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Southwestern to Nearly Double Marcellus Spending

Southwestern Energy Co. said it will spend slightly less next year in the Fayetteville Shale while it nearly doubles spending in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Overall, Southwestern's 2012 capital program is pegged at $2.3 billion, up from about $2.1 billion in 2011. Production is expected to climb about 15% from this year.

In the Marcellus Shale Southwestern has increased its acreage position to 181,500 net acres in northeastern Pennsylvania. The company plans to begin the year drilling with two operated rigs and end the year with four operated rigs and plans to participate in 80-85 gross wells, all of which will be operated.

Next year in the Fayetteville Southwestern said it plans to participate in 580-590 gross wells, 490-500 of which will be operated. Nearly all of the company's drilling in the Fayetteville in 2012 will be on multi-well pads, which should result in faster drilling times and other efficiencies, Southwestern said. The company expects that the average time to drill its operated horizontal wells to total depth will decrease in 2012 to about 7.4 days from about eight days projected for 2011.

"Our 2012 capital investments in the Fayetteville Shale will be slightly lower when compared to 2011, while our capital program in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania will almost double and our new ventures investments will increase due to additional exploratory drilling activities," said CEO Steve Mueller. "We plan to be drilling in at least three of our new ventures ideas during the year, including the Brown Dense play in Arkansas and Louisiana; New Brunswick, Canada, and a new oil play in 2012.

"As a result of our planned activities, our 2012 production is expected to be in a range of 570-580 Bcfe, which is an increase of approximately 15% compared to our expected 2011 level."

About 475-480 Bcf of 2012 targeted gas production is expected to come from the Fayetteville Shale, up from 433-435 Bcf this year. About 60-65 Bcf of 2012 targeted gas production is projected to come from the Marcellus, up from 20-22 Bcf this year.

Fayetteville spending is forecast to be $1.25 billion next year, down from a projected $1.32 billion this year. Spending in Appalachia is forecast to be $530 million, up from a projected $290 million this year. Spending in the new ventures segment is forecast to be $240 million, up from $200 million this year, while spending in the Ark-La-Tex is expected to be $20 million, down from $70 million this year. The midstream segment is forecast to get $210 million, up from $190 million this year.

Southwestern said it expects to participate in 670-680 total gross wells (580-590 operated) next year, compared to an estimated 681 total gross wells in 2011 (about 600 operated). The company's 2012 net well count is expected to be 440-450 compared to about 479 net wells in 2011.

"Our capital program is flexible and may be adjusted to correspond with significant changes in gas prices," Mueller said. "Meanwhile, our hedges in place for 2012 provide a secure level of earnings and cash flow and our vertical integration gives us meaningful protection against higher costs in the future."

The company expects to fund next year's spending from cash flow and borrowings. As of Dec. 19 Southwestern had New York Mercantile Exchange hedges in place on notional volumes of 265.7 Bcf of its 2012 projected gas production through fixed-price swaps and collars at a weighted average floor price of $5.16/Mcf.

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