As drillers slowly return to the Gulf of Mexico after BP's (NYSE: BP) Macondo well blowout last year, companies such as Hercules Offshore (Nasdaq: HERO) will likely benefit from the region's turnaround.

Offshore drilling companies operating in and around the Gulf and its vicinity obviously took a beating after BP's big spill. But clever management plans for the future, and takes action instead of dwelling on misfortunes -- and I think Hercules has done exactly that.

Solid strategy
Hercules has recently expanded, acquiring 20 jackup rigs and related assets for $105 million from Seahawk Drilling. According to Chief Executive John Rynd, these purchases will help the company capitalize on an increasingly friendly climate for Gulf drilling. E&P giant and major Gulf player Chevron (NYSE: CVX) provided 17% of its total revenue last year, and Hercules wants to further strengthen its position in the region.

Management has also turned eager eyes beyond the Gulf, as the global offshore drilling market begins to recover from its own post-2009 slowdown. High global oil prices have encouraged the company to shift its focus toward deeper waters, especially in the Middle East and Africa. In fact, 34% of Hercules' 2010 revenue came from India's Oil and Gas Corporation. and Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco.

Recent numbers
Hercules has turned itself around in the last 12 months. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) -- a metric I believe reflects its core operations' true performance -- improved to $182 million, up 79% since 2009's slowdown.

Free cash flow rose to $176 million, further piquing my interest in Hercules's fundamentals. That free cash's quality also looks good, with depreciation of assets contributing a major chunk.

The company has a price-to-book value of 0.9, compared to Diamond Offshore's (NYSE: DO) 2.8, Vantage Drilling's (AMEX: VTG) 0.7, and Transocean's (NYSE: RIG) 1.9. Hercules also sports a total enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio of 11.3, while Diamond's and Transocean's stand at 9.3 and 13.1, respectively.

In short, Hercules' assets appear generally undervalued compared to its peers', and the overall market seems to ignore the drilling industry's tremendous growth potential.

Foolish bottom line
Global offshore drilling expenditure could grow to $64.2 billion in 2011, thanks to investments in the Asia-Pacific region. I believe this growth has just begun, and given its solid management and promising direction, I think Hercules definitely looks like a buy. It will only be a matter of time before Mr. Market factors in its advantages and sends the stock soaring.

Fool contributor Isac Simon does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Diamond Offshore Drilling and Transocean. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of 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.