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Different energy companies could stand to win with oil at $50, $55 or $60

Employees attach hooks from a crane to a set of chains on the quay side, in view of the Ocean Vanguard mobile offshore drilling unit, operated by Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. in the Port of Cromarty Firth in Cromarty, U.K., on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.
Matthew Lloyd | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Employees attach hooks from a crane to a set of chains on the quay side, in view of the Ocean Vanguard mobile offshore drilling unit, operated by Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. in the Port of Cromarty Firth in Cromarty, U.K., on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

When investors try to figure out which companies benefit from rising oil prices, it helps to make a good guess how high oil is going.

U.S. crude futures crossed $50 a barrel this week for the first time since late October, surging on news of an OPEC production cut — the first such agreement in eight years.

"Basically, $50 is good for Permian Basin stocks," said Paul Sankey, senior oil and gas analyst at Wolfe Research. He recommended shares of Occidental Petroleum, which is the largest producer of oil in the field, according to the company's website.

$50, $55 and $60 ...

Extracting oil from the Permian Basin, which spans west Texas and southeast New Mexico, is less expensive than it is in many major fields.

Pioneer Natural Resources and EOG Resources expanded their presence in the region in the last few months, and Sankey said the two companies would also benefit from $50 oil.

On the 24 occasions since 2001 when U.S. crude crossed above $50 a barrel, EOG Resources rose about two-thirds of the time, with a median return of nearly 5 percent over the subsequent three months, according to data analysis tool Kensho. Occidental Petroleum climbed about 70 percent of the time, with a median return of 3.1 percent, the data show.

Energy was the worst S&P 500 sector in 2014 and 2015, as oil prices plunged from above $100 in 2014 to below $30 a barrel early this year. Even before OPEC announced a production deal on Wednesday, several analysts were already expecting oil prices to recover slightly to $60 a barrel in the next several months.

Now, OPEC's declared output cut "could speed up" the rise in oil prices, making it profitable for more energy companies to re-enter the market, said James West, senior managing director and fundamental research analyst of the oil services, equipment and drilling industry at Evercore ISI.

He said as oil prices move toward $55 and above, companies such as Diamond Offshore Drilling and Noble should gain "confidence to start going forward with larger development projects."

The subsequent share price move can also vary depending on the price of oil, history shows.

When oil has crossed $50 a barrel on 24 occasions since 2001, Kensho analysis of Diamond Offshore showed shares climbed two-thirds of the time, with a median return of 8.79 percent over the next three months.

The median return over that time rose to about 11.3 percent and shares climbed roughly 85 percent of the time when oil prices topped $55 a barrel, according to Kensho.

There's a group of companies for which an oil move from "$50 to $60 is very dramatic," including ConocoPhillips, Wolfe's Sankey said.

In ConocoPhillips' third-quarter conference call, management said the company was adding three rigs to its operations in the North Dakota Bakken oil fields for a total of four rigs in the region.

"Bakken names really don't drill a lot at $50, but you drill at $60," he said.

Disclosure: CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is a minority stakeholder in Kensho.