"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" -- so goes the first-century Roman proverb. Twenty centuries later, it still holds good.
While shale plays like Bakken are always in the news and grab investors' attention, not all companies operating here necessarily do well. Opportunity must be backed by sound business models. Bakken player Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP ) seems to be getting better at this job.
The rule of thumb...
When oil and natural gas companies report a rise in revenues and profits, it should always be taken with a grain of salt. If profits are being driven up simply because of higher energy prices, investors should consider it red flag. A simple rule of thumb that I follow for energy companies: Look for ones that have managed to ramp up production coupled with increased capital spending.
...and Brigham passes the test
After leveraging beyond comfortable limits two years back, it seems CEO Bud Brigham knew what he was doing after all. His entry into the Bakken shale play has paid off. Since 2009, production has been growing phenomenally. The following year saw a fantastic 167% growth in crude oil production, while the first six months of 2011 have already seen a 42% growth in average daily production over last year. Brigham has no doubt hit one of the sweetest spots in the Bakken. Not surprisingly, the last 24 months saw revenues grow at a compounded rate of 84% per annum.
Debt-to-equity has dropped to a respectable 90% from 310% in the same period. I won't call the current value enviable. However, the fact that the value came down considerably along with the company's exciting growth prospects ensures that I'm not too jittery.
Thanks to Brigham's dedicated fracking crews and technological advances like Smart Pad drilling provided by Halliburton (NYSE: HAL ) , production efficiency is what management seems to be after.
While last winter's record snowfall followed by heavy spring rains and flooding saw other Bakken operators suffer loss in production, Brigham was seemingly unaffected. Companies like Abraxas Petroleum (Nasdaq: AXAS ) and Continental Resources (NYSE: CLR ) saw a drop in production. Brigham's preparedness is worth commending.
Optimization of asset value is another reason why I'm impressed with the management. The company's motto of "No Oil Left Behind" does sound catchy. Management is now pushing for 5.5 Bakken wells per unit drilling from the current 4.5. While the whole process is still under study, maximum exploitation of reserves and optimal usage should further increase efficiency.
Halliburton and Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI ) have completed the mechanical field tests for the new technology frac sleeves. Simultaneous fracturing of wells, known as zipper fracs, has reduced effective fracking time to 3.9 days per well for three wells from 9 days to frack a single well. This is nothing less than remarkable.
Foolish bottom line
Operationally, Brigham is among the best. The company has combined opportunity with preparedness few can match. I believe this stock has a long way to go. Brigham seems to be one of the best bets in the Bakken.
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