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Rice's Bigfoot Well a Winner, With IP Rate Topping 40 MMcf/d

Rice Energy Inc. delivered big on Monday, reporting some of the best initial production (IP) results yet seen in Ohio's Utica Shale, with its first well, the Bigfoot 9H in Belmont County, flowing at a stabilized rate of nearly 42 MMcf/d after five days, exceeding the market's expectations.

Results from the Bigfoot 9H come after months of speculation from financial analysts, since the young Appalachian pure-play operator, formed in 2007, went public on the New York Stock Exchange in January (see Shale DailyJan. 31). Rice holds a prospectus heavy on the Marcellus Shale in southwest Pennsylvania, but lacking the kind of proof in the Utica that investors typically rally around (see Shale DailyDec. 17, 2013).

Analysts had expected solid results from Rice's first Utica well, especially in the wake of other eye-popping IP rates released in recent months from the likes of Magnum Hunter Resources Corp. and Gulfport Energy Corp., which reported wells above 30 MMcf/d in Monroe and Belmont counties respectively (see Shale DailyFeb. 14Nov. 8, 2013). They couldn't be too sure, though, after Rice said in March that it had encountered more gas than anticipated and higher pressures at the nearby Bigfoot 7H, forcing the company to plug and abandon that well before moving on to the 9H (see Shale DailyMarch 13).

"Based on previous results, the market was looking for 30 MMcfe/d," wrote analysts at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. (TPH) of Rice's results in relation to some of the other prolific wells in the area. "[The] IP per 1,000 foot lateral looks to be matching the best rates in the play."

Wells Fargo Securities analyst Gordon Douthat agreed. He joined TPH in saying that results from Rice's Bigfoot 9H should give a boost to other operators, such as Gastar Exploration Inc., Gulfport, Chesapeake Energy Corp., Antero Resources Corp. and Magnum, all of which have more Utica wells coming online in either southeast Ohio or northern West Virginia.

If anything, those results considered key, particularly in West Virginia, where Magnum and Gastar, among others, have set out to prove the Utica's strength in West Virginia (see Shale DailyMarch 26). Anticipation has also been mounting over the play's viability in that state. Analysts said Rice's results will likely be a boon for the trajectory of the Utica in Ohio, where operators have been pushing its boundaries farther south in a scramble for more acreage in Belmont, Guernsey, Washington and Morgan counties (see Shale DailyApril 15Nov. 19, 2013).

Rice drilled its Bigfoot 9H with a 6,957 foot lateral. The 41.69 MMcf/d five-day flowrate came on a 33/64" choke from a note-worthy 40 hydraulic fracturing (frack) stages. The company plans to bring 37 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania and another seven Ohio Utica wells online this year.

In March, after the company's year-end conference call, investors expressed concern about Rice's midstream constraints. But the company said Monday that it had entered into a precedent agreement for 175,000 MMbtu/d of firm transportation on the Rockies Express Pipeline beginning in June 2015 for a term of 20 years, giving it better access to Midwest and Gulf Coast markets.

Combined with its first Utica results and news that its borrowing base had been increased to $385 million, the company's stock on Monday traded at a new high around $33/share in early morning trading before closing down by 1.07% at $31.39/share.

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