Oil majors Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) have failed to capitalize on the shale boom, playing second fiddle to their relatively smaller exploration and production peers Devon Energy (DVN), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), Continental Resources (CLR) and EOG Resources (EOG).
But despite playing a major role in the shale boom, natural gas-focused Devon and Chesapeake and oil-focused Continental and EOG aren't profiting equally. Right now Continental and EOG are the winners.
Over the last five years, shares of Continental and EOG have risen by more than 230% and 460%, respectively, easily outperforming the S&P 500, which climbed 114.3% in the same period. On the other hand, the shares of Chesapeake and Devon went up by just 37.1% and 31.8% in the corresponding period.
Continental and EOG will continue to play a crucial role in the future amid the increasing levels of shale unconventional oil production.
Analysts have given varying estimates regarding growth in shale oil production, ranging from an increase of 1.5 million barrels per day to 7.5 million barrels per day by the end of the decade. Exxon Mobil thinks the U.S. will be pumping more shale oil in 2015 than the current oil production of any OPEC member except Saudi Arabia.
So far U.S. shale oil production has blown past the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) estimates. Two years ago, EIA predicted shale oil production could reach 2.8 million barrels per day by 2035; just a year later, in 2013, the U.S. produced 3.5 million barrels. The agency has now forecast a 37% increase in shale oil production between 2013 and 2020, based on output from nine different regions.
On the other hand, research firm IHS has predicted a more than 70% increase in production in the corresponding period considering output from just Niobrara, Eagle Ford, Bakken and some parts of Permian Basin.
So Chesapeake and Devon Energy were among those energy companies that led the shale boom from the front. But the two were not its biggest beneficiaries. The increasing supplies of shale gas caused a monumental slide in natural gas prices for four consecutive years ending 2012, knocking down the profitability of natural gas producers, including Chesapeake and Devon.
Chesapeake became the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., thanks to the increasing levels of shale gas production. But this growth came on the back of a massive pile of debt. As a result, two years ago, when gas prices dropped, the company nearly went bankrupt. Since then, the company has been working on improving its balance sheet.
Devon Energy has been slow to shift from natural gas to oil, albeit it is quickly catching up.
Meanwhile, Continental Resources is all about oil. The company is the biggest player at the prolific Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana.
Continental has also amassed nearly 425,000 net acres in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province, becoming the largest leaseholder, driller and producer from here as well. In the previous quarter, this oil-rich region was responsible for nearly 20% of Continental's production.
Continental is eying production growth of between 26% and 32% this year, following 39% growth last year.It has forecast its production and proved reserves would triple for the five years ending 2017.
EOG looks even better. Unlike Continental, which is focused on just one unconventional play, EOG has been the top oil producer at Eagle Ford and also has significant operations at Bakken and Permian Basin.
Moreover, unlike most of its peers, EOG Resources is vertically integrated. The company self-sources the sand used in hydraulic fracturing from its mine in Texas. The company also owns crude-by-rail infrastructure which gives it greater market flexibility.
On average, over the last three years, EOG Resources has increased its oil production by 43.7% per year and is expecting 29% growth in the current year. The company expects to improve its return on equity to 17.9% this year from 15.6% last year, way better than the industry's average of 9.5%.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.