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Whiting Looks to Ramp Up 4Q Production, Locks in Hedges for 2019

Whiting Petroleum Corp. said it plans to ramp up production in the fourth quarter in order to meet its production goal for the year, but isn't currently planning to add to its five-rig drilling program in 2019, as it continues developing assets it acquired last quarter that are "looking like a winner."

The Denver-based company, one of the largest oil producers in North Dakota's Bakken Shale but with some assets in Colorado's Denver-Julesburg (DJ) Basin, also looked to reduce its differential risk in 2019 by entering into crude oil hedges for 9.9 million bbl of production, and a rail marketing contract for 10,000 b/d that will lock in an average weighted price of $2.00/bbl off NYMEX.

Whiting said production averaged 128,680 boe/d in 3Q2018, up 12.5% from 3Q2017 (114,350 boe/d) and 2% sequentially (126,180 boe/d). Broken down by play, production averaged 106,835 boe/d in the Bakken and 21,240 boe/d in the DJ Basin.

In the third quarter, Whiting drilled 34 wells in the Williston Basin and put 45 wells from the play into production. But the company did not drill or turn any wells into production from its Redtail development program, which targets the A, B and C intervals of the Niobrara formation and the Codell/Fort Hays formations in the DJ.

During an earnings call Wednesday, CEO Brad Holly said Whiting has "economic wells to drill at Redtail," and is considering drilling there in 2019.

"The last wells that we drilled out there are performing very nicely," Holly said. "We're encouraged by what we're seeing there, and it's something that will compete in our portfolio. Our commitment is to put our dollars to work at the highest investment opportunities that we have, and we do have some attractive opportunities at Redtail. We'll be looking at how that mixes in with our North Dakota portfolio moving forward."

The company plans to exit 2018 producing at an average rate of 129,000 boe/d, a 9% increase over 2017 (118,120 boe/d). With Whiting averaging 127,310 boe/d through the first nine months of 2018, it will need a productive fourth quarter to reach that goal. It issued production guidance equating to roughly 132,600-137,000 boe/d for 4Q2018 and 128,800-129,900 boe/d for the year, based on a full-year capital budget of $750 million.

Holly said Whiting's acquisition of approximately 55,000 net acres in North Dakota in 2Q2018, aka the Foreman Butte area, "is looking like a winner." He said the company completed two wells in the Hidden Bench area, east of Foreman Butte, with its Generation 4.0 technique, resulting in average cumulative production per well of 100,000 boe/d in the first 90 days.

"This validates the potential of the acreage and, more importantly, our strategy to be a consolidator in the expanding core of the Bakken, which we call 'The Halo,'" Holly said. "We are excited to get after this property and have a rig scheduled to start drilling in the first quarter of 2019."

But Holly later added that the company is "pretty happy with a five-rig program."

"It's an efficiency game and it's a margin game for us," the CEO said. "We're truly focused on driving cost out of the equation and improving our margin, so we only look to add activity at the point in which we think we can do that at or below the margins that we're currently generating."

Whiting's crude oil hedges for 2019 include costless collars that have an average weighted Nymex floor price of $51.21 and an average weighted Nymex ceiling price of $77.14. The aforementioned rail marketing contract also covers 10,000 b/d through the end of 2018 at an average weighted price of $1.75 off Nymex.

Whiting reported net income of $121.4 million ($1.32/share) in 3Q2018, compared with a net loss of $286.4 million (minus $3.16) in the year-ago quarter. Operating revenues totaled $566.7 million in 3Q2018, compared with $324.2 million in 3Q2017.

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