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Sometimes high levels of growth come at the expense of the balance sheet, but Whiting Petroleum (NYSE: WLL ) seems to have found a way around that. Through technological advances, infrastructure build-outs, and extensive development budgets targeted toward high-margin liquids plays, Whiting Petroleum has been able to uncover billions of dollars worth of additional resources underneath its existing operations. Leaving no stone unturned, Whiting Petroleum has eliminated the need to issue more debt just to keep the lights on down the road.
Looks like the fire is still burning
Factoring out Whiting Petroleum's asset sales, oil and gas output grew 21% in 2013. Looking out into the future, Whiting Petroleum's CEO James Volker sees Whiting's $2.7 billion capex budget for 2014 growing production by 17%-19%. Beyond 2014, James Volker had this to say;
"Our tenth year as a public company was a record year for Whiting Petroleum. With full-scale development under way at such fields as Pronghorn, Hidden Bench and Missouri Breaks, we generated excellent results in 2013. Entering our second decade as a public company, we are a leading operator in two of the hottest plays in North America, the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana and the Niobrara in northeastern Colorado. We believe these plays set the stage for another ten years of growth."
By banking on what many analysts see as two of the best liquids plays outside of Texas, Whiting Petroleum hopes it can continue to provide double-digit output growth over the next several years while maintaining a healthy balance sheet.
In 2013, extensions and discoveries combined with revisions added over 120 million barrels of oil equivalent to Whiting Petroleum's reserve base, while net divestitures and acquisitions subtracted 27 million barrels of oil equivalent. This proves Whiting Petroleum doesn't need expensive, enormous tracts of land in oil plays to find new reserves.
By growing organically, Whiting Petroleum can prove that it is capable of growing without pilling on debt. Its operations down in Colorado in the Redtail part of the Niobrara play singlehandedly grew proven reserves by 65.9 million barrels of oil equivalent last year. Investors should not confuse Whiting Petroleum for a pure Bakken player like Kodiak Oil & Gas or Oasis Petroleum -- this is an E&P player looking to expand beyond North Dakota.
By diversifying its asset base, Whiting Petroleum is less at risk to production disruptions than those solely based in one region. If an abnormally cold winter hampers drilling activity in North Dakota, Whiting Petroleum can refocus its capex to the Niobrara until things clear up. The DJ Basin houses the Wattenberg and Niobrara liquid plays, which Whiting is investing heavily in, especially after the enormous discoveries last year.
Beyond just growing its reserve base, Whiting Petroleum has been testing out different well completion designs to boost efficiency, particularly in the Williston Basin. Early results indicate that through a new type of well completion technique, productivity could increase by 30%-100%, which would allow Whiting Petroleum to bring wells online much faster in this oil-rich region.
A welcome trend
Through the billions of dollars various companies have poured into improving America's energy infrastructure over the past few years, oil and gas producers are finally starting to fetch solid prices for their output. As necessities like gas gathering systems and pipeline networks are expanded, energy producers like Whiting Petroleum are more than happy to utilize the additional infrastructure.
To get a good look at how Whiting Petroleum is leveraging the new infrastructure now in place, shareholders should take a look at the 10% jump in Whiting's average realized price per barrel of oil equivalent. Standing at $76.76 per BOE, there still is plenty of room to grow as Whiting Petroleum gains access to markets with better prices.
Income growth goes hand in hand with output growth and rising margins. While Whiting Petroleum's growth prospects may be smaller than other, riskier shale players, it stands behind a history of stable growth through organic strategies.
Whiting Petroleum's future has many goodies in store: higher levels of production, less debt, strong organic reserve growth (31% last year when you exclude the asset sale), and higher margins via better realized prices. This can mean only one thing: Whiting Petroleum is a company worth investing in if you want to safely own a stake in two of the best liquids plays around.
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