By David Fessler

It was 1894 when a crew of workers in Corsicana, Texas were drilling for water, only to strike oil instead.

The rest, as they say, is history -- and Texas' relationship with black gold has become legendary.

Today, there's a brand new oil boom in Texas.

Located just outside Dallas, Texas, the massive Eagle Ford oil and gas shale formation is roughly 20,000 square miles in size. It stretches some 400 miles long and 50 miles wide, from the Mexican border through San Antonio and up into East Texas. It's believed to hold one of the largest oil and gas deposits in America, with a depth between 4,000 feet and 12,000 feet.

And you'd better believe that America's heavyweight oil and gas companies are all over this. Here's how you can claim your share of the action, too.

The Way to Play It

Quoted in the Houston Chronicle, Ralph Eads, head of Jefferies' Energy Investment Banking Group, said: The Eagle Ford Shale in 2011 will really hit its stride. The economics of the Eagle Ford are probably better than almost any other play in the world -- the returns are stunning.

With $100 oil a grim reality again, take a closer look at EOG Resources. I believe it's a great way to play the hottest oil drilling area on the planet.

America's massive shale formations (Barnett, Marcellus, Haynesville and Eagle Ford) are largely responsible for the country's abundant natural gas reserves, estimated to be a 100-year supply. And that's also why natural gas prices have remained stuck in a very narrow range over the past year.

However, with oil prices once again breaching the $100 mark, it's created a tectonic shift in drilling interest toward the Eagle Ford shale.

The Big Boys Are on Board

I expect the Eagle Ford will probably be the hottest single area in all the lower 48 states in 2011.

So says Mark Papa, chairman and CEO of EOG Resources, Inc. ( EOG - Get Report), one of the biggest leaseholders in the Eagle Ford area.

He's not the only one who thinks so.

Oil and gas companies -- large and small -- are all scrambling to Eagle Ford, shifting their exploration and drilling resources to hunt for oil while natural gas prices remain soft.

Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A - Get Report), BP ( BP - Get Report), Statoil ( STO)and China's CNOOC are all snapping up leasehold acres in the region. And they're paying big money to do so.
  • Statoil and Talisman Energy (TLM) agreed to pay Enduring Resources $1.3 billion to help develop its Eagle Ford acreage.
  • CNOOC paid $1.1 billion for a 33% stake in Chesapeake Energy’s (CHK - Get Report) Eagle Ford acreage.
  • India’s Reliance Energy put up $1.3 billion to buy acreage and form a joint venture with Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD - Get Report), another Eagle Ford leaseholder.

And you can see how that interest has translated in terms of drilling permits…

And Drilling Permits Are Ballooning

In 2009, only 94 permits were issued. But in 2010, that number exploded to 1,018 drilling permits – a 982% surge.

Take EOG, for example. Last year, it had seven rigs operating in Eagle Ford and drilled 110 wells. This year, it expects to double its number of rigs to 14 and drill over 250 wells. Most other companies in the area plan to double their drilling rates as well, diverting rigs from gas-only plays to the Eagle Ford for at least 2011.

All that drilling has resulted in the output of natural gas liquids and crude oil quadrupling to 3.9 million barrels last year.

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.