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Despite Robust Production, Profits Continue to Fall at Rice Energy

While there was no relief from stagnant commodity prices in the second quarter at Rice Energy Inc., the period was the most active in company history, as it beat guidance and finished drilling and completing its first Utica Shale well in a highly prospective area of Southwest Pennsylvania.

"This was the most active quarter in our company's history, as we brought online 14 Marcellus wells, 11 Utica wells and we participated in two net non-operated Utica wells," said CEO Daniel J. Rice during a conference call with financial analysts on Thursday.

Rice Energy produced 529 MMcfe/d in the second quarter, up from 241 MMcfe/d in the year-ago period and 440 MMcfe/d in 1Q2015. The Marcellus Shale, where the company has 88,600 net acres in just Washington and Greene counties, accounted for most of the second quarter production, or 403 MMcfe/d.

But following the first meaningful contributions from its Utica Shale program in 1Q2015, the formation continued to drive up overall production, with its 55,500 net acres in Belmont County, OH, accounting for 126 MMcfe/d (see Shale Daily, May 7).

"Since completing our first Utica well more than a year ago, we've grown operated Utica production to approximately 250 MMcf/d; reduced development costs by 50% and optimized drilling, completion and production designs...and shifted to full-scale development mode," in Ohio, Rice said.

"Since we've now de-risked the dry gas Utica in Ohio, we're now focused on doing the same with our Utica in Pennsylvania," he added. "We've successfully drilled and completed our first Utica well under our Pennsylvania assets in western Greene County. This well has a 5,800 foot lateral and was completed with 41 stages as designed. We are currently installing production facilities, and we expect production sometime late third quarter, approximately three months ahead of schedule."

The John Briggs 50U is near other deep, dry Utica wells in Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties. EQT Corp., Consol Energy Inc. and Range Resources Corp. have all tested their Pennsylvania Utica wells at 24-hour peak rates of more than 50 MMcf/d, including EQT Corp.'s, which had initial production (IP) of 72.9 MMcf/d last month (see Shale Daily, July 29; July 23; Dec. 15, 2014).

Rice Energy said it would not conduct a peak IP test on the Briggs well but added that it would have 60 days of rate and pressure data by the third quarter earnings call.

"Recently reported IP tests in close proximity to our position have proven our geologic model's expectation that this area is highly prospective for Utica development," Rice said, adding that his company expects production similar to what other operators have recently announced.

The company's progress, however, was once again overshadowed by low commodity prices. While increasing production pushed revenue from $91.9 million in the year-ago period to $112.9 million in the second quarter, stagnant prices helped drive down income. After hedges, Rice Energy said its average natural gas price for the quarter was $2.97/Mcf, down from $3.68/Mcf in 2Q2014.

While the company increased full-year guidance for the second time this year to 485-505 MMcfe/d from the previously announced 470-490 MMcfe/d, management said production would likely be flat in the third quarter. It turned online seven net wells in the second quarter that were scheduled for the third quarter, and it also curtailed 40 MMcf/d of production this month and last to limit unhedged local price exposure.

Rice Energy reported a net loss of  $69.7 million (minus 51 cents/share) in the second quarter, compared to a net loss of $7.9 million (minus 6 cents/share) in the year-ago period and a profit of $152,000 ($0/share) in the first quarter.

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