Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) spent tens of billions of dollars gobbling up drillable land during the last decade's shale leasing boom. A result of that buying boom is that the company tacked on a significant amount of debt to its balance sheet, which weighed it down as commodity prices plunged. That forced the company to sell off some of its drillable land to stay afloat.
However, Chesapeake managed to retain some high-quality acreage, which, along with a position it acquired earlier this year, gives it three meaningful growth opportunities. Here's a closer look at the trio of regions that will drive Chesapeake Energy forward.
1. Powder River Basin
Chesapeake Energy currently holds nearly 250,000 net acres in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, which has emerged as a growth engine for the company over the past year. In 2018, for example, the company's production surged 70% to an average of 25,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOE/D) as it drilled wells into the Turner formation. Chesapeake expects even faster growth in 2019 as it plans to run five drilling rigs targeting the Turner, which should enable the company to more than double its output from the region this year.
In addition to the Turner, Chesapeake Energy plans to continue its appraisal work on several other formations in the area, including the Niobrara. These rock layers could enhance the company's growth prospects given what peers like EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG) have uncovered in the area. Last October, EOG Resources unveiled that its appraisal efforts confirmed that the Niobrara and Mowry shale plays underneath its Powder River Basin acreage hold nearly 2 billion BOE of recoverable resources, giving it three high-return growth targets in the region. These results provide more evidence that the Powder River Basin could be a significant growth driver for Chesapeake in the coming years.
2. Brazos Valley
While Chesapeake Energy has spent much of the past several years selling assets, it recently acquired WildHorse Resource Development for nearly $4 billion. The deal gave the company 420,000 net acres in eastern Texas covering the Eagle Ford shale and Austin Chalk plays, which it now refers to as its Brazos Valley unit. Chesapeake Energy currently plans to run four drilling rigs on this acreage in 2019 to drill 83 wells, including 10 targeting the emerging Austin Chalk.
Chesapeake Energy believes its acquisition of WildHorse will be a game changer as it should significantly enhance the company's oil output. At the time of the deal, oil only accounted for 19% of Chesapeake Energy's production. However, it sees that number increasing to 30% by 2020 thanks to the oil growth in the Powder River Basin as well as the addition of the Brazos Valley unit.
3. Mid-Continent region
Chesapeake Energy isn't currently investing much capital in Oklahoma's STACK/SCOOP plays as it only expects to run one drilling rig this year. That has it on track to finish 25 wells, which is fewer than the 38 it brought on line last year. However, the company controls roughly 768,000 net acres in the state, which hold significant oil and natural gas liquids potential. As commodity prices and Chesapeake Energy's financial profile improve, it will have the option to invest more capital into this region to turn into another growth engine.
Driving that view is the success its peers have had in the state. Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN), for example, grew its STACK production 11% during the fourth quarter. While Devon is prioritizing free cash flow generation from the region over volume growth this year, that will allow it to retain the optionality to reaccelerate in the future. EOG, likewise, sees upside in Oklahoma's shale plays as it believes it's sitting on more than 200 million BOE of net resource potential in the region that it can develop in the coming years. When market conditions improve, investors will likely see oil companies restart their Oklahoma growth engines.
Intriguing growth potential
Chesapeake Energy believes it's at an inflection point where it can return to growth mode, this time fueled by oil-focused regions. The combination of the Powder River Basin with the addition of the Brazos Valley unit has the company on track to grow its oil volumes 32% this year. That transformational oil growth has the potential to pay off big-time as long as oil prices cooperate, which makes Chesapeake an interesting oil stock for investors to put on their watchlist.
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