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Encana's pitch is about more than natural gas

An EnCana gas drilling well east of Calgary.

© Todd Korol / Reuters/Todd Korol /REUTERS

Encana Corp. is North America's second-largest natural gas company. Just don't tell Encana that.

Eric Marsh, the company's man in charge of its U.S. division, on Tuesday tried to hammer home a message Encana has been touting for months. It is expanding its natural gas liquids production. It is searching for oil. It has been stealthily collecting land housing these more valuable resources for ages now. It has more oil and natural gas liquids announcements coming down the pipe. So don't just call it a natural gas company.

Encana, he noted, produces about 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and controls about 12 million acres of land. And then his 30-minute presentation to investors in Vail, Colo., turned to natural gas liquids and oil. Products like propane and butane are more valuable than natural gas right now, and Encana wants everyone to know they are on the case.

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"We also have a significant liquids portfolio," Mr. Marsh said. "Our portfolio also includes large land positions in what we believe to be highly prospective oil and liquids-rich natural gas plays. We [own]more than 2.1 million acres that is prospective for natural gas liquids and oil."

The company wants to triple its liquids production by 2015, he said. By tripling production, Encana will produce about 80,000 barrels of liquids per day. An impressive jump, but as Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick told a local Calgary paper in October, old-school natural gas will still make up a whopping 87 per cent of Encana's production.

Mr. Marsh addressed this, distancing the company from its roots. "Although it is obvious that the more mature parts of our portfolio are dry gas, you can also clearly see that we have captured significant land positions in emerging liquids rich and oil plays. Positions that we have been quietly building over the past couple of years. We will be advancing many of these plays in the upcoming years while slowing growth in our dry gas development during this extended period of low natural gas prices."

The emphasis on years is clutch. Critics argue Encana is late getting into the liquids game. Encana is trying to convince investors it has been there for years. It says it is building its liquids operation in the same way it built its unconventional natural gas business – under cover.

Encana executives have been trying to pitch this unconventional natural gas history – the way it collected land, successfully explored, and prolifically produced natural gas – as key to its revised strategy.

"In the next few years, we expect to significantly increase the proportion of liquids production in our portfolio, and have increased our pace of exploration on our oil and natural gas liquids plays. Ultimately, this should enable us to diversity our portfolio and increase our returns, while at the same time, allowing us to take advantage of our expertise that we have developed in drilling and completing long-reach horizontal wells in our natural gas resource plays."

Mr. Marsh detailed how the company has changed over the years. It ditched its international assets, favoured unconventional natural gas plays over shallow gas, hived off oil assets, and moved away businesses such as gas storage. The he rattled off a list of Encana's primary producing assets and noted many of these were not under the company's control "just a few short years ago." The company did it all from scratch, he said.

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"It is what we do well at Encana," he said.

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More

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