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Bakken Shale Leads Hess Production Higher, Despite Commodity Prices

Led by its substantial interest in the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, Hess Corp.’s overall production in the second quarter increased 23% to 391,000 boe/d, which has led the company to increase full-year forecasts overall.

During a conference call to discuss quarterly results on Wednesday, Hess CEO John Hess said operations were impacted by lower crude oil prices and higher expenses, offsetting the effect of high crude oil and natural gas sales volumes. Despite the red ink, "we delivered strong operating results,” he said.

Hess reported an adjusted net loss of $147 million (negative 52 cents/share) in 2Q2015, versus profits of $432 million ($1.38) for the same period last year.

Stronger production from 319,000 boe/d in 2Q2014 was driven by higher output from the Bakken and Utica shales, the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and Thailand assets.

With the gains, production for 2015 now is forecast to average 360,000-370,000 boe/d, Hess said.

In the Bakken, net production was 119,000 boe/d, 71% weighted oil, 19% to natural gas liquids (NGL) and 10% to natural gas, said COO Greg Hill. Bakken production targets were raised to 105,000-110,000 boe/d for this year.

"We have one of the strongest acreage positions in the Bakken with more drilling spacing units in the core of the play than any other operator," said Hess, noting that the company is developing some of the lowest cost wells in the play through technology advances and supply chain cost reductions.

"In the second quarter, drilling and completion costs averaged $5.6 million [per-well], down 24% from the previous year's quarter," he said. "We are leveraging [our] expertise in lean manufacturing techniques from the Bakken to drive improvements in our joint venture operations in the Utica, where net production averaged 22,000 boe/d” during the second quarter.

Nevertheless, continued low natural gas prices prompted Hess and its Utica joint venture partner Consol Energy Inc. to limit drilling activity for the rest of this year to a single Hess-operated rig. However, full-year production projections for the Utica still are expected to be higher at 20,000-25,000 boe/d.

Well completion costs continued to tumble in the Bakken, according to Hill, who said the second quarter average well cost of $5.2 million/well, comparing to average completion costs of $6.8 million in 1Q2015 and $7.4 million in 2Q2014. "For all of 2015 we now expect completion costs to average $5.8-$6 million, below our previous guidance of $6-$6.5 million/well," Hill said.

The CEO and Hill stressed the long-term potential of assets in the Bakken where Hess has a 10-year inventory of drilling sites that they said produce returns averaging 15%.

In the Utica, production is ramping up and well completion costs tumbling, but on a different scale than the Bakken, Hill noted. Production has increased from 7,000 boe/d in 2Q2014) and 17,000 boe/d in 1Q2015 to average 22,000 boe/d in 2Q2015. Well completion costs are now expected to average between $9.2-9.4 million/well in 2015, compared to $13.7 million.

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