Improved prices, along with increased ownership of drilling targets in northern Alberta and British Columbia (BC), should help natural gas production to climb by 18% year/year in 2022, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. said Tuesday.

The Calgary exploration and production (E&P) company announced its 2022 budget with a natural gas target of 1.98-2 Bcf/d from 1.69 Bcf/d in 2021. Planned capital spending is set to increase by 25% to C$4.34 billion ($3.47 billion) from C$3.48 billion ($2.78 billion).

Gas prices are expected to keep 2021 gains. 

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The E&P is forecasting Canada gas prices this year should average C$3.25/gigajoule at the AECO Hub, with U.S. gas averaging $3.00/MMBtu at the Henry Hub.

Canadian Natural has already scored production gains this year to date of 136 MMcf of gas and 5,600 bbl of natural gas liquids after completing a C$960 million ($768 million) takeover of Storm Resources Ltd.

The Storm acquisition also included 170 square miles of drilling rights in the Montney Shale, Canada’s top shale gas and liquids production development area. The Montney straddles northeastern BC and northwestern Alberta.

Alberta oilsands production is expected to be steady this year at 690,000-715,000 b/d, the E&P said. Pant maintenance and improvements also set the stage for growth in later years.

After strong oil and gas prices enabled a 34% corporate debt cut to C$14 billion ($11.2 billion) in 2021, shareholder returns are planned. Promised total dividends and share buybacks for 2021 plus 2022 exceed C$10 billion ($8 billion).