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Newfield: No Dry Gas Drilling, More Hedging

These days with no end to decade-low gas prices in sight, Newfield Exploration Co. CEO Lee Boothby can't wait to be in charge of an oil-weighted production company, and it's going to happen soon, he said Wednesday. Newfield has put down the dry gas drillbit and is focusing intently on oil and liquids-rich plays.

"I look forward to the day when we are not listed as a gas-weighted company in equity research coverage," Boothby told analysts during an earnings conference call. During the first quarter Newfield accelerated the transition to an oil-weighted company that it began in 2009. "We have real oil; NGLs [natural gas liquids] only accounted for about 5% of our total production," Boothby said, adding that since 2008 the company has doubled its oil and liquids production.

Newfield's oil and liquids liftings in the first quarter were 5.9 million bbl, or an average of nearly 65,000 b/d, representing a 35% increase in oil and liquids production over the year-ago period. Gas production in the first quarter was 41 Bcf, an average of 447 MMcf/d. When combined, Newfield's production in the first quarter was 76 Bcfe, of which 47% was oil and liquids.

During the first quarter capital spending was about $500 million. The company raised its 2012 expectations for total production to 292-302 Bcfe from previous guidance of 290-300 Bcfe. The 2012 capital budget remains $1.5-1.7 billion.

"Our entire capital investment program this year is oil-focused, and we expect more than a 20% increase in our oil/liquids production in 2012," said Boothby. "Our active drilling programs in the Uinta Basin and Williston Basin are yielding encouraging results and improved efficiencies. We are fortunate that our natural gas assets are held by production and that about 85% of our expected 2012 gas production is hedged at prices well above today's market."

During the first quarter plans to pursue oil continued as they had been outlined during the company's fourth quarter earnings conference call (see Shale Daily, Feb. 24). Boothby said Newfield has enough on its plate currently with plenty of oil development opportunities. Acquisitions likely won't be considered until after this year, he said.

Asked whether Newfield would shut in gas production now that prices have breached the $2 level, Boothby said the company "would remain in tune with what was going on in the market." Newfield has strengthened its hedge position for this year and next and begun to lay the groundwork for 2014, he said. "I think we're well hedged...We have no dry gas rigs drilling, and we plan to drill no dry gas wells in 2012.

"...If the market continues to deteriorate, we'll reserve the right to take some production out of the market."

Newfield said it plans to invest about $500 million toward development of its assets in the Uinta Basin where it owns interest in 230,000 net acres. Drilling is focused on development of known oil targets and the assessment of emerging vertical and horizontal high-potential oil plays. Net production in the Uinta is a record 24,000 boe/d. Production there is expected to grow about 20% over 2011 levels.

In the Williston Basin Newfield expects to run two to four operated rigs in the Bakken Shale throughout the year. Since the beginning of the year Newfield has completed eight Bakken wells with average initial gross production of 2,600 boe/d. Newfield recently drilled an 11,000-foot lateral well in 24 days. Two-thirds of the planned 25 wells in 2012 will be drilled from multi-well pads, and additional efficiency gains are anticipated. Newfield owns about 100,000 net acres in the Williston Basin where current net production is about 8,000 boe/d. Full-year production from the basin is expected to increase about 35% over 2011 levels.

Current net daily production from the Midcontinent region is about 340 MMcfe/d. Production in the Granite Wash in early 2012 reached a record high of 215 MMcfe/d gross, or 143 MMcfe/d net. The higher-than-anticipated production was driven by well performance and the completion of wells drilled in 2011 and deferred into 2012.

Net production in the Arkoma Woodford Shale is approximately 180 MMcfe/d. Newfield has shifted drilling from the Granite Wash and Arkoma Woodford to its new efforts in the oil and liquids-rich Cana Woodford in the Anadarko Basin. The company has a 125,000 net-acre lease position in the play and is running five operated rigs to assess the acreage with plans to increase to as many as seven rigs in late 2012. An update on the initial drilling program is expected at mid-year.

In the Gulf Coast region onshore net daily production is about 87 MMcfe/d. Newfield has more than 250,000 net acres in the Maverick Basin and is running a single-rig program. The company recently began production from two of four planned super-extended laterals (about 7,500-feet) in the Eagle Ford Shale with encouraging results.

For the second quarter Newfield expects its overall production will be about 76 Bcfe (40 Bcfe of natural gas, 3.6 million bbl of domestic oil and liquids and 2.4 million bbl of international oil).

For the first quarter Newfield recorded net income of $116 million (86 cents/share), which included a net unrealized loss on commodity derivatives of $10 million ($6 million after-tax) (5 cents/share). The year-ago period saw a net loss of $17 million (minus 13 cents/share).

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