Higher oil prices in recent months have instilled renewed confidence in U.S. shale drillers and prompted them to look for drilling opportunities in basins beyond the permanent growth story these days, the Permian.
Companies are increasing drilling and pipeline deal-making in the oil-rich rocks of Colorado, and are returning to the least explored of the major U.S. shale basins—the Denver-Julesburg Basin (DJ Basin) northeast of Denver.
Over the past four months, firms have announced more than $2 billion worth of drilling deals, and another $1.8 billion in pipeline extensions and agreements in the Basin, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.
In addition, major producers with big exposure to the DJ Basin have announced more capital investments in the area even though they haven’t increased their overall 2018 capex programs.
Colorado’s production of crude oil hit an all-time high of 397,000 bpd in September this year, the latest available monthly EIA data shows. This is up by 100,000 bpd compared to the state’s total oil production in January this year, 294,000 bpd.
Colorado’s rig count stood at 33 rigs for the week ended December 15, up by six rigs compared to the same week last year, Baker Hughes data shows.
In recent driller deals, Bill Barrett Corporation and Fifth Creek Energy Company agreed to merge earlier this month in a transaction valued at some $649 million that will create an exploration and production company exclusively focused on oil-weighted rural areas in the DJ Basin.
In November, SandRidge Energy said it would acquire Bonanza Creek Energy in a cash-and-stock transaction valued at $746 million, which will give SandRidge 67,000 highly delineated net acres in the rural oil window of the DJ Basin.
Last month, SRC Energy Inc, focused on the DJ Basin, entered into an agreement to buy certain undeveloped land and non-operated production from Noble Energy for $568 million in cash.
In September, PDC Energy consolidated its core Wattenberg field position with the bolt-on acquisition of certain assets from Bayswater Exploration & Production, and certain related parties, for around $210 million in cash.
In the midstream, last week Noble Midstream Partners and Greenfield Midstream said they’re forming a DJ Basin joint venture, Black Diamond Gathering, which had entered into definitive agreements to acquire Saddle Butte Rockies Midstream and affiliates for $625 million.
Some drillers have raised capital expenditure for the DJ Basin. Anadarko, for example, said in its 2018 capital program that it planned to invest some $950 million on upstream activities in the DJ Basin, where it has more than two billion BOE of net resources within its development area. Anadarko plans to average five operated rigs and three completions crews in the basin, and expects to increase year-over-year oil sales volume from the DJ Basin by around 30 percent. The 2018 capital plan for the DJ Basin compares to the $840 million investment that Anadarko had planned for this year.
Lately, drilling rights in the core Colorado areas have been $10,000–15,000 per acre, “roughly in line or slightly more expensive than it’s been historically, as the availability of quality acreage becomes more scarce,” Chris Stevens, a New York-based analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., told Bloomberg.
Higher oil prices and healthier corporate balance sheets are setting the stage for more expansion opportunities for companies beyond just a few select shale plays in 2018, according to Houston-based investment bank GulfStar Group.
Although the Permian will remain the main U.S. shale growth story next year and has a significant head start compared to other plays, the oil-rich rocks in the Rockies see drillers returning, bolstered by higher oil prices and realigned drilling portfolios.