Executives at Haynesville Shale-focused Comstock Resources Inc. said they expect 4-5% natural gas-weighted production growth in 2022.

The plan for the year is still focused around capital discipline, with the aim to pay down $479 million in debt so the “leverage ratio is at 1.5 or less. We think we can get there in the second half of 2022, and that does open discussions up on returning capital to shareholders,” CEO M. Jay Allison said Wednesday during a fourth quarter 2021 earnings call.

The company has set production guidance of 1,240-1,290 MMcfe/d for the first quarter and 1,390-1,450 MMcfe/d for 2022.

Production increased 12% in 4Q2021 to 1,348 MMcfe/d, 99% weighted to natural gas. The company saw realized natural gas prices of $5.22/Mcf during the quarter, compared to $2.40 in the same period in 2020.

Allison said the fundamentals of the natural gas market “have never been stronger, particularly in the footprint where we’re at, and the reason we say that is this demand now is on a global basis” with liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities “that are near our Haynesville-Bossier based footprint.” The Frisco, TX-based independent is now a Haynesville pure-play after exiting the Bakken Shale last year.

Allison said 2022 would be a “watershed year” and 2023 “should be incredible.”

The CEO expects the average lateral length of the company’s wells in 2022 to increase by 19% to average 10,484 feet.

The company currently plans to spend $750-800 million in 2022 on drilling and completion activities, compared to $628 million last year. It is set to run five to seven rigs. The program is expected to be funded entirely through operating cash flow, executives said.

The company is also looking to complete certification of its North Louisiana and East Texas natural gas production in the first half. It is partnering with MiQ to certify the gassy production.

Under the MiQ Standard, the nonprofit would assess and grade the methane emissions intensity, ensure enhanced monitoring technology deployment and verify operating practices. Responsible Energy Solutions LLC is acting as the third-party auditor.

Net income was $360 million in the fourth quarter ($1.53/share), compared to $82 million (34 cents) in the same period in 2020. Net income in the quarter included a pre-tax $469.8 million unrealized gain on hedging contracts and a $162.2 million loss on the sale of the company’s Bakken assets.

For full-year 2021, the company reported a loss of $241 million (minus $1.12/share) compared to a loss of $52 million (minus 39 cents) in 2020.