Oil production in America is booming. Oil rich shale plays like the Bakken and Eagle Ford are fueling a renaissance in onshore drilling. However, as those plays become more fully developed it is forcing producers to start looking elsewhere for the areas that will deliver the next phase of oil focused growth.
For Bakken focused Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) that next phase of growth will come from its Redtail Niobrara acreage in Colorado. CEO James Volker calls it the most exciting new prospect in the last decade since the Bakken. The following slide details a map of the prospect as well as some of the key characteristics of the play.
The combination of large amounts of original oil in place with horizontal well costs as low as $5.5 million is producing real compelling economics. Volker says that Whiting can get five-to-one or better on its money every time it puts a drill into the ground. I'd say returns like those are reason to be excited.
Whiting isn't the only company locking up its position in the play. The pink shaded area in the map above has been leased by Noble Energy (NASDAQ:NBL), which is really one of the dominate players and first movers in the region. While it's still delineating its acreage in this part of the play, it sees robust economics thanks to the high concentration of liquids, which is about 85% of the resource.
For Whiting this is all about extending its opportunities to pursue future growth. It's an important next step for the company. A great example of a company that's taking a similar approach is fellow Bakken peer Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR). After building the leading position in the Bakken, Continental turned some of its attention toward turning the SCOOP play in Oklahoma into a new major development area. Looking ahead to next year the company is allocating 25% of its capital budget to develop this new play. That says a lot, because Continental has been so focused on leading the development of the Bakken. However, it's a smart move as it really gives the company more certainty that it can hit its ambitious 26%-32% production growth target for next year as well as its 5-year plan to triple the company's production and reserves.
For an oil company there is a lot of value in having a long runway of future growth. In Whiting's case, it only had about 1,250 net drilling locations remaining in the Northern Rockies. In adding the Redtail Niobrara of the Central Rockies to the mix it was able to potentially add another 1,200 net future drilling locations. That really will enable Whiting to extend its growth further into the future.
Whiting is still not done looking for new oil growth plays. The company has already accumulated more than a half million net acres in three additional potential oil resource plays. It has only released the name of one of those plays, which is the Smackover in Louisiana. One day these three positions could emerge and begin to add another layer of growth for the company.
For a company not known as an oil exploration company-it only spends 3% of its annual capital budget on exploration-Whiting is doing a solid job finding more oil. The oil rich Redtail prospect adds a transformative multi-year growth vehicle that will keep Whiting's oil production growing. Finally, with three more potential high-growth oil plays in the pipeline, Whiting's future is looking real solid.