What happened

Shares of Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) spiked more than 11% by 3:15 p.m. EDT on Thursday. That's after the shale driller reported expectation-beating third-quarter results, thanks to robust production growth in the Niobrara shale of Colorado.

So what

Whiting Petroleum reported an adjusted loss of $50.1 million, or $0.14 per share, in the third quarter. However, that was $0.06 per share better than analysts anticipated. The expectation-topping result came despite Whiting's closing the sale of its Fort Berthold assets in the Bakken shale of North Dakota, as well as an unplanned outage at a gas-processing plant in that region, both of which impacted production during the quarter.

An oil pump in a field

Image source: Getty Images.

One of the highlights of the quarter was output from Whiting's Redtail area in the Niobrara shale. The company brought 58 wells online during the quarter, resulting in a 78% surge in the average daily production rate from that region versus the second quarter. That said, companywide production dipped 5% sequentially due to the asset sale and the production curtailment in the Bakken. Meanwhile, the other reason Whiting's net loss wasn't as steep as feared is that its average sales price for oil was 12% higher, which enabled the company to earn more per barrel as it kept a lid on costs.

Now what

Whiting anticipates that production will rise 10% in the fourth quarter, because the bulk of the wells it completed came online toward the end of the period, so their full impact won't hit until the current quarter. That puts the company on pace to hit its revised full-year target.

The future beyond next quarter remains a bit up in the air, because the company announced that its longtime CEO James Volker would retire at the end of the month. Replacing him will be Bradley Holly, who previously served as Anadarko Petroleum's executive vice president of U.S. onshore exploration and production. That leadership change could ultimately result in a strategy shift for the company, something investors need to monitor -- and why they should wait to see where he plans to take the company, instead of chasing today's gains.

Matthew DiLallo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.