Oasis Expanding in Bakken Seen Luring Buyers: Real M&A

No explorer in the oil-rich Bakken shale formation offers more bang for the buck than Oasis Petroleum Inc.

Oasis this month signed agreements to add 161,000 acres in the Williston Basin, which includes the Bakken formation, giving it more real estate in the region relative to its $5.2 billion enterprise value than any similar-sized competitor, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With Oasis now one of the biggest landholders in the largest continuous shale-oil deposit in the U.S., Sterne Agee Group Inc. said it may lure takeover interest.

European energy companies Statoil ASA and Repsol SA could be among buyers lured by Oasis’s acreage, said Iberia Capital Partners LLC. The Bakken region, centered in North Dakota, appeals to larger oil and gas producers because of its proven resource potential and established infrastructure, said Raymond James Financial Inc., which estimates Oasis would fetch at least a 20 percent premium. Topeka Capital Markets Inc. said it also offers an attractive valuation, with Oasis trading at a lower multiple of projected profit than 71 percent of U.S. peers.

“Oftentimes, to attract a big buyer, you do need to bulk up,” Stephen Berman, a New York-based analyst at Canaccord Financial Inc., said in a phone interview. Oasis offers an acquirer “core acreage in very good areas.”

Richard Robuck, director of finance at Houston-based Oasis, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment left with an assistant.

‘Nice Footprint’

Oasis agreed this month to spend about $1.5 billion on four separate acquisitions of assets in the Williston formation, which encompasses the Bakken and Three Forks shale formations, boosting its holdings by 49 percent to 492,000 acres. After the deal, the company will be the seventh-largest holder of Bakken acreage, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Oasis’s enlarged Bakken position signals its “commitment to be a pure-play” and makes the company more enticing to acquirers, Tim Rezvan, a New York-based analyst at Sterne Agee, wrote in a Sept. 10 report.

“The Bakken naturally comes to the top of everybody’s list” for U.S. oil-play acquisitions, Andrew Coleman, a Houston-based analyst at Raymond James, said in a phone interview. Oasis has “a nice footprint of acreage. As you get to a position that is closer to a top-five position in the Bakken, the bigger guys, the international guys may want to come in.”

Bakken Value

The Bakken formation sprawls beneath parts of North Dakota and Montana. Combined with the Three Forks and Sanish formations, which are deeper in the ground than the Bakken, it has the potential to be one of the largest oil-producing regions in the next 30 years.

The region is attractive to large oil and gas producers because the resource potential has been demonstrated and there are already railroad and pipeline systems in place to transport oil, Coleman said.

Including its recent Bakken land purchase, Oasis owns about 94 acres for each $1 million in enterprise value. That means it now offers suitors the greatest value per acre among Bakken producers with enterprise values exceeding $3 billion, including rival Whiting Petroleum Corp., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Big Enough

While a buyer would need to evaluate Oasis’s new acreage, the company is “more attractive given the inventory depth that they’ve added,” Ryan Oatman, a Houston-based analyst at SunTrust Banks Inc., said in a phone interview.

Large oil-and-gas companies “want to do an acquisition that’s big enough that it makes a dent,” he said. “It is now of a certain size where it could be a big enough deal.”

Oasis could appeal to Repsol, Spain’s largest oil producer, or Statoil, Norway’s largest energy company, according to Iberia Capital’s Eli Kantor and Gibson Scott, director of energy research at ITG Investment Research Inc.

Madrid-based Repsol plans to sell a stake in Spain’s largest natural gas distributor and use the funds for a U.S. acquisition, said a person briefed on the strategy, who asked not to be named as the plan isn’t public.

“When these guys are looking at targets, at the top of the shopping list would be a company with a significant resource base,” Scott of ITG said in a phone interview. “Oasis is definitely one of those.”

Bakken Exposure

Statoil already has acreage in the Bakken and may seek further acquisitions there, Kantor, an analyst at Iberia Capital, said in a phone interview.

“They’ve talked about wanting to increase their exposure,” Kantor said.

Ola Morten Aanestad, a spokesman for Stavanger, Norway-based Statoil, said the company doesn’t comment on speculation, when asked whether it’s considering an acquisition of Oasis. Kristian Rix, a spokesman for Repsol, also declined to comment.

The oil and gas explorer would fetch at least a 20 percent premium in a sale, Coleman of Raymond James said. That equates to a price of almost $54, based on yesterday’s closing level of $44.91.

Today, Oasis’s shares rose 1 percent to $45.37, making it the third-biggest gainer among 72 stocks in the Russell 1000 Energy Index. The index as a whole fell 0.8 percent on the day.

“It’s unlikely that if someone was to go after Oasis they would get any traction with a price below the mid-$50s,” Coleman said. “Then the question would be how much higher than that would be necessary to finally get the deal done.”

Permian Instead?

Large energy producers on the hunt for an acquisition may bypass the Bakken and instead target companies with assets in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, said Gabriele Sorbara, a New York-based analyst at Topeka Capital Markets.

“There is a lot more upside in the Permian,” Sorbara said in a phone interview. “The Permian is more exciting and has a longer potential inventory.”

Even so, Oasis is a cheap target and that could make it attractive to buyers, he said. Oasis’s enterprise value yesterday was 6.2 times its projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization this year, leaving it with a cheaper valuation than 71 percent of U.S. explorers and producers that are larger than $1 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“They do make a great takeout candidate,” Sorbara said.