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Gastar Cuts 2015 Spending For Third Time

Gastar Exploration Inc. on Monday cut its budget for the third time since September, saying it will now spend $103 million this year, as its portfolio is exposed to falling oil and natural gas prices in the Appalachian Basin and the Midcontinent. 

In September, the company initially said it would spend $257 million this year before slashing that figure to $173 million in November and then reducing it again Monday (see Shale Daily, Nov. 11, 2014; Sept. 17, 2014). Gastar's $103 million budget is a 46% decline from the $192 million budget it set for 2014.

"The capital spending reduction was made in response to further commodity price declines and should allow us to maintain a strong balance sheet," said CEO J. Russell Porter in a statement. "As operator of the majority of our current capital program, we continue to maintain the ability to adjust our capital plans in response to commodity price and service cost changes."

The last time it reduced this year's budget, Gastar settled on a plan to spend most of it in the oil-rich Hunton Limestone play in north-central Oklahoma and idle its Appalachian drilling program once it completed four gross Marcellus and Utica shale wells. The company will remain focused on the Hunton Limestone under its latest budget, but it left open the possibility that it could cut spending further if the weak commodities environment persists, outlining plans for 18 gross operated and non-operated wells, instead of the 31 gross wells it announced for all of 2015 in November. By mid-year, Gastar plans to release its three rigs in Oklahoma to work its inventory of uncompleted wells there.

The company also said it is working to complete five gross wells in the Appalachian Basin that were previously drilled. Once those are finished, Gastar said it would suspend drilling in the basin this year. In all, the company said it would spend $76 million in the Midcontinent and $20 million in the Appalachian Basin, with the rest going toward administrative costs.

Topeka Capital Markets analyst Gabriele Sorbara said Gastar's move to focus on sweet-spots in Oklahoma and slow down in the Utica and Marcellus was "prudent" given declining basis differentials in the Northeast. While Gastar has balanced its product mix from more than 75% gas to a little more than 50% crude oil and natural gas liquids over the last three years, 33% of its proved reserves are located in the Appalachian Basin, where natural gas still accounts for a large portion of its annual production volumes.

The price of Gastar's Appalachian natural gas in 1Q2014 was 22 cents below the average  New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) price . By the end of 3Q2014, it averaged $1.61 less than the NYMEX average.

The company also said Monday that it produced 11,700 boe/d last quarter, up 27% from the year-ago period. Gastar said full-year production was 10,200 boe/d, up 15% from 2013. Gastar is now targeting annual production growth of 22% this year.

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