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Continental Reducing Costs, Improving Output From Bakken, Oklahoma Reservoirs

Tulsa-based Continental Resources Inc. senior executives on Thursday presented an optimistic view of increasing onshore production and decreasing costs, although the company also saw more red ink in the third quarter.

Continental, one of the biggest Bakken Shale and Oklahoma oil producers, "improved across the board in key metrics -- faster drill times, lower completed well costs, and strong well results from enhanced completions,” CEO Harold Hamm said.

While production was up substantially in the Bakken and the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province, nicknamed SCOOP, COO Jack Stark said there were "exceptional results" for initial wells in the extended STACK formations, also in Oklahoma. STACK refers to the “Sooner Trend  (oilfield) Anadarko (basin), Canadian and Kingfisher (counties).”

"We expect STACK will add significant value to the company and shareholders," Stark said. He provided some detail on initial well completions and geologic modeling. "We're beyond the exploration phase into delineation and production."

The STACK is one of the few U.S. plays where rig counts are increasing, Stark said. Because the play is incremental to existing assets, Continental wants to establish a joint venture to further develop the formations. "We intend to keep our options open and consider various things...

"In the next few months we are going to be able to bring out a lot more information and tell what a terrific asset this looks like we have," Stark said. "We think we have a very good situation here and there is a lot more good news to come about this play."

The STACK, where Continental has 146,300 net acres, is a high-value growth opportunity, and the play continues “to validate our high expectations," Hamm said. "This over-pressured window is definitely a step change in the STACK play."

Continental currently has three rigs working in the STACK and plans to keep that level of activity through further delineation, Stark said. He said 25 or so rigs now are targeting various STACK plays, such as the Meramec.

Overall production in 3Q2015 was 228,278 boe/d with the Bakken accounting for 123,000 boe/d and SCOOP adding 69,000. Based on the quarterly results Continental has increased its production growth guidance to 24-26% this year.

"We've now increased our original production guidance set last year by 30-50%, while at the same time projecting a decrease in capital expenditures of 8-10%," Hamm said.

Operating costs dropped to $4.00/boe in the latest quarter, down sequentially from $4.39/boe. Continental also is committed to taking on no new debt, balancing cash flow with capital expenditures to be cash flow neutral in the continuing low commodity price environment. Continental is basing its spending plan using a $50/bbl West Texas Intermediate price.

In the Bakken, Continental has slashed the time from spud-to-total depth (TD) to 15 days in 3Q2015 from 17.1 days in the first quarter, Stark said. Some of the biggest advances are coming in drilling laterals, and Stark said Continental set a record in the Bakken, completing a 9,490-foot lateral in 2.4 days. "Overall, our enhanced completion costs in the Bakken are down 27% year-to-date to $7 million."

The backlog of drilled but uncompleted wells in the Bakken grew to 123 in the third quarter. Stark said  20-25 of those are to be completed before the end of this year.

Continental plans to continue to operate eight rigs in the Bakken through the end of this year, but if prices don't begin to rise, that number would not be maintained next year when five of the eight drilling contracts expire.

"We have flexibility, and we could keep all the rigs, but that won't continue unless prices begin to recover," Hamm said.

In Oklahoma, the rig allocation should remain unchanged -- three in the STACK, five in the  Cana-Woodford Shale, and seven in SCOOP.

Continental reported a net loss $82.4 million (minus 22 cents/share) in 3Q2015, versus net income of $533.5 million ($1.44) a year ago.

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