North America has an abundance of natural resources, particularly in the oil and gas arena. There are so many plays that investors, even professional ones, might find it difficult to keep track of all the various formations being explored and developed by the industry. Here are several plays that are either under the radar and get little publicity, or are new and haven't moved up into the general public consciousness yet. (For background reading, see A Guide To Investing In Oil Markets.)

IN PICTURES: 5 Tips To Reading The Balance Sheet

Cardium Oil
Equal Energy (NYSE:EQU) is active in Canada and the midcontinent area of the United States. One area that the company is working on is a Cardium oil play in Alberta. The Cardium formation is a sandstone that produces light oil and has been gaining some momentum in the oil and gas industry since the first horizontal well was drilled and completed in 2009.

Equal Energy has 7,200 net acres exposed to the Cardium play and plans to develop as many as 41 net wells on its acreage. Most players that are working the Cardium are Canadian-based companies that don't trade on domestic exchanges, so U.S. investors may have to wait until a U.S.-based independent picks up acreage here. (For related reading, check out Understanding Oil Industry Terminology.)

Tyler Formation
The Tyler Formation received some publicity when state officials in North Dakota released details on this formation, which lies above the Bakken in parts of North and South Dakota. The Tyler also produces oil and state officials estimate that it may hold between approximately 33% and 50% of the resources of the better-known Bakken formation.

No public companies have announced any development plans here, but several large public companies have made acquisitions of acreage prospective for the Bakken and Three Forks, and this acreage might have exposure to the Tyler as well. These include Hess Corporation (NYSE:HES), which purchased 167,000 net acres for $1.05 billion, and Williams (NYSE:WMB), which spent $925 million on acreage in North Dakota.

Take My Wife, Please
SM Energy (NYSE:SM), formerly known as St. Mary Land and Exploration, used to be involved in a coal bed methane project area in the Hanging Woman Basin in Wyoming and Montana.

SM Energy was enthusiastic on this basin back in 2007, allocating $58 million in capital to develop acreage here. This was enough capital to drill 218 wells during the year. However, as natural gas prices weakened, SM Energy eventually caught oil fever, like many in the industry, and sold these properties to a private company in 2009. (For more on natural gas, see Natural Gas Industry: An Investment Guide.)

The Bottom Line
The exploration and production industry is always looking for the next best thing in oil and gas exploration and development and has plenty of opportunities to pick from in North America. (To learn more, see our Oil And Gas Industry Primer.)

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