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Shales Still Prey for Petrohawk Alums

The senior executives of Halcon Resources Corp. have a fatter checkbook than when they started Eagle Ford Shale pioneer Petrohawk Energy Corp. not so very long ago. Having sold that successful natural gas-focused venture, with Halcon they are targeting unconventional oil plays with a similar strategy and expecting similar success.

Halcon has assembled a multi-play slate of opportunities despite lacking the same first-mover advantage that Petrohawk enjoyed in the now-famous South Texas Eagle Ford. Houston-based Halcon (that's Spanish for "hawk") has acreage in North Dakota's Bakken Shale, the Utica/Point Pleasant in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Mississippian Lime in Oklahoma and Kansas, the Woodbine/Eagle Ford and Midway/Navarro in Texas, and the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale and Wilcox in Louisiana.

What was good for one hawk is good enough for the other as Halcon plans to stick with what made Petrohawk a success. Stephen Herod was a co-founder of Petrohawk and is president of Halcon. He told a Houston audience Wednesday that when he and his colleagues were building Petrohawk, they weren't shy about shedding assets to fund more attractive growth opportunities. This meant jettisoning conventional holdings in favor of shales. "Our view was we wanted to continue to have just the best of the best," Herod said at the Summer NAPE 2012 Business Conference.

Herod said some of the plays that Halcon is active in haven't seen all that much activity but others are rather mature. Because of the reputation of the former Petrohawk executives, some companies were waiting in the wings to pitch deals, which helped in building acreage positions.

At Petrohawk, joint ventures (JV) were not on the agenda, at least for exploration and production (E&P) assets, because Petrohawk was reluctant to relinquish control of operations. "...[W]ith our core E&P assets we wanted to keep all of that we could," Herod said "We all thought the Haynesville Shale was the best gas field...You don't sell the best thing you've seen in 30 years." Further, keeping the company simple paid off, he said. The same game plan is in place for Halcon.

While Petrohawk was started with about $60 million of capital, the beginnings of Halcon were much richer. Owing in large part to the track record management had established at Petrohawk, capital came relatively easily. Halcon started out with about $530 million, Herod said. "You gotta have plenty of money. The oil business is very capital intensive." More important, besides Herod, on board were former Petrohawk CEO Floyd Wilson, as well as other Petrohawk alums.

The executives have changed with the times, though. Their new company is about 75-80% liquids focused where Petrohawk was a gas company with more than 90% of its reserves in gas at the time it was sold to Australia's BHP Billiton Ltd. for north of $12 billion (see NGI, July 18, 2011).

However, like Petrohawk, Halcon will operate 75-80% of its wells in order to retain control of drilling and completion decisions.

Earlier this year Halcon completed a buyout of Tulsa-based Ram Energy Resources Inc. (see NGI, Jan. 2). In April Halcon merged with GeoResources Inc. in a transaction worth about $1 billion (see NGI, April 30). During the second quarter the company produced an average of 3,912 boe/d, 73% of which was oil and natural gas liquids (NGL).

Halcon is nearing the end of its acreage acquisition phase and plans to move into the development phase this fall. Next year's capital spending will be about the same, but it will be focused 75-75% on drilling and completions. Halcon is running 10 rigs now and expects to increase that to 15 by the end of this year and be running 20 rigs by this time next year, Herod said.

While Halcon is in step with the rest of the industry with its interest in oil and liquids-rich gas, BHP is holding dry gas assets in the form of Petrohawk for which it paid dearly and are worth much less today. During the second quarter the Petrohawk unit was a loss-maker, posting a loss of US$46.4 million versus a profit of US$74.8 million during the year-ago quarter. For the first half of the year, Petrohawk lost nearly US$101.8 million compared with a profit of nearly US$42.9 million during the year-ago period. BHP said recently (see NGI, Aug. 13).

Herod acknowledged the drop in natural gas prices the industry has seen since Petrohawk's sale to BHP but said the Australians will stick it out for better days. "...[W]e really think over the long haul given the way BHP looks at things, it will be a tremendous resource for them," he said.

Meanwhile, back in the Eagle Ford, many have followed in Petrohawk's footsteps, ConocoPhillips among them. Also speaking at the NAPE conference, ConocoPhillips' Matt Fox, executive vice president of E&P, touted the company's North American holdings, of which the Eagle Ford is a star.

"We think we have the best position in the best play..." Fox said. ConocoPhillips has 1.8 billion boe of resources in the Eagle Ford, about 77% liquids. The company will drill about 180 Eagle Ford wells this year and should have its acreage held by production by the middle of next year, Fox said.

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