Chesapeake Energy Corp. said Wednesday it is making progress on debt reduction measures nearly three months after warning that low commodity prices could push the company into bankruptcy.
The news lifted Chesapeake shares by roughly 10% to 56 cents each at midday. A series of financial measures announced last month helped to cut overall principal debt outstanding to $8.9 billion from $9.7 billion at the end of 3Q2019.
Challenges remain. The company said $300 million of debt will mature this year, and it is working to regain compliance following a delisting notice from the New York Stock Exchange. In December, Chesapeake was given six months to increase the share price above $1.00. The company said last month it would regain compliance with listing standards by executing a 2020 operating program that includes a 30% year/year cut in capital expenditures, asset sales and possibly a reverse stock split, which would require shareholder approval at the next annual meeting in May.
“We remain committed to achieving further meaningful debt reduction through asset sales, capital markets transactions and cost discipline,” CEO Doug Lawler said Wednesday.
The company has shifted its focus to oilier plays in the Eagle Ford Shale and Powder River Basin (PRB).
Chesapeake estimated that 4Q2019 oil production will range from 125,000-126,000 b/d, or 6% higher than in the year-ago period. Overall, fourth quarter production is expected to be flat sequentially at 476,000-478,000 boe/d. Chesapeake produced 464,000 boe/d in 4Q2018.
“We delivered strong cash flow during the quarter on lower costs and higher oil volumes,” Lawler said. “Natural gas and natural gas liquids volumes were sequentially lower due to our decisions to direct capital to the highest-margin opportunities in our portfolio, enhancing our profitability.”
Management said average well costs per lateral foot declined by 9% year/year, which saved an estimated $54 million. The company last year also dropped completion crews and rigs in the Haynesville Shale and Midcontinent. Gathering, processing and transportation, as well as general and administrative expenses, also were cut by $335 million in 2019.
Chesapeake also said production from the Brazos Valley area of Central Texas within the Upper Eagle Ford and Austin Chalk formation reached a record 56,000 boe/d. The Brazos Valley assets were acquired early last year. The Eagle Ford assets in South Texas continued driving overall results in the fourth quarter, when production averaged 104,000 boe/d, up from a low point of 94,000 boe/d in the third quarter because of the timing of last year’s development plan.
“Capital efficiencies and wider spacing continue to deliver strong results” in the Marcellus Shale, management said, adding that production reached a record 2.67 Bcf/d in November.
In the PRB, meanwhile, the company averaged 21,000 b/d of fourth quarter oil production after recovering from some unspecified operational challenges in 3Q2019, when volumes were 20,000 b/d.