With a bone-loosening yawn, the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is doing its best Rip Van Winkle imitation as it awakens from the post-Macondo nap.

And my how the world has changed. One year ago, the region limped along at 46.5% utilization. But utilization rose to 61.7% in January , the second month in the last three that has witnessed utilization above the 60% marker.

GOM utilization is up 10% since the most recent low in August 2011. While the return to deepwater is a factor, a second theme involves an improving jackup market. Jackup utilization is up 13% to 56% since the low in September 2011.

Furthermore, a boatload of recent transactions point to a more active shelf in 2012.  Indeed, the surprise deal to date has to be SandRidge Energy Inc. ’s $1.275 billion takeout of privately held Dynamic Offshore Resources LLC . The transaction came out of left field for SandRidge, the Oklahoma City company that got its start drilling tight-formation gas wells in far West Texas.

SandRidge, fresh off a $1 billion joint venture with Spanish multi-national Repsol , has pivoted to an oil-focused onshore portfolio over the last two years with transactions in the Permian Basin’s Central Basin Platform as well as an aggressive campaign to amass acreage in the Mississippi Lime carbonate play along the Oklahoma/Kansas border.  

The Dynamic deal also surprised in part because SandRidge had been scrambling to amass the capital necessary to move forward with its ambitious onshore oil development programs.  Dynamic contributes production of 25,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day {boe/d} (50% oil) from fields it operates in water depths less than 300 feet offshore Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, and the company adds a completely different aspect to the SandRidge portfolio.

The Dynamic acquisition is expected to generate enough free cash flow to underwrite SandRidge’s onshore efforts.

The SandRidge deal follows a proposed joint venture between Saratoga Resources Inc. and McMoRan Oil and Gas LLC for ultra-deep rights over a combined 10,000 acres targeting shelf Lower Tertiary targets, including Saratoga’s Long John Silver prospect at the Vermilion 16 field in Louisiana.

Meanwhile those ultra-deep, sub-salt, shallow shelf wells face several upcoming milestones even as the concept of targeting Eocene and Paelocene objectives below the salt weld expands beyond the shallow shelf. The McMoRan-led group spudded a 29,000-foot onshore well in Cameron Parish, LA, in December.

Curious about the