Oil! Massive shale discovery in Texas

A history of oil's booms and busts
A history of oil's booms and busts

An overlooked corner of West Texas is believed to contain billions of barrels of newly-discovered shale oil.

Apache (APA) revealed the huge find this week after more than two years of stealthily buying up land, extensive geological research and rigorous testing.

The Houston company estimates the discovery, dubbed "Alpine High," could be worth at least $8 billion.

Apache believes the new shale play spans at least five formations, contains over three billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic feet of rich natural gas.

"We feel very confident with what we have and believe this is a story that's only going to get better," Apache CEO John Christmann IV told CNNMoney.

Wall Street is already seeing dollar signs, sending Apache's stock price surging 10% in the two trading days since the find was unveiled.

"The play has the potential to be a transformative event for the company," Raymond James analyst John Freeman wrote in a research report. "Apache sees an incredible opportunity to establish the next big resource play in the U.S."

Apache oil discovery West Texas
Apache Energy's huge shale oil discovery in West Texas, named "Alpine High," is estimated to contain three billion barrels of crude.

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Apache has identified at least 2,000 drilling locations, and estimates an initial value of between $4 million to $20 million per well. That translates to at least $8 billion in value for the company, but potentially a lot more. The company has already drilled 19 wells in the play, with nine currently producing "limited quantities" due to infrastructure constraints.

Rob Thummel, a portfolio manager at energy investment firm Tortoise Capital, said the announcement will "definitely open investors' eyes" and could lead his firm to make an investment in Apache.

However, Thummel also urged caution, noting that Apache's management team doesn't have the long track record of more established shale companies like EOG Resources (EOG) or Pioneer Energy. (PES)

"It's going to be more of a prove-it story," Thummel said.

Christmann, the Apache boss, said his company looks forward to "proving the significance of this discovery over time." He added that the find is the result of "intense technical work," including 3D seismic research.

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So what's next? Apache will need to continue testing the land to decide where it makes the most sense to start drilling at current prices. Both oil and natural gas prices remain depressed due to a huge glut, mostly fueled by excessive shale production from the U.S. over the past decade.

Apache will also need to build infrastructure to handle all the potential oil and gas coming out of Alpine High. The company is expected to install a temporary processing facility later this year and eventually build a more permanent presence.

"Rome wasn't built in a day, neither are major oil and gas fields," Thummel said.

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