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Hess Plans to Add Two Rigs, Complete Study in Bakken in 2018

Hess Corp. reported increased production in the Bakken Shale, saying this week that it plans to deploy a fifth rig there in the third quarter, followed by a sixth rig in 4Q2018. The company also plans to complete a comprehensive study in the play this year to determine the best drilling methods moving forward.

But the New York-based Hess saw overall production decline and posted its 14th consecutive quarterly loss, which narrowed thanks to higher crude oil prices and lower operating and depreciation, depletion and amortization (DD&A) costs. It also accelerated its $1.5 billion share repurchase program.

On Wednesday, Hess said increased drilling activity and improved well performance helped boost net production in the Bakken to 111,000 boe/d in 1Q2018, a 12% increase from the year-ago quarter (99,000 boe/d) and above guidance of approximately 105,000 boe/d. Bakken production is expected to average 115,000 boe/d in 2Q2018, and range from 115,000-120,000 boe/d for the full year. Net production in the Bakken is expected to grow to 175,000 boe/d by 2021, assuming six rigs are deployed in the play.

Hess drilled 23 wells in the Bakken during the first quarter, and brought 13 new wells online in the play. The company expects to drill approximately 120 wells and bring 95 wells online in 2018. Hess has more than 500,000 net acres in the core of the Bakken.

Increased production in the Bakken wasn't enough to offset a 24.1% decline in overall net production. Excluding Libya, 1Q2018 net production was 233,000 boe/d, down from 307,000 boe/d in 1Q2017. The company attributed the decline to a combination of factors, namely prior-year asset sales, the ongoing shutdown of the Enchilada platform -- operated by Royal Dutch Shell plc -- in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM), and natural decline.

Hess expects net production, excluding Libya, to average 235,000-245,000 boe/d in 2Q2018, increasing to 265,000-275,000 in 4Q2018. Full-year net production guidance was unchanged at 245,000-255,000 boe/d.

Net production in the GOM declined 38%, from 66,000 boe/d in 1Q2017 to 41,000 boe/d in 1Q2018. Shell shut down Enchilada after a fire there last November. Although 15,000 boe/d of production remains shut-in at the Conger field, Hess expects production to resume there by the end of the third quarter. Hess owns a 37.5% stake in Conger and serves as operator, while Shell (37.5%) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (25%) hold the remaining interest.

Hess expects net GOM production to rebound to 45,000-50,000 boe/d in 2Q2018 and 65,000 boe/d in 4Q2018. The company left unchanged its full-year GOM production guidance of 50,000 boe/d.

During a call Wednesday to discuss first quarter earnings, COO Gregory Hill said initial results from its plug-and-perforation pilot program, which it launched last year, were "encouraging" and would be expanded -- completing 40 such wells and bringing 25 of them online in 2018.

"This new limited entry technique allows us to more than double the number of distinct entry points in a 10,000-foot lateral, while maintaining good fracture geometry control," Hill said. "It should result in a further increase in initial production rates, estimated ultimately recovery, and most importantly net present value."

Hill added that Hess would conduct a comprehensive study of the Bakken to determine optimum development methodology for each area of the basin. The study would be completed by 4Q2018.

"It's the right time to do the study in the Bakken because the Bakken is at an inflection point," Hill said. "We're adding rig count. We're potentially changing methodology on completion type. Given what plug-and-perf looks like it's coming into the mix, how do we think about our development methodologies for various parts of the field? What's that mean for the core? What's that mean for outside the core? What's that mean for well spacing?

"All of these factors are going to go into this study to really define, in the back half of the year, what is our revised development methodology going forward in the Bakken."

Hess launched an accelerated $500 million share repurchase this month, part of its overall $1.5 billion repurchase program. The accelerated buyback is expected to be completed in 2Q2018. Last month, the board of directors authorized the purchase of $1 billion of common stock by the end of 2018. The board authorized an additional $500 million in repurchases in late 2017.

Hess reported a net loss of $106 million (minus 38 cents/share) in 1Q2018, compared with a net loss of $324 million (minus $1.07) in 1Q2017. Revenue and nonoperating income totaled $1.39 billion in 1Q2018, up 10.8% from the year-ago quarter ($1.25 billion) and 7.8% higher sequentially ($1.29 billion).

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