The wheeling and dealing started at NAPE, the nation’s largest conference for buying and selling oil and gas land, when Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center floor opened Thursday morning.
And the land men and women — those charged with cutting oil and gas deals — walked with smiles on their faces, having, shaken the clouds of a two-year downturn out of industry skies.
There’s been more competition to buy and lease oil and gas mineral rights, said Clay Gordon, director of business development for Strata Resources, a family-owned oil and gas company based in Denver. He may have three or four competitors while bidding on any given deal this year, he said; deals last year were lucky to get one.
More companies are looking to lease 3D seismic data, a sign of renewed interest in exploration, said Mark Sweeney, a vice president at the Houston seismic library firm Seitel. “We saw a pickup in the second half of 2016,” Sweeney said.
And landowners, especially in West Texas’ Permian Basin, are feeling the love. “We’re crazy busy,” said Robert Cocanougher, a land owner in the Permian’s Delaware Basin, the hottest oilfield in the country. Cocanougher wouldn’t say how many acres his family owns — that’s a rude question among West Texas ranchers — but they have a team of at least 15 working on their leases and accompanying businesses.
You can see it all around NAPE, said Al Porretto, a geologist and consultant from New Orleans. “It looks like the money is starting to come back into the industry,” he said, looking out on a full floor at the convention. Huddles of men in suits clogged the aisles, each smiling broadly and leaning in.
Porretto said he feels it personally, too. He puts together oil and gas prospects in Louisiana for oil companies, and has been getting more business recently.
Privately, some will confide that they’re not so sure the rebound has arrived. Companies are still spending money like 2013, when oil neared $110 a barrel, instead of the $53 it settled at on Wednesday, they say. And so many of the biggest oil producers continue to lose money.
Sure, Denver landman David Gremel has seen signs of an uptick — more interest from oil and gas companies in leasing on federal land, for instance. But drilling in the Rocky Mountains is still depressed, he said.
He said he’s rolling with the punches:
“I’ve been in this business a long time,” he said. “It’s just another cycle.”