EQT Corp. intends to nearly double its capital spending next year in order to tame the vast acreage position it beefed up after completing an $8 billion deal to buy Rice Energy Inc., highlighting on Wednesday operational plans that call for significantly longer laterals in the Marcellus and Upper Devonian shales.
The company, now considered the nation’s largest natural gas producer, has budgeted $2.4 billion for capital expenditures, including $2.2 billion for exploration and production (E&P). Another $150 million would go toward acreage acquisitions to fill in the blanks of its growing position in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Production is forecast to be 1.520-1.560 Tcfe in 2018. The company budgeted $1.5 billion for 2017 and had guided for up to 840 Bcfe of production prior to the Rice transaction
EQT continues to plug the synergies it achieved in the Rice deal, indicating Wednesday that the 200,000-plus acres acquired would not only allow for longer laterals and lower lease operating expenses, but also $100 million of general and administrative savings.
“These cost structure and capital efficiency improvements support a more compelling investment proposition as we shift from maximizing volume growth to focusing on capital returns and returning cash to shareholders,” CEO Steven Schlotterbeck said, echoing the sentiment of other onshore E&P chiefs across the country.
EQT’s plans call for drilling fewer wells in 2018, compared with the 2017 blueprint. The company is aiming to drill 139 Marcellus wells, but with far longer laterals that are expected to average 11,800 feet. That is compared with average lateral lengths of 7,000 feet this year.
In the Upper Devonian, EQT plans to drill 19 wells with average lateral lengths more than doubling to 15,600 feet from 7,300. The company is also making a return to Ohio’s Utica Shale after the Rice acquisition. The company abandoned its program there three years ago, but 25 net Utica wells are planned in 2018.
The 2018 program calls for up to 170 Marcellus and up to 25 Upper Devonian turn-in-lines. About 40-50 gross wells are planned to come online in the Utica. EQT said next year’s operations would put the company on track to increase year/year production by 15% in 2019, when management has said it wants to focus more on reining in spending.
Next year’s budget also factors in projects that include the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is expected to come online by the end of 2018. EQT is obligated to fill 1.3 Bcf/d of capacity on the 2 Bcf/d project.
Management tussled with concerned investors during the process to buy Rice, which included a midstream portfolio. A board committee is working on recommendations for the stock to be more fairly valued to address proposals about separating the upstream and midstream businesses.
Affiliates EQT Midstream Partners LP (EQM) and Rice Midstream Partners LP (RMP) said Wednesday EQT is considering a “simplified business structure for the midstream entities under its control.” The review includes dropping down EQT-owned midstream assets to EQM, “as well as potential entity combinations.” Given the review, EQM and RMP do not plan to release midstream guidance for 2018.
EQM has budgeted up to $1.6 billion for organic growth projects in 2018, while another $35-40 million would be dedicated to maintenance expenditures. RMP said it would budget $260 million for organic projects next year, with estimated maintenance spend set at $22 million.