1. How to use GuruFocus - Tutorials
  2. What Is in the GuruFocus Premium Membership?
  3. A DIY Guide on How to Invest Using Guru Strategies
Articles (4624) 

Williams Companies Buys Raw Land in the North Dakota and Petrobakken is an Undervalued Way to Play the Bakken in Canada

November 15, 2010 | About:

I wrote this weekend about how the investing public has yet to grasp the value that many companies have created for shareholders by accumulating large land positions in unconventional oil plays. It is hard to see the value. You can’t see it in the booked reserves of the company as drilling is just really getting started. You can’t see it in the financial statements either, as production is in the future, and all you can see is the cost of the land that has been gathered.

But that doesn’t mean the land isn’t extremely valuable.

Today there was further evidence from a transaction by Williams (NYSE:WMB) who purchased 86,000 acres for $925 million. They aren’t purchasing production here, they are purchasing land.

Why ? Consider this from Williams:

"Development of the Bakken will be very similar to the low-risk, repeatable nature of the Barnett and Marcellus shales, as well as the tight sands in the Piceance Basin," Malcolm said. "Technological advancements in just the past few years have allowed the play to shift from exploration to resource development. “

The key sentence being the last one. Five years ago we all knew that there was oil trapped in these unconventional plays but we couldn’t get it out economically. Horizontal drilling has been a game changer. These large resource plays are like oil production assembly lines for producers. When the play is in resource development mode, companies like Williams can come in and pay $10,750 per acre and achieve excellent returns on capital. They know what production is going to be, so they know the economics involved.

My favorite unconventional investment opportunity right now is Petrobakken (PBN) in Canada. Petrobakken is actually a subsidiary of Petrobank (PBG) which I have written about previously:


Petrobakken as the name would imply is a big player in the Bakken in Canada. Shortly after coming public in late 2009 through a transaction with Tristar Oil and Gas Petrobakken was trading for as much as $35 per share. Last week the share price was as low as $20.

Petrobakken is the expert in horizontal drilling in Canada having drilled over 650 horizontal wells with multi-staged fracs. They were one of the first to “crack the code” in the Saskatchewan Bakken and quietly accumulated a massive land position. In 2010 they made the decision to also enter the Alberta Cardium in a big way as they went out and acquired almost $1 billion of acreage.

Why is the share price down from $35 to $20 ? Two reasons in my opinion.

1) The market thought Petrobakken was a “Bakken” only play and did not like this entry into the Cardium believing that the company has overpaid for the land it acquired.

2) The extremely wet weather in Western Canada that lasted until October have resulted in no production growth quarter over quarter. You can’t be a growth company like Petrobakken and not grow continuously, or people quickly lose interest.

I’m not bothered by the second concern. If you are any kind of value investor you will recognize that disappointing production because of a temporary weather delay does not change the value of Petrobakken’s assets in any way.

Whether or not Petrobakken overpaid for the Cardium land is something that will be determined by production over time. The initial drilling results have been encouraging with early production exceeding management’s expectations.

What might Petrobakken by worth per share ? The current stock price is $20

Most valuations I see on these producers assign a multiple to EBITA. That isn’t my favorite approach because the multiple picked is so arbitrary.

I look at Petrobakken this way.

Value of booked Reserves

At year end 2009 PBN had P2 reserves with a PV10 value of $3.6 billion. This relates to a part of the Bakken assets PBN has and its conventional Mississippian assets.

Value of Undeveloped Acreage

Bakken – 342 of 1,050 drilling locations are picked up in the PV10 reserve figure. These other locations have a similar value to the booked reserves as the geological risk is virtually nil in the play. But to be conservative and not recognize the PV10 value of the entire acreage I use an estimate of what the land could be sold for today. Petrobakken has 210,000 acres of undeveloped Bakken, so 140,000 of these have no reserves attributed (2/3 no booked reserves). As we have seen from Williams above Bakken transactions are happening at $10,750 per acre. That would value PBN’s undeveloped, unbooked acres at 140,000 x $10,750 = $1.5 billion

Cardium – As I mentioned PBN went into this play in a big way in 2010. They now have 240 net sections in the Cardium which is just over 150,000 acres. Very similar in size to the unbooked acreage in the Bakken and not surprisingly they have 650 identified drilling locations in the Cardium which is similar to their unbooked locations in the Bakken. So these land is likely worth another $1.5billion (similar in size and locations to their Bakken property). And this makes sense given that they paid just over $1 billion for it and have since added another 150 locations.

Northeastern BC Gas plays (Horn River, Monias) – Petrobakken has 400 plus potential locations in these two plays where they have large land holdings. They are putting these on the back burner until gas prices improve, so I’ll value them at zero and consider them a free option.

Total Value

My total comes to $3.6bil (booked reserves) + $1.5bil (Bakken acreage) + $1.5bil (Cardium acreage) = $6.6bil

Per share that would be

$6.6bil Value

$(1.4bil) Net Debt/Convertible Debentures

$4.0bil Value for shareholders

184 million shares outstanding

Value per share $28.26


Valuation work is not an exact science. What is really key for me here is what happens as this undeveloped acreage is developed. The $10,750 per acre figure is based on what a profit motivated buyer is willing to pay today. These people expect to earn a satisfactory return on those prices. As cash flow is realized from developing these acres the value to PBN shareholders is going to be far in excess of what I’ve valued them at.

The reserve figure is also based on year end 2009 oil prices were 10% lower than where they are today which would increase my valuation figure in this exercise.

And further consideration must be given to the fact that PBN’s horizontal wells are outperforming what was modeled by their reserve engineers at Dec 09. PBN has indicated that there will be upside reserve revisions to reflect this in 2010. See page 14 and 15 of the link below:


Early Days of Horizontal Drilling

I’m very comfortable with Petrobank at these prices. You lock in a dividend of almost 5% and get shares at a discount to what the assets are worth today. And worth today being a big part of this. These horizontal technologies are getting more oil out with each successive well as these companies are learning as they go. Petrobank, like Chesapeake which I follow closely have locked up the loads of land in these plays. You get to do that once. As we learn how to extract more and more oil the value to shareholders will continue to increase.

Key Risk

The big risk is the price of oil. Oil prices go down, the value of production go down. You can’t invest in oil and gas companies without having an opinion on the commodity.

About the author:


Rating: 4.1/5 (17 votes)


Petrostelos - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
I guess in your penultimate paragraph you meant to say Petrobakken, not Petrobank, as Petrobank does not pay a dividend. Or?

It was a massacre today. Perhaps buying opportunity.
CanadianValue - 6 years ago    Report SPAM

Yes, Petrobakken. Thanks. Don't know if you saw the Q3 earnings and conference call for Petrobank today. They have some very exciting news about THAI. I'm going to try and recap it in a sensible manner.

Jhodges72 - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
They paid approximately $1,000 per acre more than Enerplus Resources Fund (NYSE: ERF) did over a relative time-frame.

"Also, on October 15, 2010 we purchased 46,500 net acres of land adjacent to our existing leases in the Fort Berthold area of North Dakota for US$456 million before closing adjustments"

Although there's plenty of oil in the Bakken, Williams County is where the action is right now. Many wells in Williams County are producing 3,000 bpd. I don't see the available resources in the Fort Berthold area as I do in Williams County.

In any event, I thought the price discrepancy between what Enerplus paid and what Williams paid was interesting since they bought essentially the same piece of land. I own a producing well on the Bakken so investing in oil this way makes no sense for me. Nonetheless, I like to sit on the sidelines and watch. It's too much speculation for me regardless of how abundant I believe the resources to be in the Bakken. I rather own the well than the stock.
DocMoney - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Jhodges - care to give a short primer on seeking out, valuing and buying an oilwell? I spend a lot of time in ND these days but I am not from here so am curious...

Please leave your comment:

GuruFocus has detected 6 Warning Signs with Williams Companies Inc $WMB.
More than 500,000 people have already joined GuruFocus to track the stocks they follow and exchange investment ideas.

Performances of the stocks mentioned by CanadianValue

User Generated Screeners

gelayor65All Stocks Insider Buys
gelayor65All Stocks With Blackrock Shak
gelayor65All Stocks With Blackrock Insi
liuzishuoverwrite 'Dividend Initiation
liuzishuDividend Initiation
pbarker46Dividend Growth
doug.quailLong Term Candidates
bjackscreener nou 3
bjackscreener nou 2
bjackscreener nou
Get WordPress Plugins for easy affiliate links on Stock Tickers and Guru Names | Earn affiliate commissions by embedding GuruFocus Charts
GuruFocus Affiliate Program: Earn up to $400 per referral. ( Learn More)

GF Chat