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Until recently, driving through Houston, Tulsa, Dallas, or New Orleans would have taken you past a host of energy companies' headquarters. But as crude prices dipped and bounced a couple of decades ago, Houston became the unchallenged home to the bulk of the nation's oil and gas operators and service companies.
Virtually alone in scenic and spectacular Austin is Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP ) , which is fast making a name for itself in the Williston Basin's Bakken and Three Forks reservoirs. Indeed, the company has joined others in nudging the Williston of North Dakota and Montana toward discoveries and production levels that could allow it to surpass Prudhoe Bay as North America's largest oilfield.
Founded more than 20 years ago by University of Texas-trained geophysicist Bud Brigham, the company's early days were concentrated in the onshore Gulf Coast, the Anadarko Basin, and West Texas. However, as recently as late 2007, its emphasis was moved to the Williston, where the likes of Continental Resources (NYSE: CLR ) , EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) , Marathon (NYSE: MRO ) , and Hess (NYSE: HES ) also operate. A $3-per-share investment in Brigham two years ago would have moved to near $30 a share today.
The company, which has been steadily picking up speed, shows no signs of even tapping its brakes. Just last week, it completed a $300 million offering of 6.875% senior notes due in 2019.
Brigham and his team intend to use the proceeds to hasten the pace of their Williston drilling program. They expect to be operating 10 rigs there by July, and to add a couple of more units by the first quarter of 2012, putting them about six months ahead of their prior schedule. Furthermore, the company's land position now exceeds 378,000 acres in the basin.
With the new funds, Brigham intends to boost the company's oil and gas capital budget to $835.5 million for 2011. The new shekels will be used for drilling, acreage acquisitions, and added infrastructure, including rail yard facilities.
As Bud Brigham said when the offering and revised operating plans were announced, "Given our deep de-risked drilling inventory on our growing core acreage in the Williston Basin, this acceleration helps to accrete additional net asset value to our stockholders ..."
It's not because of the warm spot in my heart for Austin that I have become progressively more interested in Brigham Exploration. Instead, there's ample evidence that the company is solidly managed and capable of contributing nicely to your stock watchlist and portfolio.