TER: So you’re not worried about decline rates.
MB: Not at all, because the initial rate of production is about 1,000 barrels per day (1 Mbbl/d) or more. First-year declines are 76%, second-year declines are 35%, 20% for the third year and 6% or less thereafter. So 40% of the total estimated ultimate reserves are produced in the first five years, then it tapers off. But a company like EOG Resources Inc. (EOG:NYSE) is now drilling one well on 20 acres. There is lots of potential, even though the decline rates are steep and it’s $10 million ($10M) to drill a well. When you’re producing 11,500 bbl/d at $100/barrel ($100/bbl), the economics work. The risk is if oil were to fall to $40 or $50/bbl.
TER: What are some other companies that have been active in the shales?
TER: My understanding is that Penn Virginia is buying on the outskirts of the Eagle Ford, where the property is cheaper. Is that working?
MB: The Eagle Ford Shale in Texas is more than 450 miles long and 50 miles wide. Moving west to east across south Texas, it is about 300 feet thick, thinning to 50 feet thick around central south Texas, and thickening to 1,000 feet as you move east, to the Eaglebine. That is why the best properties may not be found in the heart of the Eagle Ford, but to the east, on the fringes. The whole oil window play is moving east across Texas now. In fact, the Eagle Ford probably goes all the way into Florida. Penn Virginia is doing a great job of buying properties before they are overpriced. Carrizo is another great operator in the Eagle Ford Shale. There is a lot of potential here, and I’m just talking about Texas. I’m not talking about North Dakota, the Bakken, Pennsylvania or any of the other ones that are there. The future energy scenario for the U.S. is very positive.
TER: You mentioned that you think we’re about a year from uranium prices returning to higher levels. What would be the catalyst behind that?
MB: The spot price of uranium has fallen to around $32.50/pound ($32.50/lb). That can’t last with the rest of the world building out its nuclear power capability. I don’t know what Japan and Germany will do, but China and India are building reactors as we speak. I think we’re a year away from a realization that the Russians aren’t going to be our friends anymore when it comes to sending us uranium to be down blended for commercial reactors. We are going to need more uranium soon and that means higher prices to make some of the great deposits in the Athabasca economic and hence mineable.
Chris and I attended the SME Conference on uranium in Corpus Christi in October and recognized the difference between the successful companies and those that might not survive to see higher prices. Presently, what’s really important about uranium is being able to produce it cheaply. So the in situ leach (ISL) producers are the place to be right now.
TER: What companies have that ISL advantage?
MB: One is Uranerz Energy Corp. (URZ:TSX; URZ:NYSE.MKT). The company recently announced that the NRC has allowed Uranerz to commence production at Nichols Ranch in Wyoming. Production means cash flows and liquidity. U3O8 Corp. (UWE:TSX; UWEFF:OTCQX) has Colombian and Argentinian assets of uranium and vanadium. It’s an earlier stage play that looks promising. I met with management at PDAC in March. I like Ur-Energy Inc. (URE:TSX; URG:NYSE.MKT) because it has been producing via ISL in Wyoming for several months. ISL is particularly economic in a low uranium spot and term market. Uranium Energy Corp. (UEC:NYSE.MKT) interests me because it’s a domestic producer.
We’ve had some wonderful discoveries in the Athabasca led by Fission Uranium Corp. (FCU:TSX.V). These will require a higher uranium price to enhance the economics of hard rock discoveries. We think we will require $50/lb or $60/lb uranium before we start to gain share price momentum in the sector.
TER: Despite the low uranium prices, some of the companies have had some traction in the market. Uranerz did an update on the Nichols Ranch ISL project and the stock is way up from the beginning of the year. What happened there?
MB: First of all, it is an ISL producer, which is where you probably want to be invested today. Second, I think there’s been a lot of hype in the sector itself, generating some behavioral excess in some of these stocks. Having said that, I think the ISL producers are probably going to hold their value as we go forward.
TER: You mentioned that energy and food are directly related. What fertilizer companies could benefit from an increased need for food?