Denver-based Whiting Petroleum files for bankruptcy, citing plunging oil prices

Denver-based Whiting Petroleum said Wednesday that it has filed for bankruptcy, citing the severe drop in oil and gas prices because of the coronavirus pandemic and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Whiting said in a statement that it took steps to boost its cash flow and cut spending when it eliminated 254 positions, a third of its workforce, in July 2019.

The company’s board of directors decided that filing for Chapter 11 reorganization to negotiate with its creditors would be the best path forward, said Bradley J. Holly, Whiting chairman, president and CEO.

Whiting listed $3.6 billion in debt and $7.6 billion worth of assets in the bankruptcy filing. The company said it will exchange 97% of the new equity of the reorganized company for erasure of more than $2.2 billion in debt.

Last week, Whiting’s board approved about $14.6 million in bonuses and incentives to the top executives, including roughly $6.4 million for Holly.

Whiting said it has $585 million in cash and will continue to operate “in the normal course without material disruption to its vendors, partners or employees.”

The company didn’t respond Wednesday to questions about any layoffs or the payments to the executives.

The oil and gas industry’s troubles have prompted DMC Global Inc. to cut 264 positions, about a third of its workforce. The Broomfield-based company said Wednesday that the reductions, 97 of which are temporary, are being made because of sharply lower oil and gas activity.

“The workforce reduction principally impacted full-time, part-time and temporary direct-labor roles in manufacturing and assembly at DynaEnergetics, DMC’s oilfield products business,” the company said.

Whiting’s bankruptcy comes as the oil and gas industry faces huge price drops. Many companies were laboring under heavy debt when the sudden, massive slowdown in travel and business happened because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Oil prices have dropped to about $20 a barrel and lower.

A price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that broke out in March when the two couldn’t agree on a plan to stabilize prices has dumped more, cheap oil in the market, further depressing prices while demand has nosedived.

Bernadette Johnson, vice president of strategic analytics with Enverus, said it is likely that more oil and gas producers will file for bankruptcy. She said Whiting is the first public oil and gas company to seek reorganization during the pandemic.

“Some operators are having a hard time finding buyers,” said Johnson, who expects oil prices to keep dropping for now.

Whiting is one of the largest operators in North Dakota’s Bakken field. It also operates in northeast Colorado.

The top two oil and gas producers in Colorado are cutting back spending and reducing employees’ pay and hours because of sliding oil prices and demand. Occidental Petroleum, the dominant player in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, said Tuesday that it notified employees of a number of measures, including pay reductions, to cope with “this unprecedented  time.”

Noble Energy, the state’s second-largest producer by volume, said starting April 6, it will place roughly 30% of its U.S. workforce on furlough or part-time hours. Workers will  continue to receive full health benefits, the company said.

There’s a ripple effect when oil and gas companies cut back production and spending, said Ryan Smith, a senior commodity director at East Daley Capital Advisors in Centennial. The midstream companies, which process, store and ship oil and gas, are affected when an exploration and production company reorganizes and renegotiates its agreements, Smith said.

However, Smith said as producers cut back, supplies should start dropping and the market should start balancing out.

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