As we approached the middle of 2011, I noted in an article for my Foolish friends that, in my humble opinion, Austin, Texas-based Brigham Exploration was the optimum way to play the hot Bakken and Three Forks reservoirs of the prolific Williston Basin.
In part because they produce both natural gas and more lucrative oil, those reservoirs -- which are spread among North Dakota and Montana, along with portions of Canada's Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces -- are still among the most enticing plays on the enlivened North American energy scene. But as Brigham was gobbled up for $4.4 billion by the end of 2011 to become part of Norway's Statoil
The answer doesn't come easily. You could start at the top with ExxonMobil
Start with the little one
Perhaps because, as an erstwhile "Austinite," I watched Brigham Exploration figuratively take off once it moved its emphasis to the Williston as recently as 2007, I'll begin with the smallest member of the trio, Houston-based GeoResources
As I've noted with the Bakken, both the Eagle Ford and the chalk provide opportunities for liquids production, along with natural gas. Indeed, at the close of 2010, about 60% of the company's reserves were in oil, and 74% were proved developed. And since we're concentrating on opportunities in the Williston Basin, I'll simply note that GeoResources operates projects in both Williams County, N.D., and in eastern Montana.
The Bakken's biggest leaseholder
The next largest of my Bakken threesome is Continental Resources
Beyond that, Enid, Okla.-based Continental can lay claim to a number of operating firsts in the Williston: In 2010, it became the first operator to complete a paired Middle Bakken and Three Forks well. That feat followed by two years its drilling of the first horizontal well in Three Forks. In 2004, it had completed the first North Dakota well to be both horizontally drilled and stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.
Along with its Bakken and Three Forks program, Continental also operates in the Red River units -- which are also in Montana and the Dakotas, and include the Cedar Hills field, the seventh-largest onshore field in the lower 48 states. It is also drilling in the Niobrara, a part of the Denver-Julesburg basin -- another liquids-producing unconventional U.S. play that covers parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas. In addition, it is conducting successful operations in Oklahoma's Woodford plays.
From the Eagle to China
The overall largest of my Bakken trio, EOG Resources
Beyond its Manitoba portion of the Williston Basin, Houston-headquartered EOG's international activities include exploration, production, and marketing activities in other locations like the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, and China. From my perspective, its operations in China present it with an intriguing leg up in that energy-thirsty developing country.
Don't neglect your own research
There are numerous other attractive companies operating in the Bakken and Three Forks reservoirs of the Williston Basin. My suggestion is that you perform careful analysis on the three companies described above, along with other Williston Basin operators that may tickle your fancy.
I believe these three stocks are the ones to look out for this year. But if you're looking for more ideas, The Motley Fool has created a special oil report titled "3 Stocks for $100 Oil," which you can download today, absolutely free. In this report, Fool analysts cover three outstanding oil companies. To get instant access to the names of the three oil stocks, click here -- it's free.