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Who's Looking At Natural Gas Now? Big Oil

The U.S. natural gas business is dominated by small, independent companies averaging a dozen employees each. But business is booming and estimates of accessible natural gas reserves in the U.S. are growing. As a result, huge companies like Exxon Mobil are taking a second look.

In the energy world, Big Oil has long been the key player — with one notable exception: The natural gas business in the United States is dominated by small, independent companies. More than 80 percent of U.S. natural gas supplies are produced by companies with a market capitalization of less than $500 million. On average, these companies have only a dozen employees.

But their business is booming. New production techniques in recent years have enabled companies to extract natural gas from shale rock formations deep underground. As a result, estimates of accessible natural gas reserves have been revised dramatically upward. Small gas producers can justifiably take the credit for the transformation of their industry.


"The major oil companies haven't been paying attention to the U.S. for decades," says Robert Hefner, a 50-year veteran of the natural gas business with a company of his own, GHK Exploration, in Oklahoma City. "It's been a lot of independents like us that have found all this gas, developed the technology and made it happen."

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