Foreign Firms Investing in US Shale

Foreign investment in U.S. shale oil-and-gas plays is on the rise, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Of the $133.7 billion spent on U.S. shale ventures between 2008 and 2012, joint ventures with international partners accounted for about $26 billion — roughly 20 percent.

EIA said the activity, “highlights a renewed trend toward foreign joint ventures” as the recent domestic energy boom — propelled by advancements in drilling technology — has drawn interest from abroad.

In 2008, foreign investors struck deals in U.S. shale plays worth about $2 billion over their lifetimes. That figure spiked to about $9 billion in 2010, and hit around $7.5 billion in 2012.

The deals are mutually beneficial, EIA said. “Both U.S. and foreign companies benefit from these deals. U.S. operators get financial support, while foreign companies gain experience in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that may be transferable to other regions,” it said.

Fracking is the drilling practice that sparked the recent uptick in U.S. energy production. The method injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight shale plays to access hydrocarbons.

EIA said recent investments in shale plays were either acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign firms or joint operations. Most involved purchasing a portion of the U.S. firm’s shale acreage and agreeing to pay for drilling extra wells within a certain period of time.

While the Marcellus Shale that spans the Appalachian Basin on the East Coast has attracted the most foreign investment, international companies last year parked most of their dollars in the Utica Shale that stretches from Ohio to New York.

The analysis touches on Republican and industry arguments that the domestic energy revolution has been an economic driver.

While most plays are on state and private lands, they want to expand drilling to federal domains, calling it a potential boon for jobs and federal revenues.

President Obama has so far resisted, saying sufficient drilling opportunities already exist.

And while proponents want more access, many Democrats and green groups are pushing back. While the industry says fracking is safe, opponents contend it pollutes groundwater and releases heat-trapping methane into the air.