The sleepy stock of Houston oil and gas company Apache (APA - Get Report) was awakened Wednesday, shooting up almost 7% after announcing a new oil and gas field discovery dubbed "Alpine High" in the southern part of West Texas' Delaware Basin. Its shares advanced another 7% on Thursday. Some think the new find could be worth billions of dollars.
But some observers are expressing doubt on the find, saying it's full of low priced natural gas, lacks the infrastructure to recover it and needs further proving up to determine its real worth. "It could be a very nice discovery. They gave some nice IP's [initial production rates] on the wells," one industry observer said. "But the last thing the market needs is another large gas field. It's a yawner."
While Apache claims the find could contain 3 billion barrels of oil, the reality is that the discovery is mostly gas - 75 trillion cubic feet of it. The low pressure area is 11% oil, 29% natural gas liquids and 60% natural gas and the high pressure area contains 12% oil, 28% natural gas liquids and 60% gas.
Gail Nicholson, managing director of research at the KLR Group, said the high gas composition is the reason why gas prices need to continue to increase and also the reason the company needs to achieve its expected development well cost expectations ($4 million to $6 million per well, depending on the pressure). "If those two things occur, the economics work," she said.
It's also early innings, with Apache only having drilled 19 wells over 100 days, nine of which are producing in limited quantities due to infrastructure constraints. So some don't expect a clear understanding of the play until the second half of next year. "The asset shows promise, but [we] want more wells/production history," analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. said in a note Thursday.
As a result, TPH isn't changing its net asset value estimate for the company until information about more wells and longer-term data is released.
Capital One Securities Inc. didn't wait. It boosted its net asset value estimate for the company by $5 per share to $60 based on the new find, although it expects Apache's oil production to fall to 53% overall in 2018 versus 55% expected for next year.
Apache said it plans to sink 25% of its capital budget this year on developing the find. But observers think 40% of that will probably have to go toward infrastructure to get it to market, pushing any growth from the play into 2018. Capital may also be pulled away from accelerating more liquids-rich development given the company's goal to maintain cash flow neutrality near-term, TPH noted.
The other risk is that there could be a dramatic decline in the wells after these initial results, Nicholson said, which would put a damper on the stock.
While the company spent only $1,300 per acre to buy the 307,000 acres, that still amounts to around $400 million, which is a lot of money to lose in the middle of an industry downturn.
Observers say that Apache's management - led by CEO John Christmann -- had been doing as well as could be expected with its previous properties, which one characterized as "mediocre," so the new assets could really boost the company's prospects. The company also has a solid balance sheet with $4.7 billion in liquidity, pays a decent dividend and is unhedged, so if oil prices significantly recover next year, it will capture the upside, Nicholson said.
"The Alpine play looks to be similar to the Scoop/Stack, which is the new hot play on the street. So if APA has found something similar and they own the bulk of the acreage, you are potentially talking a game changer for the company and even a potential multiple expansion driven by the growth potential," she said.
Potential is the key word to remember here.