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Marathon Oil Putting Emphasis on U.S. Onshore

Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp. executives on Thursday underscored their stepped-up onshore focus and said 70% of 2018 production will be from U.S. resource plays.

U.S. production is expected to average 265,000-275,000 boe/d net during the first quarter, compared to international production (excluding Libya) of 105,000-115,000 boe/d net, CEO Lee Tillman said during the 4Q2017 earnings conference call.

After selling its Canadian oilsands business and entering the Permian Basin’s northern Delaware sub-basin, Marathon exited last year with U.S. production costs down 7% and oil production 31% higher than in 4Q2016.

Tillman pointed to "outstanding operational execution" across its four key basins of the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford shales and in Oklahoma’s stacked reservoirs.

"We delivered some of the most productive unconventional wells in our company's history in our high-return Eagle Ford and Bakken assets, while achieving strong rates” from a nine-well infill development in Oklahoma’s Sooner Trend Anadarko Canadian and Kingfisher counties, i.e. STACK. There also were “excellent well results across the northern Delaware."

Marathon set a record initial production (IP) rate over 30 days in a Williston Basin well in North Dakota at 3,005 b/d. In the Permian Delaware, a two-well pad had an average 30-day IP rate of 3,265 boe/d, with production overall averaging 11,000 boe/d.

During 2017 Marathon reduced its gross debt by $1.75 billion, lowered its cost structure by $115 million in annualized interest expense, and reached the lowest U.S. unit production expense ($5.33/boe in 4Q2017) since becoming an independent, Tillman said.

In showcasing a $2.3 billion capital expenditure (capex) budget for this year, Tillman predicted that internal competition for funds across the portfolio will be "as intense as it ever has been." He said current allocations would see about one-third of the capex directed to the northern Delaware sub-basin and to Oklahoma, where most of the 2018 drilling activity is transitioning to multi-well pads.

Eagle Ford annual production is expected to be essentially flat this year, while “strong growth” is expected from the Bakken.

Asked about the Eagle Ford's longer term viability, Tillman said there is about "a decade of high quality inventory right now.” Marathon is in "a very high quality area, making it a little challenging because the folks usually around us are also pretty comfortable with their positions as well."

Operations chief Mitch Little, executive vice president, said he is encouraged by recent tests in the Austin Chalk formation of the Upper Eagle Ford. Marathon plans to extend its activity there, but is largely focused in South Texas, the "40-acre Lower Eagle Ford development, extending high intensity completions and engineered flowback sendout.”

Tillman said Marathon has moved west in the Eagle Ford in some of the play's "much more lightly developed areas than some of our core areas, and so there is a considerable amount of running room there to elevate those returns to kind of our top-tier type of economic return."

Marathon reported a net loss in 4Q2017 of $28 million (minus 3 cents/share), versus a year-ago net loss of $1.3 billion (minus $1.62). For the full year, losses totaled $5.7 billion (minus $6.73/share) from a 2016 loss of $2.1 billion (minus $2.61).

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