Bakken Could Script a Turnaround for Abraxas


Last August, I spoke about why San Antonio-based Abraxas Petroleum (NAS: AXAS) looked weak. Uncertainty pertaining to the company's operating cash flows from production problems was the biggest concern, which I believed was an obstacle to paying off debt.

Although the article ruffled a few feathers, the fact was that growth prospects weren't very convincing, even though the company holds acreages in various shale plays. However, all this may be changing, with management deciding to allot 75% of its 2012 capital budget to develop its Bakken/Three Forks and the Niobrara holdings.

Bakken to play savior?
Out of a total $70 million, the Bakken/Three Forks holdings have been allotted a lion's share. The company plans to develop 20 gross wells (six net wells) in 2012, which should have a major impact on production volumes. Currently, Abraxas operates eight wells here.

It shouldn't really come as a surprise that I'm bullish about the Bakken. I think these reserves can transform smaller independent upstream companies. One of the leading examples: the once struggling Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYS: KOG) . Till about 15 months ago, the Denver-based independent exploration and production company was consistently posting operating losses, until it boosted production from its Williston Basin reserves. As a result, revenues shot up. There's a chance that Kodiak could still be undervalued, given that it can further ramp up production in the Bakken. Another Bakken player, Northern Oil & Gas (NYS: NOG) , has looked promising as well. This company has an unconventional business model, that of holding non-operating interests, but it has met with relative success. Last year, total production more than doubled over 2010 levels.

I'm not saying Abraxas is on the same road to success, and I remained concerned over its relative a truck load of debt. But total debt has dropped 11% in 2011 from the previous year. And management's move to focus solely on the Bakken reserves is a step in the right direction to me.

Foolish bottom line
For Abraxas, boosting production is the only way to increase cash flows. And the company seems to be on track. In addition, management is trying to increase the percentage proportion of liquids (crude oil and natural gas liquid) production, which should again positively affect cash flows. This year holds out a lot of hope for the company. Stay abreast of the latest news on Abraxas Petroleum by adding the company to your personalized Watchlist. It's free!

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor Isac Simon owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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