Is Cobalt Dead in the Deepwater?

"The best thing that I can say about the second quarter is that it's over."
-- Joe Bryant, CEO of Cobalt International Energy (NYSE: CIE  )

It's tough being Cobalt these days. Not only does the exploration and production outfit have a large focus on the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, but the relatively young Cobalt has no production. Drilling is this company's sole ticket to value creation.

Cobalt has spent years amassing a highly prospective portfolio of offshore leases both in the U.S. Gulf and in western Africa. This year was supposed to be the one in which Cobalt would make some high-impact discoveries, but it managed to drill only a few dusters before the Macondo disaster. (The company has participated in some discoveries by Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC  ) , however). The six-month drilling moratorium put in place following the incident means that Cobalt won't be drilling another well until 2011, when the firm takes delivery of the Ensco (NYSE: ESV  ) 8503 and tackles its North Platte prospect.

Assuming that smaller, independent E&Ps like Cobalt and Newfield Exploration (NYSE: NFX  ) don't get forced out of the deepwater business by hasty legislation, it would seem that nothing has fundamentally changed the Cobalt story. The timing is thrown off, which definitely has an impact on the present value of the company, but shares are off roughly 40% since the April 20 explosion on Transocean's (NYSE: RIG  ) Deepwater Horizon rig working at a BP well. Isn't that a wee bit excessive?

Consider that only a quarter of Cobalt's leases expire by 2015. The delay in Cobalt's drilling program is unfortunate, but not a deal-breaker -- especially since the firm has no debt and can afford to wait. You might even argue that the moratorium has improved Cobalt's odds of drilling successful wells. During the forced "time-out," the company is assessing and reworking all of its top prospects with the use of seismic reprocessing technology and other geological and geophysical tools. The exit of rigs from the Gulf is also pushing down global dayrates, which is positive for Cobalt's contracting requirements in Angola.

With around 9 billion barrels of unrisked potential resources, this firm still has a shot at making a big splash in 2011 and beyond. The best time to get positioned is before those drill bits start turning again.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ensco and has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On July 30, 2010, at 12:51 PM, Geofiz wrote:

    Nice article, Toby. And, as you can see by my pick in CAPS, I couldn't agree more. CIE will start drilling in Angola in either 4Q10 or 1Q11. Having worked deepwater Angola some years back, I'm familiar with the play(s). I like their chances of success.

    Disclaimer: I own shares of CIE.

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