2012 has been a stellar year for oil and gas. From East Africa to North America, new technology, major new discoveries, an unparalleled appetite for exploration and a metamorphosing perception of risk have changed the playing field.
We're looking at potential rather than existing production, and here are our Top 5 picks for this year:
Turkana County, Kenya
We have to start with Kenya, the biggest success story of the year.
In March, the UK's Tullow Oil and Canada's Africa Oil Corp. discovered 100 meters of oil in the Ngamia-1 well. The euphoria was in part because this discovery was made on the very first try in the very first well. Stocks shot up to record highs as a result.
The euphoria has not abated. In late November, the same duo made another find of 30 meters of oil in the nearby Twiga-1 well.
September also saw Kenya strike 52 meters of natural gas in its first-ever offshore find in the Mbawa-1 well, off the coast of Malindi. U.S.-based Apache Corp. owns 50 percent of the well in a consortium with a handful of other companies. They're still digging, hoping that going deeper will reveal the oil.
The bigger picture, however, is that only the surface has been scratched in terms of exploration. The East Africa Rift is believed to hold over 70 billion barrels of untapped crude oil, while offshore Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique have a joint estimated 250 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. There may be offshore oil, too. The oil discoveries in Kenya so far have been confined to one massive basin, and there are six more.
In addition to the size of the prize here, Kenya is favorable for other reasons as well: It offers relative political stability in the midst of a rather restless Africa; it offers attractive fiscal terms; it offers easy access to export markets; and it has an appetite for infrastructure that is hard to beat.
While 2013 may see some changes in the regulatory environment that could be less favorable, as for 2012, Kenya remains THE number one East African play in terms of potential. Next year will give us a better idea of commercial viability.
The Bakken shale play has placed North Dakota ahead of Alaska, making it the number two oil producer in the U.S. for 2012, after Texas. Because of Bakken, the U.S. has increased oil production this year to a level it hasn't seen in almost a decade and a half. In one month alone this year, North Dakota issued 370 drilling permits.
Stretching from Eastern Montana to Western North Dakota and across parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the Williston Basin, the Bakken shale play could yield some 4.3 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That's the modest estimate. Continental Resources -- one of the major Bakken players -- estimates as much as 400 billion barrels.
The clincher is that much of the vast Bakken Petroleum System has not even been tapped. So far, drilling has primarily targeted the Middle Bakken and the upper Three Forks Zones. The Three Forks Zones have not been fully tapped, and the Upper Bakken Shale hasn't really been tapped at all.
Eagle Ford, South Texas