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Who Are America's Top 10 Gas Drillers?

More than 14,000 oil-and-gas companies were active in the United States in 2009. But multinational giants like Exxon Mobil and BP now produce much of the nation's gas.
 
 
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Natural gas—often touted as an abundant, comparatively clean source of domestic energy—has come under intensifying public scrutiny in recent months, with federal regulators and reporters challenging some of the industry's rosy business projections.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether gas companies have exaggerated their reserves and have adequately disclosed the risks to investors from drilling's potential environmental damage. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested similar information from several companies.

Natural gas production has grown steadily in the United States since 2006, reaching new highs this year. But who are the leaders in this burgeoning field?

More than 14,000 oil-and-gas companies, many of them small businesses, were active in the United States in 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration. But multinational giants like Exxon Mobil and BP now produce much of the nation's gas. The 10 biggest drillers account for one-third of all production, data from the Natural Gas Supply Association and the EIA show. The 40 largest producers pump more than half of all domestic natural gas.

We've compiled a list of the top 10 drillers in the country, ranked by their daily natural gas production, and pulled together some key facts about their operations. Though there are other ways to measure these companies—revenue, market capitalization, reserves—industry experts say production numbers give the best snapshot of today's landscape and also separate drillers' gas operations from oil.

The list features both "integrated" oil-and-gas giants, such as Exxon Mobil, which refines and sells gasoline around the world, and "independents," such as Chesapeake Energy, which are primarily in oil and gas exploration and production. Though industry P.R. initiatives often emphasize independent mom-and-pop drillers, most of the companies on our list are Fortune 500 corporations.

Much of the growth in gas production has come from drilling into shale formations, which provided 23 percent of the nation's gas in 2010, according to the EIA. Our list shows how integrated behemoths have expanded into this area as production has become proven, sometimes by swallowing up independents that led the way. Last year, Exxon (No. 8 in 2009) bought XTO (No. 2 in 2009) to catapult to the top of the list. Also last year, Chevron (No. 9) bought Atlas Energy (No. 50 in 2009 and an early entrant into Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale).

1. Exxon Mobil

The biggest natural gas producer is also the country's biggest oil company and one of the most profitable corporations in the world. Exxon has operations in every continent but Antarctica. Its oil and gas operations range across several states, from Pennsylvania to Colorado, and it also has wells in the Gulf of Mexico and off the California coast.

With the purchase of XTO, Exxon produces nearly 50 percent more gas than its closest competitor. Earlier this year, Exxon began running ads touting natural gas as a safe, clean source of domestic energy. About two-thirds of the company's domestic reserves are now in natural gas, with the rest in oil.

Average Daily Natural Gas Production: 3.9 billion cubic feet.

Revenue, 2010: $370 billion.

Reserves, 2010: 8.9 billion barrels of oil (2.3 billion in the U.S.), 2.1 billion barrels of bitumen (none in the U.S.), 681 million barrels of synthetic crude (none in the U.S.), 78.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (26.1 trillion in the U.S.).

Executive Compensation, 2010: Rex Tillerson, Exxon's chairman and CEO since 2006, received almost $29 million in total compensation.

2. Chesapeake Energy

Chesapeake calls itself the most active driller in the country, with operations in 15 states, from the Rockies to Texas to Pennsylvania. The company is a good example of how "independent" doesn't necessarily mean small. As of last year, the company owned an interest in 45,800 wells, of which 38,900 were primarily gas wells.

 
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