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Hess May Use Asset Sale Proceeds to Fund More Bakken Rigs in 2018

In the wake of announcing back-to-back deals this week to sell overseas assets for a combined $2.65 billion, Hess Corp. said it plans to use the sales proceeds to reduce its debt and possibly deploy two additional rigs next year in the Bakken Shale, its largest operated growth asset.

On Monday, New York-based Hess agreed to sell its interests in offshore Equatorial Guinea to Kosmos Energy and Trident Energy for $650 million. The next day, the company agreed to sell its oil and gas interests in Norway to an undisclosed buyer for $2 billion. It also plans to sell its interests in Denmark, thereby completing its exit from the North Sea.

The sales “clearly improve” finding and development costs “as we move forward," CFO John Rielly said during an earnings call Wednesday to discuss 3Q2017. "Part of our strategy of divesting these high cost assets is to free up capital, accelerate value and be able to put that capital into our high return Bakken assets."

Rielly told analysts during the call that "as the proceeds from these transactions are received, we intend to reduce debt by $500 million and are evaluating plans to add up the two additional rigs in the Bakken during 2018."

Hess operated an average of four rigs in the Bakken in 3Q2017, drilling 24 wells and bringing 13 wells online. By comparison, the company operated an average of three rigs and brought 22 gross operated wells into production in the year-ago quarter.

COO Gregory Hill said Hess is continuing to test higher stage counts and proppant loadings in its sliding sleeve wells in the Bakken. It also has begun to test some plug-and-perforation completions, part of the company's strategy to maximize the value of its drilling spacing units.

To date, Hess has fractured 14 wells using 50 stages and 20 wells with 60 stages in the Bakken, “with proppant loadings of 140,000 pounds per stage," Hill said. "Eighteen of these high proppant wells are online, and although the wells are in the early stages of their type curve, results to date have been encouraging."

Net production, excluding Libya, totaled 299,000 boe/d in 3Q2017, a 4.8% decrease from the year-ago quarter (314,000 boe/d). The company said a reduced drilling program, natural field declines and the effects of hurricane-related downtime, among other issues, were responsible for the decline. Also in the Bakken, adverse weather caused net production to decline 8.8% year/year to 103,000 boe/d from 113,000 boe/d.

Specifically, Hill said Hurricane Harvey, coupled with third-party downtime in the Conger field in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), impacted GOM production by about 7,000 boe/d in the third quarter.

Hill said the company plans to temporarily deploy a third completion crew to the Bakken in the fourth quarter, in order to recover from the adverse weather it experienced in the third quarter. Net production should rebound in 4Q2017 to about 105,000-110,000 boe/d.

"On this basis, we continue to expect delivery of our full-year guidance in the Bakken of approximately 105,000 boe/d," Hill said. "Assuming the sale of our interests in Equatorial Guinea closes at the end of November, and the sale of Norway closes in December, our fourth quarter production will be reduced by approximately 14,000 boe/d.

"As a result of all these factors, our company fourth quarter production is now forecast to be 290,000-300,000 boe/d, excluding Libya."

According to CEO John Hess, the company has more than 500,000 net acres in the core of the Bakken with the capacity to grow production to about 175,000 boe/d.

That said, Rielly said the company doesn't intend to pursue any mergers or acquisitions in the Bakken. Management believes “our reshaped portfolio provides us with superior returns compared to other outside opportunities," he said.

Hess reported a net loss of $624 million (minus $2.02/share) in 3Q2017, compared with a net loss of $339 million (minus $1.12) in the year-ago quarter. The most recent quarter included a noncash charge for Norway of $550 million after-tax and a $280 million after-tax gain on an asset sale.

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