Range Resources Corp.’s management team on Tuesday brushed aside questions about whether they’ve discussed the possibility of Pioneer Natural Resources Co. acquiring the company after reports surfaced last week. 

CEO Jeff Ventura told analysts during a call to discuss year-end financial results Tuesday that a statement Pioneer issued downplaying the reports was “good news” for Range. He added that Range is “in a great position where we don’t need to pursue any sort of” merger or acquisition. Management said little more about whether conversations with Pioneer, one of the nation’s largest independent oil producers, had actually taken place. 

Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources, first reported that Pioneer was considering acquiring the Appalachian pure-play and heavyweight. Pioneer released a statement shortly after the report saying it “is not contemplating a significant business combination or other acquisition transaction.”

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Ventura said Tuesday that 2022 was one of the best in Range’s history as it was able to capitalize on a sharp spike in commodity prices. As natural gas prices have fallen off steeply since then, he noted the company is well positioned to weather the current environment. 

He said the company is well hedged with breakevens of well below $2/Mcf across a wide-ranging position that spans Pennsylvania. Efficiencies gained through the second half of 2022 are also expected to build the company’s in-process well inventory and give it more optionality in 2024 and 2025 if prices firm. 

COO Dennis Degner said this year’s activity would be weighted more toward the company’s liquids-rich acreage in Southwest Pennsylvania compared to last year. He said two-thirds of the lateral footage turned to sales in 2023 would be in wet and super-rich areas as dry gas prices have plummeted by double digits since the beginning of the year. 

Range once again plans to pursue a maintenance program and keep production levels flat this year. The company produced 2.1 Bcfe/d in 2022 and guided for the same level of production this year. Fourth quarter production was 2.2 Bcfe/d and flat from the year-ago period. 

Capital expenditures are forecast to increase, however, as the industry continues to grapple with inflation. Range said it expects to spend $570-615 million this year, up from $492 million in 2022, to achieve the same levels of production.

While Degner said the natural gas outlook appears grim now with maintenance levels continuing, rigs falling off and prices dropping, “we think that bodes well for the go-forward outlook for natural gas.”

He added that Freeport LNG’s return to commercial service and additional U.S. liquefied natural gas export projects slated to come online beginning in 2024 is also constructive. 

Propane is also still being exported at record levels, “which is really encouraging,” Degner said. 

“And of course, we’re all watching the reopening of China take place, and we know that that will turn into the further support of reducing stock levels and continuing to support a back-half-of-the-year constructive outlook for further” natural gas liquids price improvements.

Range’s average prices, including derivative settlements and transportation costs, increased by 65% year/year in 2022 to $3.17/Mcfe. Revenue jumped sharply over the same timeframe by 42% to $4.1 billion. 

That aided a goal set forth in 2021 to cut debt by $2 billion by the end of this year. Ventura said the company has met 90% of that target. Net debt stood at $1.87 billion at the end of last year. 

Range reported fourth quarter net income of $814.2 million ($3.38/share), compared to net income of $891.4 million in 4Q2021. For the full year, profits were $1.2 billion ($4.79), up from $411.7 million ($1.65) in 2021.