A fellow energy hound asked me today if I'm seeing any screaming stock bargains in the oil and gas sector. My answer went something like this: "Pfffshhh!" That's shorthand for "No, sir, I most certainly am not."

I tend to like my stocks fairly beaten down, like ATP Oil & Gas (Nasdaq: ATPG) was in February. That may sound like only yesterday, but ATP is up more than 60% from that pessimistic point. Mr. Market has taken a shine to the stock now that the deepwater Telemark Hub is up and running, leaving ATP kinda, sorta cheap (maybe), but not obviously so.

Mariner Energy (NYSE: ME), one of my other favorite offshore ideas, is off the table now that Apache (NYSE: APA) has scooped it up. I was hoping Contango Oil & Gas would sell off more severely than 9% after announcing a pair of dry holes, but no such luck (for nonowners, that is).

About the best I can offer right now is a group of top-shelf E&Ps that have lost some ground over the past six months, while the broader market's raced higher. Specifically, I'm thinking of heavily natural gas-weighted onshore players Ultra Petroleum (NYSE: UPL), Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN), and Range Resources (NYSE: RRC). I'm going to focus on Range today, because the company just reported its quarterly results, but the other two share very similar characteristics.

First off, Range is one of the lower-cost producers in the industry, with direct lifting costs dropping 22% to just $0.73 per thousand cubic feet equivalent (mcfe) of gas in the first quarter. The firm has a massive, repeatable drilling inventory in the Marcellus shale and elsewhere in the U.S., providing the ammo for double-digit production growth as far as the eye can see. Finally, the company has a strong enough balance sheet to see this program through, provided that prices are reasonably cooperative.

That last bit may be the only real sticking point. Range and its low-cost peers can get by at $4 to $5 gas, but it's not the kind of environment in which these companies can truly thrive. Natural gas prices are the biggest thing weighing on these shares, in my opinion. If you consider today's prices unsustainably low, as Encana (NYSE: ECA) has suggested, then it may be time to think about building a position before natural gas bounces back.

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 has a disclosure policy.