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Forget Canada’s oil sands, turn to Bakken

Ben Shaw hangs from an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D.

Gregory Bull/GREGORY BULL/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

It might be time for Canadian energy investors to turn their attention from the oil sands to the Bakken region of the United States.

For years, oil sands operations have captured the imagination as Canadian oil output grew, along with Canada's reputation as a safe and stable exporter to the energy-thirsty U.S. market.

But with U.S. oil production now making big strides and contributing to the International Energy Agency's prediction that the United States is on the cusp of energy independence as it grows into the world's largest oil producer by 2017, a new line of thinking is needed.

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DBRS (via Dow Jones) compared the oil sands and Bakken regions and found that Bakken had a number of advantages over Canadian oil production. For one, there's a $20-a-barrel difference in price sensitivity: To be economically viable, Canadian oil sands producers need an oil price of $80 (U.S.) to $100 a barrel, while Bakken producers need an oil price of just $60 to $80.

But there's more to Bakken's advantage: "The Bakken region benefits from its higher quality (light oil) product, lower rail costs with access to Brent pricing and a much faster payback period," DBRS said in its note. "These advantages enable the Bakken region to better withstand oil price volatility. As a result, future investments in the Bakken region may be considered lower risk versus the Canadian oil sands."

Interestingly, U.S. energy companies in the S&P 500 certainly haven't been reflecting an impending energy boom. This subindex of big-cap energy stocks has risen just 2.2 per cent in 2012, versus a near-13 per cent gain for the S&P 500 – and these stocks are down 10 per cent from their recent high in April 2011.

But if you want a far more specific approach to investing in the Bakken region, there are names that are worth looking into, including Whiting Petroleum Corp., Continental Resources Inc., Kodiak Oil and Gas Corp., Hess Corp. and Oasis Petroleum Corp.

Some of these companies are likely to grow bigger as Bakken's oil output grows in the coming years. And some are likely to be snapped up. Either way, investors could do very well.

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About the Author
Investing Reporter

David Berman has been writing about business and investing since 1995. He has written for a number of magazines, including Canadian Business and MoneySense. He worked at the Financial Post as an investing writer and daily columnist before moving to the Globe and Mail in 2008. More

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