Whiting Petroleum Corp. said it is taking advantage of resurgent oil prices to pay down its debt and is on-target with capital expenditures (capex) for the year, despite spending more than it planned on nonoperated expenses during the first quarter.

The Denver-based independent, primarily focused on the Williston and Denver-Julesburg (DJ) basins, reported spending $219 million on capex in 1Q2019, including $18 million for nonoperated drilling and completions, $2 million for land and $7 million for facilities.

Whiting’s plan to spend $800-840 million on capex in 2019, including $702 million on development, is unchanged from March. So, too, are the company’s plans to drill 132 wells, complete 154 wells and place 146 wells into production in 2019, and to grow total operated production in the Williston by 11% and oil production 15% year/year. Full-year production is expected to average 129,000 boe/d.

“We have certainly enjoyed the uptick in price,” CEO Brad Holly said during an earnings call last week. “We’re still really adamant about our program to take every free cash flow dollar we can to pay down our debt…and we continue to look for high- inventory, high-quality Tier 1 inventory that would compete today in our portfolio.

“We really like the 11% growth this year overall in volumes in the Williston and even 15% on the oil side. We believe our future portfolio in the near term gives us the opportunity to have those growth rates while also throwing off substantial free cash flow. Our plan forward is to keep that running.”

Whiting’s liabilities totaled $3.55 billion in 1Q2019, compared to $3.49 billion in 4Q2018. The company said it has generated $356 million in free cash flow since 4Q2017.

When asked about investor concerns over higher capex in 1Q2019, Holly insisted that the company was on budget. “This is where we thought we would be,” the CEO said. “We had expected to spend more money in the first and second quarters, so the $220 million is right where we thought it would be. And we are committed to the $820 million long-term.

“We did spend more nonoperated than we had anticipated, but that’s for us to manage inside of our portfolio. We’re taking a critical eye of every nonoperated proposal. Our commitment is to put our money to work in the highest investment options that we have.”

Holly added that the company isn’t currently looking to unload any of its assets. Whiting holds nearly 470,000 net acres in Montana and North Dakota in the Williston and more than 87,000 net acres in Colorado in the DJ.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the results in the fringe areas; we’re seeing core-like results in areas that were non-core,” Holly said. “We’re still learning a lot about the [Williston] Basin, and we feel like our acreage holds tremendous opportunities in the right hands to develop it.”

Whiting said production averaged 128,670 boe/d in 1Q2019, up 1.3% from the year-ago quarter but down 1% sequentially. The product mix for the quarter was 65% oil and 17% natural gas liquids. Williston production increased 9.8% from the year-ago quarter and 2% sequentially to average 113,215 boe/d in 1Q2019.

But production from the company’s Redtail development program, which targets the A, B and C intervals of the Niobrara formation and the Codell/Fort Hays formations in the DJ, averaged 14,925 boe/d, down 36% from the year-ago quarter and down 16% sequentially. The company attributed the decline from 4Q2018 to wellhead freeze offs associated with severe winter weather.

During the first quarter in the Williston, Whiting drilled 34 wells, completed 27 wells and placed 11 wells into production. The company is currently running five rigs and three completion crews. Of those, two rigs and one crew are deployed in the northern part of the Williston, while two rigs and one crew are working the eastern Williston and one rig and one crew are in the southern Williston.

Whiting reported a net loss of $68.9 million (minus 76 cents/share) in 1Q2019, compared to net income of $15 million (16 cents) in the year-ago quarter. Operating revenues totaled $389.5 million in 1Q2019, down from $515.1 million in 1Q2018.