Whiting has not commented on reports of a buyout, but CEO and Chairman James J. Volker said in December the company could sell up to $1 billion in assets within a year to reduce debt and build liquidity.
Michael Rowe, vice president of exploration and production research at Tudor Pickering Holt, said he would rather see Whiting continue down the path of monetizing its midstream assets, such as processing plants. "Who wants to sell in a market this weak unless you absolutely have to?" he asked.
He said he does not have inside knowledge of any deal, but speculated that Whiting's board may have received an unsolicited bid and chose to launch a controlled auction process to create competition and get a better price.
Read MoreHere's how the private equity industry views oil
The industry is likely still another quarter or two away from M&A really picking up, said Rowe, who noted that it will take more time for companies to really enter financial distress. Further, the gap in most basins between what buyers are willing to pay and what sellers are willing to give up remains pretty high.
While many companies are issuing equity in order to ride out low oil prices, others with strong balance sheets are likely maximizing liquidity and positioning themselves to pick up assets in the back half of 2015, Rowe said. He pointed to Noble Energy as a company that could be active on the M&A front. The firm recently raised nearly $1 billion in common stock, but did not state how it would use the capital.
Some companies, however, may find that the price they can get for assets does not equal their debt against those assets, and will be forced into a restructuring, said Bill Derrough, co-head of recapitalization and restructuring group at Moelis & Company.
That is a distinct possibility in an industry where many independent companies are run by "true believers" who have in past downturns waited until it was too late to take action, because they never thought things would get as bad they ultimately got, he said.
Read More Goldman's Gary Cohn: Beware $30 oil
"Guys in the energy sector are like real estate guys. They tend to be very optimistic types of managers," Derrough told CNBC.
Early last week, two small-cap players—Houston-based BPZ Resources and Dune Energy—filed for bankruptcy, citing current market conditions among other factors. However, experts said those firms are likely outliers and faced trouble prior to the oil price slide.
Derrough said he expects oilfield service firms to come under stress in the near term as exploration and production clients seek discounts. Some services firms recently told CNBC that customers have sought 20-percent discounts.
But with investors hungry for energy assets and equity, some firms could put off the day of reckoning.
In a recent research note, Goldman Sachs remarked that a strong appetite for equity issuances, combined with reduced debt loads, could position producers for stronger production this year, and ultimately delay a rebalancing of the oil market.
"With E&Ps focusing on reducing leverage and the equity market showing strong appetite for these issuances, producers will be better positioned to deliver strong production growth later this year and into 2016," Goldman said, "undermining the market rebalancing."