Ex-Magnum Hunter CEO sees big opportunity in small oil deals

Former Magnum Hunter Resources CEO Gary Evans sowed the seeds of success during the 1985 oil bust, and now he's hoping to strike pay dirt by starting a new company in the midst of a nearly two-year crude price downturn.

"I've never seen an opportunity like we are seeing today. We probably never will again in our lifetimes," Evans told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday.

He said those opportunities are sprouting up as nearly 80 North American oil and gas companies have entered bankruptcy, creating the chance to pick up acreage that distressed drillers must divest.

Evans himself left Magnum Hunter just as it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month. Now, the wildcatter is heading up Energy Hunter Resources, a start-up exploration and production company that will focus on drilling for oil and gas in carbonate reservoirs in the Permian and Eagle Ford basins, both of which are located in Texas and neighboring states.

Drilling in carbonate fields is challenging due to large variations in small sections of reservoirs, according to Schlumberger. But estimates put more than 60 percent of the world's oil reserves and 40 percent of its gas reserves in carbonates, the oilfield services firm notes.

Despite the challenging environment, Evans said the Permian and Eagle Ford are two of the few places drillers can make "good returns" with oil hovering near $48 a barrel.

The key is that the cost of oilfield services that drillers rely on have roughly halved during the downturn, Evans said. Energy Hunter will focus on picking up assets with multiple pay zones, or stacked layers that can be drilled horizontally.

Further, Evans is seeking opportunities not in the billion-dollar deals market watchers have been waiting on, but in highly selective acquisitions. He said striking those deals requires close relationships with a network of landmen, the boots-on-the-ground professionals who broker sales with landowners.

"This is not going into data rooms. This is needle in a haystack," he said.

Energy industry deals worth $50 million or more declined in the first quarter from a year ago, as would-be acquirers remained locked out of capital markets and others saw little they wanted to buy, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Evans bought his first energy company in a $1.2 million leveraged buyout in 1985 and sold it to Cimarex Energy 20 years later for $2.2 billion.

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