FARMINGTON — A major conference set for March 18-19 at San Juan College will focus on the potential for oil production in the Mancos Shale, a geologic layer of the San Juan Basin.

Conference organizers are touting the Mancos as "the next shale play in the United States."

"This is the renaissance of the San Juan Basin," conference organizer Daniel Fine said in a prepared statement. "We are seeing a revolution on the part of American technology in natural gas and shale oil recovery in shale formations."

The conference is expected to draw speakers from Encana Corp., BP America, Chevron, Continental Resources Inc., Public Service Company of New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Local officials hope the San Juan Basin, traditionally a natural gas region, will prove to be the next booming oil shale play. Areas like the Bakken Shale in North Dakota have been transformed by oil production.

"This conference highlights the changes in the San Juan Basin moving from natural gas production to oil," said James Henderson, San Juan County commissioner and former college president. "Additionally, the San Juan Basin has seen natural gas production for 90 years, and the region could see oil and gas production for another 50 years."

However, it's far from clear Mancos Shale oil will spur a major play like those seen elsewhere. Even Encana, the most aggressive player, is unsure of the Mancos' prospects.

"Results are mixed at this point," said Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman. "We've had some good wells and some not so good, so we need to keep drilling new wells and see if we have a viable play."

Encana Corp. has been the leader in drilling Mancos Shale test wells. The Canadian company drilled nine wells in 2012 in partnership with Dugan Production Corp. of Farmington and Aztec Well Servicing.

Bill Barrett Corp. of Denver conducted a seismic survey of the basin and announced plans last year to drill up to two horizontal wells. The company is working with another Farmington independent oil and gas producer, Merrion Oil and Gas Co.

Barrett's plans are on hold for now due to permitting delays, said Steve Dunn, drilling and production manager at Merrion.

"They're still shooting to start drilling here in the first quarter of 2013," Dunn said. "I think they're getting close."

A Barrett spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Other companies are in various stages of exploring the Mancos Shale.

Drillers across the nation have revamped their operations to focus on oil as natural gas prices fell dramatically in recent years. Low prices led San Juan Basin drillers to cut natural gas production, which has fallen each year since 2006.

Natural gas production fell from more than 1 trillion cubic feet in 2006 to about 815 billion cubic feet in 2011. That was the lowest level since 1992, according to New Mexico Oil Conservation Division data.

Fine, senior energy analyst with the New Mexico Center for Energy Policy, said the Mancos Shale oil reserve could be worth more than $400 billion.

The San Juan Basin Energy Conference will be held at the Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College. "Early bird" registration costs $400. Late registration begins Feb. 15 and will cost $450.

More information is available at the conference's website, sanjuanbasinenergy.org.