Oil and gas producers are finding new opportunities by acquiring acreage where leaseholds have, or soon will, expire in the shale plays, according to Ramona Hovey, senior vice president of analytics and consulting for 584 And much of that is in the liquids plays.

“When we look at the overall leasing in the six key plays, such as the Bakken, Barnett, Eagle Ford, Haynesville, Niobrara and the Permian Basin, we find that the Eagle Ford, Permian Basin and Bakken plays show the most expiring leases during the 2012 and 2013 time period,” Hovey told attendees at Hart Energy’s recent Developing Unconventional Gas conference held in Fort Worth, Texas.

In third-quarter 2012, Eagle Ford leases are set to expire on less than 100,000 gross acres, but that jumps to more than 160,000 acres in the fourth quarter, she said. Then the expiring gross acreage is expected to drop to less than 80,000 by the end of 2013.

Altogether, from second-quarter 2012 to second-quarter 2013, about 574,000 Eagle Ford gross acres are expected to expire. When divided by 160-acre average well spacing, Hovey concluded that, at minimum, about 3,588 wells are expected to hold acreage. The Eagle Ford sees an average of 750 permits per quarter, so about 3,375 wells will be drilled between second-quarter 2012 and second-quarter 2013.

“The Permian Basin is fairly steady, with about 170,000 acres expiring per quarter,” said Hovey. Drillinginfo projects that, in third-quarter 2012, Permian leases are set to expire on about 100,000 gross acres, but that jumps to more than 180,000 acres in second-quarter 2013, she said. Then the expiring gross acreage is expected to drop to about 140,000 by the end of 2013.

Altogether, from second-quarter 2012 to second-quarter 2013, about 713,000 Permian gross acres are expected to expire. When divided by 80-acre average well spacing, Hovey concluded that, at minimum, about 8,900 wells are expected to hold acreage. The Permian sees an average of 2,000 permits per quarter, so about 8,200 wells will be drilled between second-quarter 2012 and second-quarter 2013.

 “The Bakken looks like it has an average 170,000 acres expiring per quarter,” said Hovey. “But that can be a little tricky. North Dakota has a considerable number of wells that are considered to be confidential for a period of time.” She predicts that, in third-quarter 2012, Bakken leases are set to expire on about 200,000 gross acres, but that falls to about 140,000 acres in third-quarter 2013.        

Altogether, from second-quarter 2012 to second-quarter 2013, about 912,000 Bakken gross acres are expected to expire. When divided by 1,280-acre average well spacing, Hovey concluded that, at minimum, some 712 wells are expected to hold acreage. The Bakken sees an average of 475 permits per quarter, so about 2,000 wells will be drilled between second-quarter 2012 and second-quarter 2013.

Oil and gas producers looking to acquire leaseholds in these liquid plays should consider the timing of expiring leases and acquiring acreage from operators with insufficient access to rigs. Also, while operators are unlikely to see available expiring acreage in the hot areas of the plays, some potential can be found in outlying areas that could provide opportunities for best-practice operators.

“As a final note, as we have been mentioning today, and as others have, produced gas volumes are not likely to drop significantly any time soon, even with a drop of activity in gas plays, due to the associated gas produced in the liquids plays as operators drill to hold acreage and for field development,” said Hovey.