Despite a more measured approach in the Utica Shale during the second quarter that kept production flat, Gulfport Energy Corp. said Thursday the changes it’s made in Ohio have the company poised for big gains in the coming months and maximum results in the years ahead.

Gulfport had progress to report during an earnings call on Thursday, after telling financial analysts in May that it would scale back its core Utica program in favor of a slower approach aimed at long-term growth (see Shale Daily, May 8).

At the time, executives said they would backpedal on drilling and completions by building an inventory of wells to maintain consistency and cut future costs for crews working to tie them in. The company also said it would employ a pressure management program on all of its Utica wells and address problems with its gathering system that held back production in the first quarter.

Second quarter year-over-year volumes increased to 26,725 boe/d, from 8,959 boe/d in 2Q2013. Sequential production was flat, though, dropping 1% from 27,087 boe/d in the first quarter.

Pressure management and incremental additions to its midstream and processing capacities, however, have the company forecasting 50% and 60% sequential growth for the third and fourth quarters.

This month alone, Gulfport said it produced 43,603 boe/d, and management remains confident that the company will achieve its full-year guidance of 37,000-42,000 boe/d .

“As we guided on in our first quarter conference call, this volume was relatively flat from first quarter production, which was primarily the result of 14 wells being taken offline for ongoing completion activities in the Utica,” CEO Michael Moore said. “While we have learned a substantial amount about the play, we continue to collect and analyze data to ensure that we develop the asset in a way that yields optimal near- and long-term results.”

Late last month, when Gulfport first reported its second quarter production (see Shale Daily, July 31), analysts were still skeptical about its tempered approach. Many expressed uncertainty about a production increase in the second half of this year.

“A steep ramp through third quarter production currently stands at [43,603] boe/d, which could relieve concerns for the third quarter, which is expected to average 40,000 boe/d,” wrote Wells Fargo Securities analysts in a note to clients on Thursday. “Execution on the second half ramp will drive shares in our view and value in the asset base if successful.”

The company drilled 24 gross Utica wells last quarter and used pressure management for all the wells it placed into sales there.

“I would have to say that we’re very encouraged by what we’re seeing to date, and this is exactly what we hoped — if not a little better than anticipated,” Moore told analysts. “This is really, as you know, about managing pressures. For example, some people were focused on seven day rates for some of the new wells, but rates are going to be different under this managed pressure program. It’s really about pressure versus ultimate volume and that’s what we’re trying to manage here.

As a rule of thumb, our engineers manage the wells at, or below, a pressure drop of 100 psi per week,” he added. “A well can see variation from this method early on. Initial indications from the data suggest that by managing the pressure early in a well’s life, we’ll be able to preserve the integrity of the reservoir and maximize the ultimate recoveries from the well.”

Initial seven-day sales rates from eight wells brought online in the Utica wet gas window last quarter averaged 2,392 boe/d, while seven-day rates on two wells brought online at the same time in the condensate window averaged 955 boe/d.

In addition to entering a letter of intent with Rice Energy Inc. last month to lay more gathering pipelines in Belmont County, OH, Gulfport said Thursday that it has executed binding agreements with the ET Rover pipeline, scheduled to start service in 4Q2016 (see Shale Daily, June 26), to ship natural gas for a term of 15 years beginning in 2016. Additionally, Gulfport said last month that it would begin shipping on the Rockies Express pipeline in 2015.

MarkWest Energy Partners LP is also working to optimize Gulfport’s gathering system in Ohio, where Gulfport expects additional processing capacity to come online in the fall.

Gulfport’s realized price for oil during the second quarter, excluding hedges, was $99.40/bbl, while it received 95% of the average New York Mercantile Exchange price for natural gas at $4.43/Mcf, which was less than the $4.80/Mcf it received in 2Q2013.

The company also said it added another 4,500 net acres in the Utica Shale, bringing its position there to 183,500 net acres. When asked by analysts it if had any plans for the Utica in West Virginia like several other operators (see Shale Daily, May 16), Moore said the company picked up acreage there with its recent acquisition, but he added that management is not ready to discuss plans for the state.

Gulfport reported net income of $48 million, or 56 cents/share in the second quarter, up from the $43.4 million, or 57 cents/share it reported in 2Q2013.