All too often, we see growth in the energy industry simply for the sake of growth. Whether its empire building or a race against expiring leases, energy companies can take the "Drill, baby, drill" mantra to a whole new level. Worse yet, many companies have loaded up on debt to fuel this growth.
I do have some good news for you, though: Not all energy companies are growing just to get bigger. Several are actually growing cash from operations by focusing on profitable growth. Below is a list of the top five energy companies that have grown cash from operations by the highest compound annual rate over the past five years.
Magnum Hunter Resources (NYSE: MHR )
Topping the list with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 220% is Magnum Hunter Resources. First, I will point out that the company started at a very low base as its market cap was just $10 million as its share price bottomed out at $0.37 in 2009, when its current management team assumed leadership. However, that team has led the company to phenomenal growth in cash from operations since taking over.
The company has been in the news a lot lately with its announcement of the the sale of its Eagle Ford assets while also dismissing its auditor. The good news is that the Eagle Ford deal delivered a nice return and a major cash infusion, which will be reinvested to grow production at its liquids-rich acreage in the Bakken and Marcellus. Because of that, cash flow growth will slow down in the short term but the long-term story remains very compelling despite the concerns surrounding the auditor transition.
Vanguard Natural Resources (NASDAQ: VNR )
Clocking in at No. 2 with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 172% is Vanguard Natural Resources. The company started with just 67 billion cubic feet equivalent of mainly natural gas reserves in Kentucky and Tennessee back in 2007. Today, the company has 175 million barrels of oil equivalent reserves spread across nine operating areas.
As an oil and gas MLP, Vanguard's business model is driven by acquiring currently producing reserves. Over the past year, the company has doubled its reserves and has been taking advantage of cheap natural gas -- which have risen from 34% in 2011 to 60% as of the end of last year -- to boost those reserves. This growth has enabled Vanguard to deliver distribution growth of 43% since its IPO in 2007.
Oasis Petroleum (NYSE: OAS )
Oil exploration company Oasis Petroleum boldly proclaims to investors that its "aggressively drilling the Williston Basin." That's probably why it shouldn't come as a surprise that it made this list. Its oil-rich Bakken acreage has led to growth in operational cash flow at a compound annual rate of 170% for the past five years.
Oasis is one of the many great Bakken growth stories. This is clearly evidenced by looking at production, which grew 82% year over year while reserves have grown at a compound annual rate of 121% since 2009. However, this isn't growth by any means, as the company had seen a 16% reduction in well costs, which has helped improve its cash flow.
Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYSE: KOG )
Joining Oasis in the Bakken as another king of cash flow growth is Kodiak Oil & Gas, which saw a five-year compounded annual growth of 165%. The story is much the same: Kodiak has been growing production and reserves while also working to get its well costs down. Since 2010, production has gone from 1,260 barrels of oil equivalent per day to a projected range of 29,000 to 31,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day this year. This has the company nearing the point where its cash flow will soon fully fund its drilling program, which is a real sign of sustainability.
Heckmann (NYSE: NES )
So far, our list has been filled with exploration and production companies. Heckmann, however, is an oil-field service company concentrating on providing water management services to the companies like those on this list. That business has generated a five-year annualized cash flow growth rate of 86%.
Like many of the names on this list, Heckmann has operations in the Bakken, which it just acquired last year. Outside of that, the company has operations in most of the major shale plays, with its revenue highly concentrated in the liquids-rich shale plays. Because of this, 70% of the company's shale-related revenue is tied to liquids, meaning its cash flow growth isn't likely to slow anytime soon.
The Foolish bottom line
Personally, my money's in Heckmann because it's tackling the important environmental issues surrounding the water used in fracking. However, there's something for everyone on this list: Kodiak, Oasis, and Magnum Hunter are all growth-oriented exploration companies while Vanguard is an income-focused MLP. While each company is quickly growing operational cash flow, it's important to drill down a little deeper before committing capital to any name on this list.
For those investors not afraid of a little risk, Kodiak Oil & Gas offers a real dynamic growth story. However, the great opportunities it offers come with great risks. As you drill deeper into the company, I'd encourage you to let us help you with your due diligence. To find out whether Kodiak is currently a buy or a sell, you're invited to check out The Motley Fool's premium research report on the company, which comes with a full year of updates and analysis as key news breaks. To get started simply click here now.