Blackstone pays $1.2 billion for Shell’s Haynesville Shale leases

Haynesville Shale
Haynesville Shale

Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to sell drilling rights in shale formations in northwest Louisiana and Wyoming for $2.1 billion in two transactions.

In one of the deals, announced Thursday, Shell will also receive drilling rights to land in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Shell will sell its Haynesville Shale acreage in northwest Louisiana to Vine Oil & Gas and the investment firm Blackstone for $1.2 billion.

Shell’s Pinedale acreage in Wyoming will be sold to Ultra Petroleum for $925 million, with Shell getting drilling rights to 155,000 acres in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Shell is working to focus its onshore U.S. drilling program on a few of the more prolific formations in an effort to boost profitability.

Blackstone acquired the northwest Louisiana leases on more than 107,000 acres through Vine Oil & Gas LP, an exploration and production company based in Dallas, and affiliate Blackstone Energy Partners. Blackstone formed Vine to be a “significant, independent shale development company.”

The deal must be approved by regulators and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Blackstone has invested about $7 billion in the energy sector. The publicly traded firm manages close to $300 billion in assets.

Some experts have said Blackstone’s investment could prompt additional activity in the massive Haynesville natural gas formation. The shale’s discovery sparked a land rush by energy companies hoping to take advantage of high natural gas prices, which at one point reached $13 per thousand cubic feet, more than three times the current price.

Shell wrote down the value of its shale acreage in the U.S. by $2.1 billion last year amid lower natural gas prices.

Shell and other major oil and gas explorers regularly sell rights to fields where production is flat or declining. They then use that cash to fund exploration programs designed to discover new or more prolific fields that oil giants need to fuel growth. The Pinedale and Haynesville formations produce dry gas, which is less profitable than oil or so-called natural gas liquids, at relatively moderate rates.

The Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania has proven to be an extraordinarily prolific dry gas producer, and profitable for drillers because it produces gas at high rates per well. The Energy Department says the formation will produce an average of 15.9 billion cubic feet of gas per day in September, nearly a quarter of total U.S. production.

Ohio’s Utica shale is also proving to be prolific, and it includes a higher proportion of more profitable liquid hydrocarbons. Utica gas production is expected to rise to 1.3 billion cubic feet per day in September, up nearly eightfold from 155 million cubic feet per day at the start of 2012, according to the Energy Department.

“We continue to restructure and focus our North America shale oil and gas portfolio,” said Marvin Odum, president of Royal Dutch Shell’s U.S. division, Shell Oil Co. “We are adding highly attractive exploration acreage, where we have impressive well results in the Utica, and divesting our more mature, Pinedale and Haynesville dry gas positions.”

Advocate business writer Ted Griggs and Associated Press energy writer Jonathan Fahey contriubted to this report.