An oil play, or petroleum play, is a group of oil fields in the same region that share the same geological circumstances.

These areas typically yield higher oil productions - meaning that they require more work and labor to keep up with supply.

If you’re looking to move into a career in the oil and gas industry, it may be worth your time to consider these major oils plays in the USA as well as Canada:

Major Oil Plays in the USA


The Permian Basin

Considered one of the larger shale plays in the U.S., the Permian Basin in western Texas, USA, is producing around 5 billion cubic feet per day with an oil production of 1.3 million barrels each day.

Drilling started in this area in the 1920s and has benefitted from technological advances, meaning that companies have been able to get more from their efforts.

Leading Players:

Eagle Ford Group

Down in Southern Texas, the Eagle Ford Group is another huge shale play in the USA. Four companies account for almost half of the drilling that happens here.

The land itself ranges more than 400 miles (650km) in length.

Leading Players:

Marcellus Shale Play

The Marcellus Shale Play in the Appalachian Basin is a smaller oil producer but yields large amounts of natural gas.

Eight out of the ten drill spots on this play focuses on extracting natural gas.

Leading players:

  • Range Resources
  • EQT
  • Rice Energy
  • Chevron
  • CONSOL Energy

Barnett Shale Play

Located in the state of Texas, the Barnett Shale Play is one of the largest on-shore natural gas fields in the United States.

It was within the Barnett Shale Play that Mitchell Energy & Development first successfully unlocked shale gas in the 1990s.

Leading players:

Niobrara Play

Spanning across South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming in the United States with the majority of drilling happening in the northwest section of Colorado.

This natural gas play produces about 4.6 billion cubic feet per day with 287,000 barrels of oil per day.

Leading players:

  • Anadarko Petroleum
  • Noble Energy
  • Devon Energy
  • EOG Resources
  • Whiting Petroleum

Haynesville Play

Located across Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas, the Haynesville play is known as one of the big players in the United States.

It produces about 10% of the US’s daily supply of natural gas, yielding around 6.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas and 57,000 barrels of oil per day.

Lead Players:

  • Chesapeake Energy
  • Memorial Resources Development/Range Resources
  • EXCO Resources
  • BHP Billiton

Bakken Play

The Bakken Formation is a rock unit that occupies about 200,000 square miles of the Williston Basin, underlying parts of Montana and North Dakota in the United States and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada.

This play produces about 1 million barrels of oil per day and 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Although smaller than other plays, such as Eagle Ford, Bakken play has recently gained the technology to properly drill and is considered one of the biggest oil discoveries in recent history.

Lead Players:

  • Continental Resources
  • Whiting Petroleum
  • Hess
  • ExxonMobil
  • EOG Resources

Utica Play

The Utica play is one of the newest discoveries for natural gas in the United States, spanning across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

This play yields around 1,425 barrels of oil and 9.5 cubic feet of natural gas each day.

Developed in 2011, the Utica play has continued in growth as technology advances.

Lead Players:

  • Chesapeake Energy
  • Gulfport Energy
  • Ascent Resources
  • Antero Resources
  • Eclipse Resources

Major Oil Plays in Canada

Liard Basin

Located in British Columbia, Canada, the Liard Basin spans 430 000 acres and provides recoverable natural gas reserves at around 158 Tcf.

The drilling in Liard Basin is fairly recent so future production may prove it to be a major global reserve.

Lead players:

Alberta Deep Basin

In Alberta, Canada, the Alberta Deep Basin hosts some of the most productive gas wells with an average production rate of 15 million cubic feet per day from the top 30 wells.

Apart from the gas production in the Alberta Deep Basin, there is also horizontal oil well.

Lead players:

  • Tourmaline Oil Corp.
  • Cenovus Energy
  • Bonavista Energy

Duvernay East Shale Basin

The Duverney East Shale Basin, located in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, has grown exponentially in the past two years to around 4800 bbls/d.

Upward momentum is expected to continue as producers move into multi-well pad drilling.

Lead Players:

  • Crescent Point Energy
  • Artis Exploration
  • Vesta Energy

Montney Shale

The Montney Shale Play is a huge oil play located in Canada, spanning from the province of British Columbia into the province of Alberta. 

On the British Columbia side, production continues to climb - 95% of the province’s production of condensate comes from this oil play.

On the Alberta side, both light oil and condensate production continue to drive growth in Alberta.

Lead Players:

  • Encana
  • Progress Energy
  • Seven Generations Energy
  • ARC Resources
  • Royal Dutch Shell