Photo credit: Anadarko Petroleum Corporation

For an energy company, exploring for new sources of oil and gas can be tough. Some years the industry feasts on record oil discoveries. Other years, like last year, the industry doesn't find anything too exciting. Still, despite the fact that last year's oil and gas discoveries were weaker than 2012's record, some companies still had a great year exploring for oil and gas. Topping that list was Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (NYSE:APC).

Industry-leading deepwater success
Last year Anadarko Petroleum achieved a 67% success rate on deepwater exploration and appraisal wells. To put that number into context, BP plc (NYSE:BP) achieved a new field exploration success rate of just over 40% last year. That rate marked BP's most successful exploration year in nearly a decade. In a world where misses can result in writedowns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, a greater success rate yields much stronger long-term returns for investors. Those returns appear to be what Anadarko Petroleum has in store for its investors.   

Tales of exploration success
Anadarko Petroleum's success last year was found in two core areas: The deepwater Gulf of Mexico and offshore Mozambique. The highlight of the year was the emergence of the Shenandoah Basin in the Gulf of Mexico. Anadarko believes that basin could potentially hold one of the largest oil accumulations ever discovered in the Gulf of Mexico.

Anadarko Petroleum, along with partners that included ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), drilled the Shenandoah-2 appraisal well to a total depth of 31,405 feet, which was in water depths of about 5,800 feet. The well encountered 1,000 feet of net pay, which is the thickness of the reservoir that contains commercial quantities of oil. That suggests that the partners are sitting on what could turn out to be one of the most prolific new areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Shenandoah prospect was just one of three oil discoveries that Anadarko Petroleum made in the Basin last year. The company also was a partner in the Coronado discovery with ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) as well as the Yucatan discovery. Chevron had been the operator of the Coronado discovery, which found net pay of 400 feet, however, Anadarko is now taking over as operator of that discovery as it increased its stake in the prospect late last year. Meanwhile, the company's Yucatan prospect encountered 120 feet of net oil pay. While the company, and its partners still have a lot of work to do before these projects begin producing, these initial discoveries suggest a very promising future for Anadarko Petroleum in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico.

The other area where Anadarko continued to find exploration success was offshore Mozambique. The company made two additional discoveries last year while also drilling six successful appraisal wells. Anadarko's success in the region is leading the company to build a major natural gas liquefaction facility in order to export natural gas to world markets. Those future profits were enhanced by the fact that its success in Mozambique enabled the company to sell a 10% interest in its Mozambique Offshore Area 1 and secure in $2.64 billion cash proceeds. Because of this it was able to realize tremendous current value, while leaving it open to future upside thanks to its exploration success.

Investor takeaway
While storm clouds surround Anadarko Petroleum due to potential liabilities relating to a former subsidiary, that's not enough to overshadow the company's success as an oil and gas explorer. Anadarko's exploration program was highly successful last year, which bodes really well for future production growth. Long-term investors should definitely keep an eye on this company, as it looks like it is sitting on a world class oil find in the Gulf of Mexico, which could compliment its natural gas growth in Mozambique.

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Matt DiLallo owns shares of ConocoPhillips. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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