10,000 Ways to Make Money in the Bakken

Cheap land and large production growth, that's Whiting Petroleum's (NYSE: WLL  )  model. So far Whiting has built up a 714,541 net acreage position in the Bakken for $643 million, which is slightly less than $900 an acre, or in other words a steal.

Using a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis investors can see if the company is worth an investment.

Strengths
Whiting Petroleum has a large acreage position, which enables it to keep drilling and pushing up production. Whiting also has a history of production growth. In 2011 Whiting produced 67,890 BOE (barrels of oil equivalent) a day, which increased by 21.6% to 82,540 BOE by the end of 2012. As of the second quarter of 2013 Whiting was producing 93,380 BOE.

Whiting is growing its reserves, which grew 10% in 2012 versus 2011, to 378.8 million barrels of oil equivalent. Growing reserves, coupled with a high EBIDTA margin of 67% per BOE, means Whiting will have a long growth runway. 

Weaknesses
Whiting isn't without its weaknesses, while it has seen rising production, that hasn't translated to earnings per share growth. From 2008 to 2012 Whiting grew its production by 73% yet earnings per share has only grown by 17% in that same time period. . 

Whiting also isn't as well hedged as other oil companies, which could lead to volatile realized oil and natural gas prices. For the past few quarters Whiting has seen oil prices of roughly $75 a barrel while Kodiak Oil and Gas (NYSE: KOG  ) has realized around $90 a barrel for its oil. This is causing Whiting to miss out on a lot of free cash flow, hampering production growth due to less money available to invest in the business.

Opportunities
Whiting has plenty of opportunities ahead of it, primarily through increasing production. Whiting's management sees 10,000 possible drilling locations in the Bakken, which houses 50% of its reserves. Right now Whiting has 20 rigs in the area and with so many places to drill, it should be able to push production up above 100,000 bpd.

Whiting is also trying to push up production in its Redtail Mid-Continent play by increasing its budget by $200-300 million to $2.5 billion so it can drill more in both the Niobrara and the Bakken.

Threats
Whiting's biggest threat comes from its hedging strategy. Whiting has been burned before from under-hedging. For 2013 Whiting has 59% of its volume hedged and for 2014 it has 39% of volume hedged. 

If Whiting doesn't hedge its 2014 production and beyond, it is at the mercy of a severe drop in oil prices, which would crimp margins, income, and cash flow. 

Worth your money?
If Whiting can fix its hedging strategy then it will be able to significantly boost cash flow by simply getting a higher price for its crude. In its latest earnings release, management did allude to using rail and pipelines to find better prices for its crude, and Whiting should be able to fetch at least $80 a barrel by the next few quarters.

Whiting still is a very profitable company and sports a high margin of 67%, so with or without a better hedging strategy it still will be generating more money from more production. Whiting should hit a production level of 100,000 BOE/d by the end of 2013, which would represent 48% growth in two years.

Little Brother
Kodiak is a smaller player than Whiting and unlike Whiting is a pure Bakken player. Kodiak has been steadily dropping its well costs, which are now around $9.5 million, down significantly from $10.5 million-$11 million last year. While Kodiak still has a ways to go to get down to the average $8 million other players are experiencing, that just means it has more room to cut costs. 

Kodiak is producing around 36,000-38,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day and plans on getting that up to 40,000 BOE/d by the end of 2013. This would represent 11% growth in three months. The growth picture gets even better when you factor in that Kodiak was producing 18,200 BOE/d in the forth quarter of 2012.

Infrastructure
In order for Kodiak and Whiting to receive the best prices for their oil they need a mode of transportation in order to find the buyers willing to pay the best prices. Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP  ) is planning on making that happen by converting an existing natural gas pipeline into one for crude oil.

The Trunkline pipeline would carry 420,000 bpd from the Bakken and Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. The project would cost about $1.5 billion, and Energy Transfer is currently looking for customers who would want to ship their crude to the coast.

Final thoughts
The Bakken growth play is still very much alive and isn't going to stop anytime soon, which is especially evident with Whiting's 10,000 potential wells it can drill on its acreage. Exploration and production players need a mode of transportation to sell all of their valuable crude so pipeline operations like Energy Transfer Partners are able to create new sources of cash flow through building/converting pipelines in the Bakken.

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