Ask employees of Brigham Exploration what took their company from dire times to a tenfold increase in stock price in one year, and the answer is like to be one word: “Bakken.”

After all, Brigham’s success in this single unconventional oil play is enough to cause it to divest some of its conventional assets to focus more attention and money in North Dakota and Montana.

Ben M. “Bud” Brigham, chairman of the board, president, and CEO of Brigham, recently gave a talk at the Houston Producers Forum about his company’s success in the Bakken. His 20-year-old company has seen its shares of ups and downs, but, he said, “I’m excited about the Bakken. It’s a special play, and it keeps getting better.”

Brigham has 300,000 net acres in the Bakken and Three Forks plays and has drilled 18 consecutive successful long-lateral, high frac-stage wells that are averaging 2,581 boe/d in their initial rates. In addition, the company has de-risked 469 of its net undrilled locations in Mountrail, Williams, and McKenzie counties.

After a “modest” 2009 in which the company was “hibernating” for the first half of the year, Brigham brought in a rig in the second half and grew its proved reserves 21% to 27.7 MMboe, driven by a 276% increase in the Williston Basin.

Ironically, some of this success. Brigham said, has been driven by the gas shale plays. High-tech completions strategies that have unlocked the Barnett and its sisters work equally as well in oil plays, so his company can use the same rigs and services, helping to constrain costs.

With this much success using one rig, it’s natural to assume that greater success can be realized with more rigs. Currently the company has four rigs running in the area, and it plans to ramp up to eight wells within the next year or so. This should equate to about $10 to $11 of incremental net asset value per share. This accelerated plan will increase oil production 125% in 2010 and 100% in 2011, he said, and will convert the majority of the company’s core acreage to held-by-production in the next three years. It also shortens the core acreage development cycle by an estimated nine years.

The wells pay out in about 1.4 years, he said, and have an expected 36-year economic life.

Brigham is expecting additional upside in Montana, the Rough Rider Three Forks area, and extensional areas that could more than double the current de-risked inventory. It will drill its first Montana Bakken well in the first half of this year, with 281 net locations if the program is successful. It plans an initial Rough Rider Three Forks well during the same time period, with a successful discovery leading to 281 potential net locations. Three Forks success in Montana could result in 170 net locations.

Additional upside potential will come from cost reduction as the company scales the learning curve; refracs; denser drilling in tighter areas; expansion into new areas as technology improves; secondary recover in the Bakken and Three Forks plays; continued development of conventional plays – the company has made three recent 3-D-delineated Red River discoveries – and higher oil and gas prices, which will benefit the long economic life of these reserves.

Combined with investment in infrastructure, the fact that oil is selling at a premium to natural gas, a balanced capacity differential, and Brigham’s vast acreage holdings, the company should be sitting pretty in the Bakken for many years to come.

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