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Rice Energy Continues Marcellus/Utica Bolt-Ons Following Vantage Acquisition

Rice Energy Inc. added 100,000 net dry gas acres to its Appalachian core last year, expanding its position and significantly boosting production ahead of big plans for 2017 that would set it up for even more growth in the coming years.

The company added 85,000 net Marcellus acres in Greene County, PA, last September when it acquired Vantage Energy Inc. subsidiaries in a $2.7 billion deal. The other 15,000 acres came through leasehold acquisitions, the majority of which were in the fourth quarter as the company continued to block up its acreage in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Rice added 4,000 acres in Greene County alone after the Vantage acquisition. The company now holds 248,000 net acres in Appalachia.

"Our land team's primary focus is to add acreage to extend the lateral lengths of planned development and enhance our net revenue interests across these units," said COO Toby Rice. The company wasn't alone last year in seizing opportunities as Appalachian gas prices firmed and the commodities downturn eased. Some of the basin's leading operators, such as Gulfport Energy Corp., Antero Resources Corp. and EQT Corp. have all bolted-on acreage to extend laterals and push up production.

Rice produced 1.145 Bcfe/d in the fourth quarter, up 83% from the year-ago period and well above the 1.02 Bcfe/d high-end of its quarterly guidance. For the full-year, the company produced 831 MMcfe/d, or 51% more than it did in 2015. Excluding the Vantage acquisition, year/year production was up 41%. CEO Daniel J. Rice said the company is confident it will reach more than 2 Bcfe/d of production by 2019.

The company plans to spend heavily this year, too. It has budgeted $1.035 billion for drilling and completion activity in 2017 along with another $225 million to secure more acreage. That's compared to the $791 million it spent on drilling, completion, midstream and land activity last year.

Rice plans to run three top hole rigs and four horizontal rigs this year to spud 105 Marcellus and Utica wells and turn to sales 80 of those. It only turned 49 wells to sales last year. It also has locked in 60% of its oilfield service costs for 2017. The company is guiding for 2017 production of 1.290-1.355 Bcfe/d.

For the fourth quarter, Rice's average realized natural gas price was $2.42/Mcf, excluding hedges, and $2.75/Mcf with them. That's compared to $2.05/Mcf without hedges and $3.39/Mcf with them during the year-ago quarter.

The company reported a net loss of $178.4 million (minus 88 cents/share) on $284 million of revenues for the period, versus a net loss of $280.8 million (minus $2.06) in 4Q2015. It recorded a more than $20 million impairment on its gas properties during the quarter.

The company reported a net loss of $298.2 million (minus $1.84) for 2016 on revenues of $778.9 million, compared to a net loss of $291.3 million (minus $2.14) in 2015. Rice finished the year with $1.9 billion of liquidity.

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