfound surfeit of natural gas.

At the same time, ours isn't the only place on Planet Earth wherein the oil and gas scene is undergoing a revolution. The same can be said of South America, Africa, the North Sea, and, unless I miss my bet, the South China Sea. As such, I suggest that we take a look in a series of articles at these and others of the world's changing energy venues. In this piece, we'll take a quick gander at North America, before subsequently moving on to other areas of interest.

Our neighbors are flush
You almost certainly know about our neighbors to the north in Canada. They're good enough to lead the world in transporting crude oil into the United States. Most comes from the tar sands of Alberta, where the likes of Chevron (NYS: CVX) are working diligently. At the same time, the country is garnering increasing hydrocarbons from the Montney and Duvernay Shales, primarily in British Columbia. All in all, it appears that, given expanding Canadian production, along with a turnaround in output declines in Mexico, our own fast growth in output could contribute to boost North America's production from near 15.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day last year to nearly 27 million daily barrels by 2020.

And so are we
As indicated, our own country has become a hotbed of oil and gas production increases. Indeed, the Paris-based International Energy Agency now predicts that -- are you seated? -- the U.S. could surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world's top oil producer within the next eight years. The agency, which consults with the world's developed nations on the vicissitudes of energy, is operating under the assumption that U.S. crude production will reach about 11.1 million barrels a day by 2020.

That heady rate would result from a combination of unconventional production in a host of new or revived locations and a growing array of discoveries in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Let's look briefly as some of the locations that are suddenly defining our country as nearly awash in oil. Onshore, I'm referring to the Eagle Ford, the Bakken, and the Permian Basin, although there clearly are other locales where more and more crude and liquids are being produced. Offshore, we'll check in on the Gulf.

The Eagle Ford: The Eagle Ford Shale runs from about the Mexican border with southern Texas, north to the Dallas area. The roughly 50 mile by 400 mile swath contains more carbonate to the south, making it more brittle and "frackable," and thereby more productive. The first well in the play was drilled in 2008 by Petrohawk, which was acquired last year by Australia's BHP Billiton (NYS: BHP) . Today, activity in the oil and gas hotbed is being led by EOG Resources (NYS: EOG) .

The Bakken Shale: The Bakken is clearly the most noteworthy part of the Williston Basin, which began largely as a gas play and runs from the Dakotas into Montana. Now, potentially the biggest oil find in U.S. history -- including earlier finds in Alaska -- the Bakken's productive areas continue to expand through the efforts of such independent producers as Continental Resources (NYS: CLR) and Whiting Petroleum (NYS: WLL) .

The Permian Basin: I'm frankly having a wonderful time observing the resurgence of the Permian Basin, which straddles southwest Texas and southeastern New Mexico. According to the Texas Railroad Commission, the Basin has yielded about 29 billion barrels of oil since way back in 1921. Several times it's been thought to have been played out, in mining vernacular. Today, however, if you'll pardon the expression, it has a new lease on life, thanks to the application of fracking technology. Chevron -- which recently added 246,000 Permian acres acquired from Chesapeake Energy (NYS: CHK) -- today leads the pack in the newly revitalized play.

The Gulf of Mexico: You probably know enough about BP's (NYS: BP) 2010 Gulf of Mexico tragedy to deliver a talk on the subject. The good news is that, following the catastrophic explosion and spill at the company's Macondo field, along with the subsequent deepwater drilling moratorium, things have just about returned to normal for producers in our nation's only "drillable" body of water. It's eruption notwithstanding, BP continues to be the Gulf's largest producer.

A Foolish takeaway
There are other "hot," liquids-prone venues in the U.S., such as the Niobrara Formation of Wyoming and Nebraska. The key takeaway, however, is that U.S. hydrocarbons production is, to lapse into the vernacular, blowing the doors off. And I haven't even mentioned such major dry gas plays as the Haynesville and Marcellus Shales. To my way of thinking, all this makes the world of energy that much more inviting and exciting for Foolish investors.

Despite the Permian Basin's resurgence, one hot energy company is looking for the exit. Investors were surprised when SandRidge hung a "For Sale" sign on its own Permian Basin property, but with the company halfway through its ambitious three-year plan to profitability, the future looks bright. If you are unsure about this emerging oil and gas junior, and are looking to find out more about its strengths and weaknesses, you should view this brand new premium report detailing SandRidge's game plan and what to expect from the company going forward. To get started -- click here!

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David Lee Smith owns shares of BP. The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Chevron. 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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