The small firms that are hurting range from exploration ventures to consultancies.
Last week a small central Texas oil producer, WBH Energy Partners, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The financial troubles reportedly began in September when Minnesota debt investor Castlelake declined to provide more funds under a credit facility. The 3-year-old company had more than $30 million in liabilities and more than $10 million in assets. It had about 2,600 net acres of oil and gas land in North Texas Barnett shale combo play, a region rich in shale that overlaps with oil formations. The filing demonstrates how small oil producers are feeling the squeeze on two fronts—falling oil prices and spooked investors.
Many industry experts say the struggles small players are facing are a harbinger of things to come, since there are many overextended producers who have not hedged their production well enough—a task that has gotten harder since big banks have exited the physical commodities business.
Under pressure from an activist investor who wanted liquidity, Trevor Spagrud, president and CEO of Hyperion Exploration, a publicly traded junior light oil and gas company in Calgary, Canada, was preparing in December for the sale of the roughly 4-year-old company to a Chinese firm, Tri-Win International Investment Group.
With drilling each well costing $3 million to $4 million when it used horizontal multistage fracking techniques, Hyperion was undercapitalized to deliver a "highly repeatable rate of return" in the immediate future, Spagrud said. Hyperion's team, about 16 people at its peak, had shrunk to eight as the company prepared for the sale.
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"We could have tried to raise equity," he said. "When an activist investor gets involved, they quickly want full liquidity. We were somewhat hamstrung by that mandate. We have entered into a transaction to do that."
Spagrud, an engineer, is planning to start another venture in the industry once the deal is completed. "It's been frustrating for so long, you just want to move on," he said.