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Continental Boosts Lower 48 Spending, Raises Production Outlook

Continental Resources Inc. broke ranks with its fellow explorers and announced plans to raise capital spending to $2.6 billion in 2019, as it looks to grow its Lower 48 oil and gas production and generate enough cash flow to reach a goal of reducing its net debt to $5 billion.

The Oklahoma City-based independent expects to grow oil production 13-19% year/year (y/y) to 190,000-200,000 b/d, and natural gas production by 1-4% y/y to 790,000-810,000 Mcf/d.

Continental said 4Q2018 production averaged 324,001 boe/d, a 12.9% increase from the year-ago quarter and up 9.1% sequentially. Full-year production averaged 298,190 boe/d in 2018, up 22.9% from 2017.

The $2.6 billion in capital expenditures (capex) includes $2.2 billion for drilling and completion (D&C) costs. The company plans to allocate $1.1 billion to the Midcontinent and $1.06 billion to the Bakken Shale. An additional $435 million would go toward leasehold, facilities and other costs. By comparison, Continental announced plans to spend $2.3 billion in capital, including $2 billion on D&C costs, in 2018 last year.

This year’s capex plan is projected to generate about $3 billion in cash flow from operations and $500-600 million of free cash flow, assuming a West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price of $55/bbl and a Henry Hub price of $3/Mcf. Cash flows at that level would permit the company to reduce its net debt to $5 billion.

"In 2019, Continental will deliver enhanced capital efficiency with greater oil-weighted production growth coupled with a lower capital spend," said CEO Harold Hamm.

Continental plans to operate an average of 25 rigs in 2019, with six deployed in the Bakken and the remainder in the Midcontinent. About 12 of the Midcontinent rigs are to focus on Project SpringBoard, the company's multi-year program to develop its oil and liquids-rich assets in Oklahoma's many stacked reservoirs.

By comparison, the company had 31 rigs running at the end of 2018 and averaged 24 rigs during 2018. It expects to average nine completion crews during 2019, with four in the Bakken and five in the Midcontinent.

About 207 net operated wells are expected to be completed and turned online this year, with in the Bakken and 100 in the Midcontinent. Continental expects to exit 2019 with a backlog of about 115 gross operated Bakken wells, compared to 137 that were awaiting completion at the end of 2018. The 2019 year-end exit total includes 45 gross wells projected to be completed but waiting on first sales.

The 4Q2018 and full-year results are scheduled to be issued on Monday (Feb. 18).

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