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Rice Energy Targeting More Than 2 Bcfe/d Production by 2019

Rice Energy Inc. on Thursday unveiled a three-year growth plan that calls for the company to produce up to 2.2 Bcfe/d by 2019.

The plan comes months after Rice Energy closed on a transformative deal to acquire Vantage Energy and considerably grow its Appalachian core, which now includes 252,000 net acres in the Marcellus and Utica shales of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The company is targeting up to 33%  annual production growth of 1.6-1.7 Bcfe/d in 2018 and 2-2.2 Bcfe/d in 2019.

"One hundred percent of the acreage contemplated to be developed through 2019 has been delineated," CEO Daniel J. Rice said of the plan during a call to discuss first quarter results. "We know what each well will cost, how much gas it will produce and how economic it will be at strip pricing. No step-out wells; no individual [initial production] rates; no uncertainties on the well design side -- just full-scale, long lateral manufacturing development mode."

Management said it’s on track to meet the high-end of 1.3-1.4 Bcfe/d production guidance this year. The company estimates that it would spend up to $1.3 billion on drilling and completion next year and up to $1.4 billion in 2019. It has budgeted $1.04 billion for this year.

Rice Energy produced about 1.3 Bcfe/d in the first quarter, up from 675 MMcfe/d in the year-ago period and 1.15 Bcfe/d in 4Q2016. The company's natural gas prices also improved significantly as they did for other Appalachian operators during the first quarter. Before hedges, the company's average realized natural gas price was $3.11/Mcf during the period, up 52% from 1Q2016.

"To us, the highlight of the quarter was higher-than-expected local Appalachian prices," Rice said. "...These prices indicate to us that in a short supply market -- like the one we expect to emerge in the next year or so -- Appalachian prices can improve to within 20 to 30 cents of Henry Hub prices."  

While the Vantage acquisition included 85,000 net Marcellus acres in Greene County, PA, that are also prospective for the Utica, Rice Energy took about 36,000 net acres in the Barnett Shale of Texas. CFO Grayson Lisenby said the Barnett properties were always most likely a divestiture candidate. He said Tuesday that Rice Energy is moving forward with a sales process that it expects to close in the second half of this year.

Firming prices pushed up revenue to $393.8 million during the first quarter from $139.9 million at the same time last year. The gains however were not enough for a profit. The company reported a net loss of $34.6 million (minus 17 cents/share), compared to a net loss of $21 million (minus 15 cents) in the year-ago period. The loss included a $92.4 million impairment of the company's natural gas properties.

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