The gas glut and dropping prices have brought a dramatic reduction in gas exploration activity in Arkansas’s Fayetteville shale zone. But one company forges on and is featured prominently in today’s New York Times. It’s Steve Mueller, CEO of Southwestern Energy.
“I’d rather have the gas to myself with no one following,” Steven Mueller, Southwestern’s chief executive, said last month as he watched his rig hands pull pipe and mud from a new natural gas well here in northern Arkansas.
Mr. Mueller hardly needs to look back. With the price of natural gas plunging along with oil in recent weeks, virtually no one is following his lead outside of Southwestern. Twelve of the 13 rigs still drilling among the chicken farms and cattle ranches are Southwestern’s. The 45 other rigs — once operated by giants like Chesapeake Energy, BHP Billiton and Exxon Mobil’s XTO Energy a few years ago, when natural gas prices were more than twice as high — are gone.
The glut, insufficient gas pipeline capacity and a shift to oil have deterred others.
But not Southwestern Energy, a Houston-based company that has risen from being the nation’s 40th to become the fourth-largest producer of natural gas. Southwestern’s discovery of the Fayetteville shale field a decade ago, and its quiet leasing of the heart of the field at bargain prices, made the company a power. Since 2007, Southwestern’s Fayetteville production has risen 800 percent and its reserves are up 570 percent. It still drills more than 30 new wells every month here.
Time will tell about Mueller’s contrarian bet on gas, which includes new acquisitions in other states. But credit him for this:
Mr. Mueller and Southwestern Energy also stand apart when it comes to the environment. In September, Southwestern was the only American firm to join five European, Asian and Latin American oil and gas companies that signed on to a voluntary United Nations-backed program to monitor and disclose methane emissions, as well as invest in technologies to control the greenhouse gas.
Working with the Environmental Defense Fund, Southwestern has offered data about emissions from its operations and has organized other domestic companies to commit to reduce methane emissions.
Political orthodoxy in Arkansas — from the chamber of commerce down through its hired hands in the legislature and state offices — is that regulation of pollutants is bad for business.
The article includes a video on Southwestern’s work, and some favorable comments from an Arkansas environmentalist about Southwestern versus some other operators.