What was widely considered to be one of the most promising oil formations in North America just got even more exciting. Oil companies and oil investors alike have had several reasons to cheer recently as the Bakken and Three Forks Formations continue to help lead the United States towards a state of energy independence. Reserves that were originally thought to be extremely difficult to extract are now easily reachable thanks to some new advancements in drill technology like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The future for Bakken and Three Forks companies and investors is looking brighter than ever before.
According to a government study that highlights the nation's march toward energy self-sufficiency, these two regions hold more than twice the recoverable crude supplies than originally estimated five years ago. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported about 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil, although many experts believe those numbers underestimate the region's full potential. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel said, "These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce or nation's dependence on foreign sources of oil."
Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, agrees with the new estimates and even went on to state that she believes a high estimate of 11 billion barrels is a reasonable target as technology and exploration continues to advance. Dr. Don Van Nieuwenhuise, head of the geosciences program at the University of Houston, also believes the 7.4 billion barrel estimate to be rather conservative. He believes there are many "sweet spots" still undiscovered that will drastically increase reserve estimates.
In addition to the crude reserves, the Bakken and Three Forks hold a mean estimate of 6.7 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas and 530 million barrels of natural gas liquids that are well within reach. Those numbers are nearly three times greater than original estimates.
Since 2008, over 4,000 wells have been drilled in the Williston Basin, the area that contains the Bakken and Three Forks Formations. The U.S. Geological Survey now considers the two formations to be the largest continuous oil formations in the continental United States.
To ensure you benefit from the U.S. oil boom, I suggest that you strongly consider doubling up on these Bakken oil companies:
Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is a major oil field services provider and the world's biggest user of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the relatively new drill technique that enables companies to retrieve the reserves in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations. Last year Halliburton modified the chemical composition of the fracking material it uses and saw a savings of $400,000 per well. EPS lagged a bit in 2012 but Halliburton was still able to outperform the overall market. Even with a modestly high P/E, Halliburton stands to benefit greatly from a booming Bakken Formation and represents a great long-term Bakken investment.
Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) is the largest leaseholder in the Bakken with more than 1,140,000 acres with the majority being in North Dakota. Continental was also the second largest Bakken producer in 2012 in terms of gross operating production, nearly doubling the production by oil giant Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM). The company also boasts operating margins over 40%, profit margins over 30%, and a $1.63 billion cash flow. Continental also sports a 58% production growth from FY2011 to FY2012 and estimates a solid 35%-40% growth in FY2013.
Whiting Petroleum Corp. (NYSE:WLL) is perhaps my favorite Bakken player with a mere $5.42 billion market cap, significantly lower than most competing Bakken players. Whiting holds 714,567 acres in the Bakken and continues to outpace the competition in F&D costs. Its 3-year average costs are $19.88/barrel vs. and the industry average is $25.88/barrel - that's what I call efficiency. And in 2012, production of 66,156 barrels a day was higher than any other Bakken player. With 378.8 million barrels of estimated proven reserves and such a the low market cap, I could easily see an oil major like Exxon Mobil, Chevron (CVX) or Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) making a bid for Whiting.
Hess Corporation (NYSE:HES) was one of the first oil majors to establish themselves in the Bakken and has built up a lease portfolio of over 900,000 acres. Hess just may be one of the most aggressive Bakken players, having increased production in the area by 87% in 2012. The company also cut drilling costs from $13.4 million in Q1 2012 to $9 million in Q4 2012. Hess was the third largest Bakken producer in 2012 with 64,656 barrels a day and plans to be producing 120,000 barrels a day by 2015.
Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE:KOG) is a small company with a big story. In 2009, Kodiak was a penny stock and actually traded below $0.20 a share at one point. The company had a vision to drill in the Bakken and quickly increased capital expenditures from $40 million to $595 million in 2012. In 2011, Kodiak actually tripled its output and now enjoys a market cap over $2 billion and a share price well north of $8.00, not a bad return for 3 1/2 years. The company has estimated proven reserves of 80.9 million barrels of oil and a low PEG of 0.21.
Norstra Energy Inc. (OTC:NORX) is another small company that we can add to the Bakken discussion. It's important to include a youthful start-up along with well-established oil giants. Although investing in micro-cap companies is risky and many statements are considered forward-looking, it's worth noting that Norstra has already invested $5,000,000 in drilling this year and plans to commence full drilling early this summer. With a current price per share of just $0.70, Norstra could be headed for a similar future to that of Kodiak Oil & Gas. Is the risk of an investment here greater? Yes. But is the potential reward of catching a budding Bakken player at $0.70 also greater? Absolutely; just look at Kodiak.
Northern Oil & Gas (NYSEMKT:NOG) is perhaps the most beaten up out of the Bakken players having lost about -46% from its 2012 high. However, at $14.00 a share, Northern seems cheap with a PEG ratio hovering around 0.27. At the end of 2012, Northern had 67.6 million barrels of proven reserves. Operating margins are 45.56% and profit margins are 24.35%.
Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) (BRK-B) is my one railroad addition to this article as it is important to realize the opportunity for railway companies as Bakken production increases. Berkshire owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), one of two Category I railroad companies currently servicing the Williston Basin. About 3/4 of all rail transloading facilities in the Williston Basin are connected to the BNSF network. In 2009, Berkshire agreed to pay $44 billion for BNSF to mark one of Berkshire's largest acquisitions ever. BNSF easily carries the majority of all crude transported out of the Williston Basin.
The Bakken oil estimates being raised opens several windows of opportunity for many different companies. What was already an exciting and potentially very profitable investment area just got even more enticing. The companies mentioned above each have different characteristics that put them in a great position to benefit from the growing Bakken and Three Forks Formations. I encourage every investor to look into these companies as substantial long-term investments.