The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended period of low oil prices, is once again on the rebound, and would-be wildcatters like Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices hovering around $60 a barrel—three times as high as they were throughout the 1990s—the industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

This revival of small exploration companies has been helped by the abundance of private equity funding. Dozens of wildcatters have been popping up across the United States in recent years, mostly to squeeze more oil out of existing fields. “The oil industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” Bryant said. “Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business 100 years or 100 days.”

Easily available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to fund energy projects, while leaps in computing power, imaging technology, and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest entities to compete on an almost equal footing with the biggest players. “There’s a lot of money out there looking for opportunities,” said John Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial Services.


“It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now.”