Asset/portfolio management

Who Are the Top Private Operators in the US?

After another year of significant consolidation in the US shale sector, Enverus has released its annual list of the nation's largest private exploration companies.

Truck passes by an oil drilling platform with a fracking rig in operation, extracting fuel to meet the world's demands
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Privately owned operators accounted for more than a third of the 12.1 million B/D and 125 Bcf/D produced in the Lower 48 states last year.

This is according to a new list by market research firm Enverus, which ranked the Top 100 private operators in the US. Collectively, these firms represented 70% of all private company production in 2023.

The annual list tallies gross operated production, well count, and rig counts over the past year, ranking each company based on barrels of oil equivalent (BOE).

With more than 5,100 wells, Continental Resources continues to dominate as the largest private producer for the second consecutive year, boasting a combined stream output of 690,299 BOE/D.

The figure includes more than 337,000 B/D of oil and 2.1 Bcf/D of natural gas produced in 2023. Led by wildcatter Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma City-based company transitioned from public to private in 2022.

Maintaining its second-place position, fellow Oklahoma City-based Ascent Resources reported an average output of 424,689 BOE/D from 862 gross operated wells, with oil comprising only 5% of this total, or 19,900 B/D, and natural gas making up 2.4 Bcf/D.

This year's Top 5 saw some reshuffling, with Aethon Energy and Mewbourne Oil swapping positions.

Now in third place, Aethon’s output from nearly 1,900 wells was almost 421,000 BOE/D. More than 99% of that daily average was natural gas, translating to a total production of 2.5 Bcf/D and just 343 B/D of oil.

Mewbourne has assumed fourth place with 408,754 BOE/D and just over 3,300 wells, including over 240,000 B/D of crude oil.

Rounding out the Top 5 is Endeavour Energy, which produced 336,561 BOE/D in 2023 from 3,372 wells, with more than 220,000 B/D of crude.

Enverus highlighted that many of the changes further down this year’s list were driven by a flurry of merger and acquisition activity between public and private companies.

Tokyo Gas Natural Resources was one of the biggest movers, jumping 39 spots to claim the seventh position. This rise followed the Japanese gas supplier's acquisition of Appalachian operator RockCliff Energy II for $2.7 billion.

Chesapeake's asset sales in the US Gulf Coast region also propelled producers Wildfire and INEOS Energy onto this year’s list.

"Inventory count and quality has also significantly driven private operator valuations, and in many cases, there has been a goal of growing production to become more attractive to takeout targets," said Justin Lepore, the lead consultant for the Enverus list.

The full list, accessible here, reveals a decline in the number of US Rockies-focused operators in the Top 20 rankings compared with last year, as they have lost ground to operators in the Permian Basin and Mid-Continent regions. Enverus also pointed out that the list reflects that large public operators are increasing their share of US production.