Many exploration and production (E&P) companies raised 2012 capital budgets during first quarter of the 2012 earnings season. These operators are finding success in the many onshore crude oil and liquids basins in the United States.

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The Operators
Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) is active in the Bakken play in North Dakota and Montana and reported one of the largest increases in its capital budget. The company now expects to spend $2.3 billion in 2012, up from the previous level of $1.75 billion.

It said that the increased budget and accelerated drilling schedule was due to faster cycle times and will cover 300 net wells in 2012. The previous budget covered the drilling of 249 net wells.

SEE: Oil And Gas Industry Primer

Denbury Resources (NYSE:DNR) is also heavily involved in the Bakken play and increased the company's total capital budget by 11% to $1.5 billion. The extra $150 million will be split between the Bakken, which will receive an extra $80 million, and the company's tertiary oil operations, which is set to receive $70 million.

The company has made other investments in its tertiary oil operations, which involves the injection of carbon dioxide into older wells to stimulate oil production. It recently announced the purchase of the Thompson oil field for $360 million, and plans to initiate tertiary recovery at this field at a later date.

Magnum Hunter Resources (NYSE:MHR) announced a large increase in its 2012 capital budget and will now spend $325 million, up from the preliminary budget of $150 million. The company will apply the additional funds to its operations in the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas.

SEE: What Determines Oil Prices?

It plans to issue equity to fund the extra capital spending as well as the purchase of additional acreage prospective for crude oil and liquids. The company expects the extra spending to raise production sharply with an estimated exit rate for the company of 18,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day at the end of 2012.

Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL) added $200 million to its capital budget, and will spend $1.8 billion in 2012. The company will use $36 million of the extra funds for drilling into the Niobrara at the Redtail Prospect in the Denver Julesburg Basin, and $37 million for increased development in the Permian Basin. The balance of the funds will be used for leasehold acquisitions and the company's share of non-operated drilling costs.

Northern Oil and Gas (NYSE:NOG) is planning to spend an extra $35 million in the Bakken in 2012, bringing its total capital budget for the year to $360 million. The company participates on a non-operated basis, and reported that its operated partners are conducting more pad drilling and using longer laterals when developing properties.

SEE: A Guide To Investing In Oil Markets

The Bottom Line
The Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale are the premier crude oil and liquid plays in the onshore United States and both are attracting large amounts of capital from the exploration and production industry. Operators active here plan to spend even more than previously expected in these areas in 2012.

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At the time of writing, Eric Fox did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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