DENVER—For a spectacular exit in the Permian Basin—of which there have been some stunners this year—one can look to Rock Oil Holdings LLC, which formed in 2014.

On Aug. 8, the company sold its assets in Howard County, Texas, to SM Energy Co. (NYSE: SM) for $980 million cash. Assets included 24,783 net acres and about 4,900 barrels of oil equivalent per day of production. The deal is scheduled to close in October.

How did the company achieve this success in only two years? Rock Oil had the right people, the right strategy and acted at the right time, President Jason Cansler told attendees of EnerCom’s recent Oil and Gas Conference.

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Rock Oil started in March 2014 with an equity commitment of $500 million from Riverstone Holdings LLC and several other private-equity investors. A previous version of the company focused on the Eagle Ford exited those assets at a material premium in 2012 and 2013.

The new company began with just nine people on the management team, including CEO Kyle Miller. Subsurface, petrophysical and land expertise were also big factors in the company’s success, Cansler said.

“Our motto was: be fit, fast and efficient. Everybody had to step up in one way or another, and they all did,” he said. “The Midland Basin is obviously a phenomenal place to work, and having Riverstone Holdings as our backer … it was an amazing partner to work with.”

The company’s management looked at several basins and plays, including the Utica Shale, before settling on the Midland Basin as its sole focus in the summer of 2014. Thereafter it was a question of gradually assembling a premier lease position in Howard.

“We believed we were getting in in the early innings in Howard County and we saw single-zone, single-well economics that we thought were quite good,” Cansler said. “We knew we needed to have a significant land presence.”

Rock Oil grew gradually and ended up being joined in the area by Encana Corp. (NYSE: ECA), Callon Petroleum Co. (NYSE: CPE), CrownQuest Operating, Energen Corp. (NYSE: EGN), Diamondback Energy Inc. (NASDAQ: FANG) and other players.

“The interesting thing is that since we arrived in Howard County, over 150 horizontal wells have been drilled, or the equivalent of about $1.1 billion in capital spent on drilling—and industry’s done about $5 billion of deals there since we entered,” Cansler said.

Rock Oil accumulated 24,783 acres in a series of deals, largely operated, and it had drilled 13 horizontal wells. The land had 127 vertical producers also, and the company was adding a new well every 20 days or so.

Single-well returns are impressive, with IPs of 1,300 barrels per day per well on average, Cansler said. He figures there are 120 million barrels of original oil in place per section.

Leslie Haines can be reached at