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The businesses driving the fracking revolution



Revolution is an overused term. These days even the most minor changes are labelled as a ‘revolution’. However, when it’s applied to the fracking industry it’s justified. The story of how fracking has transformed the United States into a major energy exporter in less than a decade is nothing short of extraordinary. From a small band of plucky independents to the global oil majors, here are the businesses behind the fracking revolution which is changing the world’s energy markets, geopolitics and the global balance of power…
The story of how fracking has transformed the United States into a major energy exporter is nothing short of extraordinary.
(Image via Chesapeake Energy).

The relentless pursuit of energy

Numerous countries are making tentative steps into fracking. China, desperate to secure domestic sources of energy, is eager to tap into shale following the decline of its conventional resources. The UK meanwhile, has potentially enormous reserves of shale gas, but the country’s nascent fracking industry remains tied up in legislative and bureaucratic wrangling.

If anywhere can truly be called the ‘home of fracking’ though, it’s the United States.

Following the peak of the US’s conventional resource production in the late-1970s, many in the oil industry thought that the continental USA’s best oil producing days were behind. Oil majors from Chevron to Exxon turned their attention to exotic locations far oversees, searching the coasts of West Africa and the plains of Kazakhstan for the next ‘elephant’ find. Very significant finds such as the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan, and the Dalia deep-water field off the coast of Angola, bore out this strategy.

But a bunch of plucky wildcatters and landmen hadn’t given up on the US. They knew that the vast shale strata below the fields of Texas, North Dakota and other states could be somehow coaxed into giving up huge amounts of natural gas and crude oil. The trick was finding a technique that could affordably and safely force these ‘tight’ resources out of the ground. George Mitchell, Harold Hamm, Aubrey McClendon, and Tom Ward are just some of the names that refined and perfected this technique, and as such have now become indelibly associated with the U.S. shale revolution.

From the efforts of these men in their relentless pursuit of energy, were borne several independent exploration and production companies which have grown today to be significant players within America’s domestic energy industry.
The United States is now exporting so much energy thanks to fracking that it's gained the moniker 'Saudi America'
(Image via Chesapeake Energy).

The USA’s fracking hotspots

Move over Saudi Arabia! The resource estimates for the USA’s shale plays continue to grow and grow, with the Permian Basin poised to become the world’s largest oil field. A study in late-2017 from analysis firm ISH Markit, based on analysed data from more than 440,000 crude wells, suggested that the Permian could hold as many as 60 billion to 70 billion barrels of yet-to-be pumped crude oil.

The Permian is not the only fracking hotspot though. Below are some of the other major plays across the US.


Eagle Ford

Spread over 400 miles across Southern Texas, the Eagle Ford is one of the biggest shale plays in the US, offering large volumes of both oil and natural gas. Recent figures show producers extracting about 1.2 million barrels of oil every day from the Eagle Ford. Natural gas figures from the Eagle Ford are equally impressive with about 6 billion cubic feet of natural gas drilled from the play every day.


Situated within the Appalachian Basin the Marcellus play is one of the largest natural gas producers in the US. Drilling in the Marcellus produces about 13 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The play’s oil production is relatively small however, with only about 50,000 barrels of oil produced per day.


Another Texan shale play, the Barnett is considered one of the largest natural gas fields onshore in the United States. Covering an enormous 5,000 square miles, the Barnett produces about 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 15,500 barrels of crude oil each day. Until recently, the Barnett was one of the more challenging shale plays to drill due to the rock and sand surrounding the deposits. Technological advancements have since enabled producers to better exploit this play.
The Lower 48 states shale plays
(Image via the Energy Information Administration).


Producing around 10 percent of the United States’ natural gas the Haynesville play has played a major part in lowering the price of natural gas for domestic consumers. Upwards of 6.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 57,000 barrels of oil each day are produced from the Haynesville.


Spread across Montana and North Dakota, the Bakken is similar in nature to the Eagle Ford play, producing around 1 million barrels of oil per day, and around 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The Bakken is another shale play which has seen its production potential radically increase with the advent of horizontal drilling and fracturing technological breakthroughs.

Other significant shale plays across the USA include the Austin Chalk, Woodford, Mississipian, Utica, Granite Wash, and Niobara.

Such is the expect future production from these shale plays, that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that the USA will account for 70% of the total increase in global oil production capacity to 2024, adding a total of 4 million barrels a day. During this same period, oil exports from the United States are set to overtake Russia and close in on Saudi Arabia, a development which some industry analysts have wrly called ‘the rise of Saudi America’.
The USA's fracking activity is such that the IEA has predicted it will account for 70% of the total increase in global oil production capacity to 2024
(Image via Chesapeake Energy).

The key players in US shale

Until recently, the majority of acreage buys, along with drilling activity was carried out by independent operators, but as the shale revolution has gained pace, the big integrated majors have begun to get involved. In a big way. No longer content to stand on the side-lines they’ve been committing enormous amounts of cash to muscle their way to front of the shale game. Nevertheless, independents remain an important part of the shale scene and are often the first to achieve important drilling and fracturing breakthroughs.

Let’s take a closer look (in no particular order) of the key businesses driving the fracking revolution.


Since its acquisition of XTO Energy in 2010, ExxonMobil has had a significant material interest in US shale plays and is considered the largest producer of natural gas in the country. Since this acquisition XTO Energy has benefitted from Exxon’s integrated operations, as well as its financial clout, tripling its portfolio through several acquisitions. 

At present XTO owns interests in approximately 40,000 active oil and natural gas sites across North America, including Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and more locations.

Originally founded by Bob R. Simpson, Steve Palko and Job Brumley in 1986 as the Cross Timbers Oil Company, XTO Energy developed a strong focus on natural gas, moving away from oil from the late 1990s.


Chevron is betting big on shale.

Not only does the supermajor currently hold in excess of 423,000 net acres in the Marcellus shale, Chevron also holds significant acreage in the Utica Shale, 1.7 million net acres across the Delaware and Midland basins and sizeable positions elsewhere in the midcontinent region (primarily in East Texas and in the Piceance Basin northwestern Colorado).

Chevron is set to strengthen its shale position further still.

In its spending plans for 2019, the company said it would be committing $3.6 billion for the Permian along with $1.6 billion for other shale and tight oil investments.
Chevron is looking beyond the US at other resources opportunities that could be made commercial through a combination of horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracking. Beyond the borders of the US, Chevron holds an interest in liquids-rich Duvernay shale formation in Canada, and the Vaca Muerta formation in Argentina.
EOG Resources

EOG Resources

EOG Resources separated from its ill-fated parent company Enron in 1999 and has gone to become one of the largest independent (non-integrated) crude oil and natural gas companies in the United States. During his tenure as Chief Executive Officer, Mark G. Papa steered EOG’s efforts away from natural gas and into crude oil fracking efforts. As a result, EOG Resources is one of the largest onshore crude oil producers in the Lower 48 United States, as well as being one of the largest crude oil producers in the Eagle Ford and in the state of Texas.

With a strong focus on cost control and premium drilling, EOG Resources has been one of the best performing fracking companies of recent years, bringing down its break-even price and delivering excellent value to shareholders. It’s managed to achieve this by only pursuing drilling opportunities that offer a high rate-of-return, utilising advanced drilling techniques, and by capturing early-mover advantage in emerging resource plays.
Chesapeake Energy

Chesapeake Energy

Founded by landmen Aubrey McClendon and Tom Ward in 1989 with a mere $50,000 investment, Chesapeake Energy grew into one of the biggest, bullish and boldest shale producers in the US. Chesapeake is perhaps best known for the being the company that truly sold the idea of shale to Wall Street, raising billions of dollars through a variety of complex financial instruments to acquire massive amounts of acreage and undertake drilling activity. 

The story of Chesapeake’s extraordinary journey, is chronicled in the highly recommended The Frackers by Gregory Zuckerman, which charts the rise and fall of Aubrey McClendon as he took Chesepeake public through an IPO in 1993, acquired vast acreage then ‘flipped it’ to oil majors for enormous profits, and his ousting from the company in April 2013 following the revelation of several personal conflicts of interest.

On March 2nd, 2016 McClendon died in a single-occupant single-vehicle crash when he drove his vehicle straight into a concrete bridge embankment in Oklahoma City. It occurred the day after a United States Department of Justice federal grand jury indicted McClendon for violating antitrust laws during his leadership at Chesapeake.

Today, Chesapeake continues to operate sites across multiple US shale plays, and in February 2019 acquired Texas oil producer WildHorse Resource Development for $4 billion in cash and stock.
Devon Energy
Devon Energy

Delaware headquarted Devon Energy is another of the independent oil and natural gas exploration and production companies which is driving the fracking revolution forward. Since 2011 Devon has dived into US shale in a big way, doubling its onshore oil production, producing 250,000 barrels a day, 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day and around 100,000 barrels of liquid natural gas per day.

At present, the company’s operations are focused in four core oil producing areas: the STACK, Delaware Basin, Eagle Ford and Rockies.

Devon Energy also has links to fracking royalty, having acquired Mitchell Energy in 2001 for a reported $3.1 billion. Mitchell Energy, founded by George Mitchell, is widely credited as being the company that kick-started the shale revolution with the discovery of the Barnett Shale as well as many of the techniques to commercially retrieve natural gas.
Marathon Oil

Marathon Oil

Marathon is another company betting big on shale. Having recently divested itself of all its UK assets, Marathon seems to be placing all of its bets on US onshore oil and gas from unconventional sources. Marathon describes its current focus as being on ‘the lower cost, higher margin US resources plays that are liquids rich’. At the time of writing the company has operations in the Eagle Ford, Permian STACK and SCOOP and the Bakken.

That Marathon Oil has conducted a US-centric pivot to fracking activity, is clear by the fact that 95% of its development capital for 2019 has been allocated to US onshore resource plays. This builds on the company’s previous incursion into unconventional resources, with their US resource play average net production in the last quarter of 2018 reaching 295,000 boed.
Continental Resources

Continental Resources

No article on the fracking revolution would be complete without a mention of Continental Resources, the self-described ‘American Oil Champion’ founded by Harold Hamm at the age of 21. Raised in conditions of abject poverty, Hamm’s tale is truly one of rags-to-riches. He’s now one of America’s richest men with a net worth of $11.6 billion.

Continental is current one of the leading producers within the US Lower 48 and holds leading positions with the Bakken, SCOOP and STACK plays, and is renowned for its ability to use hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to achieve oil and gas flows from even the lowest permeability shale formations.
Pioneer Natural Resources

Pioneer Natural Resources

Formed from a merger of Parker & Parsley and MESA Inc. Pioneer Natural Resources is an operator that has always maintained its focus on onshore US oil and gas plays. Whilst many other companies sunk billions into global ventures, Pioneer held onto its legacy wells in the Permian- and that’s where you’ll find the company today.

At present, Pioneer’s drill sites cluster around the Cline Shale, which is part of the Spraberry Trend of the Permian Basin, where the company is the largest acreage holder. Recent years have also seen Pioneer acquiring acreage in the Midland Basin, as it strives to meet its ambitious vision of extracting 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2027 from the Permian (a 20 percent compound annual growth rate).
Noble Energy

Noble Energy

When he purchased his first drilling rigs, Lloyd Noble probably didn’t expect his company to become one of America’s leading oil and gas producers- but by embracing fracking that’s exactly what Noble Energy has become.

With operations in the DJ Basin, Permian Basin and Eagle Ford shale, Noble Energy is notable for the various records it has broken with its advanced lateral drilling, efficient completion techniques and decreasing well costs.

Similar to Marathon, Noble has pivoted to a largely US-centric portfolio focused on unconventional oil and natural gas resources, which are expected to grow year-on-year.
Whiting Resources

Whiting Resources

Primarily a shale oil focused independent exploration and production company which controls one of the largest acreage positions in the Bakken/Three Forks resource play in the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana with over 470,000 net acres. Founded in only 1980, Whiting Resources has quickly established its name as a consistent producer of high-return wells, regularly being one of North Dakota’s top oil producers.

In recent years, Whiting has expanded its resource base beyond ND, into new and oil prone sweet spot of the eastern DJ Basin of Colorado, where it has secured over 87,000 net acres.


Part of the enormous INEOS group- one of the world’s leading chemicals and manufacturing businesses- INEOS Shale is the biggest player in the UK’s nascent onshore shale gas sector, with access to over one million acres of the prime shale exploration areas in England and Scotland. The majority of INEOS Shale’s licences are located in the old mining heartlands of the Midland Valley of Scotland, the North West of England, the East Midlands and also in North Yorkshire.

UK shale holds an enormous amount of promise, yet to date little has been done to develop these resources. INEOS Shale is one of the companies leading the charge to change this situation and is currently lobbying the government to end what Jim Ratcliffe, INEOS Group founder, has described as ‘an unworkable shale policy’.
Cuadrilla Resources

Cuadrilla Resources

Cuadrilla is another UK-focused shale gas company. Founded in 2007, and headquartered in Bamber, Bridge, Lancashire, Cuadrilla has attempted to develop drilling sites across the UK. The company has also turned its attention to some potentially exciting shale plays in mainland Europe in Poland, the Netherlands and Hungary.
A Marcellus shale drilling rig site
(A Marcellus shale drilling rig site. Image via WikiMedia user Nicholas A. Tonelli).

Fracking and employment opportunities

There’s no doubt that the fracking revolution has completely revitalised what had been a flagging oil and gas jobs market, both in the US and elsewhere in the world. Between 2005 and 2012 it was estimated that the fracking industry had generated in excess of 750,000 jobs across the US (according to a study from Dartmouth College). A separate study from the National Bureau of Economic Research analysed data from over 3,000 US counties and determined that within 100 miles of new production, $1 million of extracted oil and gas generated $243,000 in wages, $117,000 in royalties and 2.49 jobs.

If that wasn’t good enough, the future looks even brighter for jobs in fracking.

A study commissioned by the US Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute suggests that taking into account direct and indirect employment opportunities, fracking could create as many as 3.5 million jobs by 2035.
Fracking is reinvigorating the oil and gas jobs market
(Image via Cuadrilla Resources).

Join the fracking revolution with Fircroft

As the global leader in the provision of workforce solutions to the oil and gas industry Fircroft is well placed to help you secure your next premium job role.

Since 1970 we’ve served the biggest operators in oil and gas and enjoy a reputation for excellent contractor customer care. Open up a world of opportunity and register your CV with Fircroft today and be the first in line to secure employment with the businesses driving the fracking revolution.

Fircroft’s roots may be in Oil & Gas, but our innovative approach to recruitment and workforce solutions has been much sought after by the leading names of other technical and engineering industries. Today, Fircroft has executive and senior level positions available in industries as diverse as Automotive, ICT, Mining & Resources, Infrastructure & Construction, Petrochemicals, and Power, Nuclear & Renewables
Tags: Oil & Gas
Recent Comments
Fracking hell! Why on earth do you give this dangerous industry the time of day? Even if it was safe, fossil fuels are killing our planet! It seems that you are out of touch.
Steve Lally, 13 March 2019
Fracking is quite safe if done properly. Hundreds of thousands of frac jobs have been performed all over the world without incident. Yes, a bad frac job can cause problems, but so can a bad weld on a pipe, bad software on a plane, or a bad driver on a highway. Don’t pay any attention to the hysterical Chicken Little alarmists. They just like to hear themselves screeching.
Gary Wagner, 29 May 2019
2.49 jobs doesn't sound like a lot !
John, 06 November 2019
Does modern fracking involve the injection of (toxic?) chemicals?
Frank, 07 November 2019
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The businesses driving the fracking revolution - Time to read 15 min
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