Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE: FCX) is the only company in the world that has a chance at making the United States energy independent. I'm referring to Freeport's diversification into oil and gas, which occurred when it acquired McMoRan Exploration Co. (NYSE:MMR) and Plains Exploration & Production Company (NYSE: PXP).
When I speak of energy independence, I'm referring to the ultra-deep Davy Jones well located in the shallow waters off the Gulf Coast. Of course, Davy Jones isn't the only well that the company has acquired, but it is the most important one. If a successful well flow test can be achieved, it will mark an historic technological breakthrough. The well has yet to flow, but it is projected to have vast amounts of oil and natural gas. The oil and gas is located deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico, deeper than any driller company has gone before. To call this venture innovative would be an understatement.
The deep-water offshore region of the Gulf of Mexico may have recoverable resources of up to 15 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
In 2011, the United States consumed a total of 6.87 billion barrels of oil. This means that FCX has the potential to account for more than twice the nation's yearly consumption of oil. This is no small feat, especially considering Freeport's market cap is a paltry 31.89B compared to the likes of Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM), 398.09B, and Chevron Corporation (CVX), 229.39B, to name a few of the major oil producers.
Let's do some simple math, using Exxon Mobil as a case study.
Exxon Mobil is the largest oil company in the world. At the end of 2007, Exxon Mobil had reserves of 72 billion oil-equivalent barrels. If, and this is a big if, Freeport can monetize the ultra-deep play in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico and unlock the potential 15 billion barrels of oil equivalent, they will have approximately 20% (15 billion/72 billion = 0.208 or 20.8%) of Exxon's reserves. Freeport's market cap is 8% (31.89B/398.09B = 0.08 or 8%) the size of Exxon's. Freeport's core business currently revolves around their production of copper and gold. I would argue that most of their market cap is reflecting that side of their business rather than anything to do with the company's newly acquired oil and gas projects.
Considering all of the above information, and using Exxon Mobil as a benchmark, it is clear that Freeport has the potential to create significant value for shareholders.
However, until Freeport-McMoRan can get the well to flow, naysayers and short-sellers will be prevalent. The market has been taking a "wait and see" approach, and so it should. Ultimately, nothing of commercial significance has been achieved yet.
People have compared Freeport's diversification strategy to that of BHP Billiton Limited (NYSE: BHP). Yes, BHP successfully diversified into oil and gas but what Freeport-McMoRan is trying to do has the potential to be so much more. In today's corporate world, multinational companies are primarily concerned with profits. Freeport's efforts in the Gulf of Mexico are about more than just profits.
Freeport-McMoRan is attempting to make the U.S. energy independent. This has the potential to reward not just the shareholders, but the entire nation.