Low oil prices have forced U.S. drillers to make tough decisions on capital spending and staffing, but when it comes to mergers and acquisitions, the industry has remained stuck in wait-and-see mode.
Dealmaking in America's oil patch has been muted throughout the collapse in crude prices, with asset sales slowing to a trickle and corporate buyouts few and far between. Meanwhile, more oil and gas exploration and production companies than previously expected have opted for bankruptcy, and more restructurings are likely on the way, analysts told CNBC.
To date, about two dozen companies have reached restructuring deals with their creditors. Those have mostly been small players, but the list includes larger drillers such as Sabine Oil & Gas and Quicksilver Resources, as well as KKR's long-troubled Samson Resources.
Several of the companies now going through a recapitalization or restructuring were facing balance sheet challenges even prior to the oil downturn, said J.P. Hanson, head of the E&P group at investment banking firm Houlihan Lokey.
"Given the current commodity price environment and challenges that E&P companies are facing, there hasn't been a company to date that I've said, 'Oh, I didn't see that coming,'" he told CNBC. "Most of the companies that have been going through a restructuring were already in need of additional funds and/or a balance sheet recapitalization."