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The Williston Basin is a huge depression 475 miles north to south and 300 miles east to west. Although known for the Bakken shale, this basin has several pay zones that have been and are economic. In the eighties, several oil companies used conventional drilling techniques to obtain resource from the Madison. Much of this was done on the Nesson Anticline, but when oil prices pulled back-- so did most of the operators. In some areas of the basin, the Red River formation is also producing oil via conventional drilling. This pay zone is deeper than the middle Bakken, but well costs are still quite a bit lower than horizontal wells. Just beneath the middle Bakken is the upper Three Forks. It has recently been discovered there are a total of four benches. The first and second bench seem to be consistent throughout the play, with the third and fourth benches having possibilities in some of the basin.

Given the size of the Williston Basin and its multiple pay zones, there are a large number of ways to invest. QEP's recent purchase of Bakken acreage has provided optimism to the value of these areas. In the first part of the Bakken Update: Buyout Candidates For The Second Half Of 2012, I gave reasons why Oasis (NYSE:OAS) and Kodiak (NYSE:KOG) have the best chance of a buyout in 2012. In the second part, I covered Triangle (NYSEMKT:TPLM) and Northern Oil (NYSEMKT:NOG). This article gave reasons why not to include Triangle and Northern in the same talk of acquisition, as these two companies have a lower chance of being bought. In part three, I covered the Big Three and what types of acquisitions it will be looking for. It is my guess one will make a very large purchase of acreage in North Dakota.

It would seem Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) is a good fit for large cap oil producers. The only problem is market cap. There are not a lot of companies with the physical size it would take to purchase this company. Another issue is Harold Hamm. He does not seem to really be interested in selling his company.

Continental has really started heading in the right direction. It started making some big changes to completion design in the beginning of 2011. Since then, it has been getting very good IP rates and raising EURs. Continental continues to add acreage and at this time has an estimated 946000 net acres prospective of the middle Bakken. It is currently the largest acreage holder. This large position is centered in some of the best fields in the Williston Basin.

Continental Williston Basin Results
FieldLocationIP Rate (BO/D)
St. DemetriusEast Billings854
Murphy CreekCentral Dunn1345
Jim CreekNW Dunn1294
Little KnifeNW Dunn844
Chimney ButteNW Dunn1301
OakdaleNW Dunn960
Haystack ButteSE McKenzie717
PershingEast McKenzie877
ElidahNE McKenzie1068
North Tobacco GardenNorth McKenzie1138
AntelopeNE McKenzie(Sanish)1423
BanksNE McKenzie1349
CampNE McKenzie996
Elm TreeNE McKenzie(Sanish)835
Crazy Man CreekSouth Williams787
Long CreekSouth Williams954
Dollar JoeSE Williams801
BrooklynSE Williams993
East ForkCentral Williams937
OliverCentral Williams747
StoneviewNE Williams776
HamletSE Divide756
WildroseSE Divide612

These results only show the best well in each field. Continental has recently shown big improvements in completions and IP rates. Many of these results are before the fourth quarter of 2011, when Continental made much of this change. Because of this, the numbers are lower, but I don't believe this shows how well it is doing currently. Watch Baker Field in southern Williams County. Continental has permitted a 14 well pad at the coordinates 6-153-101. Six wells are NENW and the other eight are NWNW. I am unsure how many of these wells are middle Bakken, upper Three Forks, or if this will test the second or third bench. Either way, it's an intriguing development.

The wells above are from Continental's most developed fields. The majority of its work has been next to the Nesson Anticline. This acreage runs from eastern Divide to western Dunn. This acreage has been and continues to be the best in the basin. An acquirer would get a large number of acres, the majority of which would be in very good areas. There isn't really a better large Bakken investment.

Whiting (NYSE:WLL) is the other player with a very large number of Bakken acres that I believe will get bought. Its acreage is much different than Continental's. Whiting focused on more of the outer areas of the play, looking for sweet spots. Most know about its Sanish Field acreage, which has produced very good results. Its Cassandra prospect is in eastern Williams, and Tarpon prospect is in northeastern McKenzie. All three of these areas are near the Nesson Anticline. Its Hidden Bench prospect is in north central McKenzie, and is good acreage. Whiting's Pronghorn and Lewis & Clark prospects are prospective the Pronghorn sands and Three Forks. The middle Bakken thins here, and is not an economic pay zone in this area. Its Starbuck and Missouri Breaks prospects are in Montana.

Whiting has some very good acreage. To identify how good each area is, I will give the best results from each of its more developed fields.

Whiting's Williston Basin Results
FieldLocationIP Rate (BO/D)
BellStark3106
GaylordStark843
Dutch Henry ButteStark2503
ParkBillings2696
DemoresN. Billings639
Elkhorn RanchNW Billings1919
RooseveltNW Billings2196
Pleasant HillCentral McKenzie2089
SanishSW Mountrail3502

Whiting's acreage is interesting. Its Sanish Field acreage is one of the best plays in the Basin. Its best IP rate in the Sanish was 3502 Bo/d. In Bell Field its best is 3106 Bo/d, and this is important as Whiting has been getting comparable results. Although the middle Bakken is not a target in Lewis & Clark and the Pronghorn, there is still upside from here. There is little said about the additional three benches of the Three Forks, which could all be targets in Billings and Stark counties. The Sanish Field is still the better play from a total resource stand point, but the Pronghorn and Lewis & Clark are grossly undervalued by the market.

In summary, Continental and Whiting are both ways to play Bakken buyouts. Continental's almost 1 million acres would be a great addition to any of the "Big Three". This may be a tough deal to pull off as Harold Hamm doesn't seem very motivated to sell. Continental has the best overall acreage position with the only possible exception being Hess. Whiting's acreage has a better chance of being acquired, and has more upside potential than other names we have gone over. The reason for this is the speculative nature of its acreage in Lewis & Clark, Pronghorn, Starbuck and Missouri Breaks prospects have not been clearly defined. Analysts understand Whiting's Sanish and Parshall fields, because there has been significant development. The Lewis & Clark and Pronghorn are just starting to produce big IP rates and Whiting seems comfortable enough to provide consistent results. I would not be surprised if we see even better numbers, from the Three Forks and Pronghorn Sands than current Sanish Field middle Bakken rates. Starbuck and Missouri Breaks are just starting to see middle Bakken development, but more importantly is the potential of the conventional Red River. If as good as Big Island, we could see conventional development initially, and move to more expensive horizontals later. Either way, I believe both are interesting to oil and gas producers looking to increase liquids production.

Source: Bakken Update: Buyout Candidates For The Second Half Of 2012, Part IV

Additional disclosure: This is not a buy recommendation.