Editor's Note: Chris Edmonds' writings run regularly on RealMoney.com; this is a special free look at his column. For a free trial subscription to RealMoney.com, where you can see Chris' commentary each day, please click here.
As war with Iraq looks increasingly inevitable, oil prices have skyrocketed along with fears of supply disruption. In addition, the possibility that Saddam Hussein may try to sabotage Iraq's production facilities and target other countries' wells in retaliation for a U.S.-led attack have investors on edge.
But another angle to the Iraqi war scenario hasn't received a lot of attention: companies that could benefit from the need to intervene during and after a war to save, restart and stimulate crude production.
A number of companies stand to gain from renewed oil production in a post-Saddam Iraq, but a small group could benefit from intervention work during a war. Here's a look at some possibilities.
The most immediate risk at the onset of conflict is the threat to torch Iraqi oil fields and likely attempts to ignite other production facilities. The risk of fires is significant in many pressure-packed wells. Although military personnel will need to secure areas before any civilian work is done, two companies would be ready to step in.
The world's leading emergency well-control company is
Wild Well Control
, a division of
that provides firefighting, well control and engineering services to oil and gas operators. Based in Houston, the company has extensive experience in the Middle East and has handled more than 1,500 well-control events in the past 25 years. Its wide range of services would complement its first-mover advantage in the region.
But to invest in Wild Well, you have to buy Superior Energy, a specialized energy services company that provides well intervention, marine services and tool rentals to oil and gas producers in the Gulf of Mexico. Superior may find additional benefits from remediation programs around Iraq, but it offers more exposure to the Western Hemisphere than to the Middle East.
The other primary player in the emergency business is
. It offers comprehensive emergency services to energy-production companies as well as a host of pressure control and pumping services through Cudd Pressure Control, its largest business unit. Cudd provides equipment and personnel for "live well" services. RPC also has experience in the Middle East. It's more of a pure play on the emergency well intervention theme, but nearly 60% of the company is privately held, making this stock relatively illiquid to trade.
One final play in emergency intervention is
Boots and Coots Group
, one of the oldest names in the business. It's well known for its emergency work around the globe, but it faces financial struggles, including a default on credit agreements.
Once the conflict is under control, the focus will turn to companies that concentrate on well remediation, repair and stimulation. These energy-service concerns help production companies re-establish flow, regulate pressure and maximize oil production from individual wells.
The two largest names in the business are likely to see the most significant benefits,
. Both have a wide variety of services that will be needed to re-establish and enhance production. In addition, both companies have an operating platform in the Middle East and understand the issues facing countries like Iraq. However, neither is a pure play on postwar stimulation, as both have operations spanning the globe.
Another name likely to benefit is
, one of the world's largest well workover companies. Like Halliburton and Schlumberger, Weatherford works in the region and understands the specific issues facing post-war redevelopment. Similarly,
could reap rewards from its leading position in well-stimulation technology.
Many of these names could receive a double benefit if both Iraq- and Venezuela-related stimulation occur at the same time, as all of these companies have operations in both areas.
For now, however, while most energy pundits watch oil prices as war inches closer, opportunistic investors can find potential wins by looking ahead to the impact and results of the possible conflict.
Christopher S. Edmonds is vice president and director of research at Pritchard Capital Partners, a New Orleans energy investment firm. He is based in Atlanta. At time of publication, neither Edmonds nor his firm held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While Edmonds cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback and invites you to send it to