Economics for a Typical Utica Completion in Ohio

CEO Frank Tsuru of Houston-based M3Midstream is investing over $1B across Eastern Ohio in a rush to get into the Utica ballgame. His enthusiasm is generated by the incredible profit margins which his company projects for Utica operators. He claims that based upon well results to date, producers will achieve an internal rate of return of 91% over the life of the well(s). Incredibly, he claims that dwarfs even “the next-best shale play, the Eagle Ford in south Texas”. Producers there, according to Mr. Tsuru, have an average rate of return of about 60%. These numbers all obviously tower over those of dry gas shale plays, including the Haynesville, currently returning only 4% internally, and an area with little to no drilling activity.

Now that we have established some basic parameters regarding completion cost and production figures, we can comment intelligently about the economics of a typical Utica completion in Ohio. For the purposes of our analysis, we will have to establish the following two assumptions: 1) well cost of about $6.5 M each (from CHK stockholder reports), and 2) sustained production of 750 boe per day on average (a quite conservative figure, one that allows some consideration towards expected decline curves).

Without a lesson in detailed accounting, including that specific to the industry, let us evaluate the value of a typical completion. One way is to determine the value of a figure known as PV-10% per well. This is a term specific to the industry which reflects the NPV (net present value) of an asset or activity after discounting expected cash flows (before taxes or interest) by 10% per year. This is one manner in which the SEC allows exploration companies to disclose the estimated value of their reserves as of a particular stated date. Alternatively, it may be used to determine the effective ROI (return on investment).

Let us analyze comments made by Cimarex Energy to their investors during a July 12, 2012 presentation. They were reporting on two recent Bone Springs (Permian Basin) completions which they described as having the highest rate of return of any assets in the entire company’s portfolio, claiming the results compare favorably to the Bakken and Eagle Ford, once drilling costs are taken into effect. Based upon this analysis, they are reportedly aggressively adding to their acreage position there. 

The two wells analyzed during their presentation produced at 600 boe/d (at a cost of $6.5 M to drill) and 850 boe/d (at a cost of $7.5-$8.0 M to drill) respectively. If our figures regarding assumptions for completion costs and average production rates are reasonably accurate, it is clear that our economics would be even more impressive. Perhaps 125% superior or more, depending. These wells did have a large percentage of production labeled as “oil” but no details regarding specific production mixes.

During the same presentation, Cimarex also reported on two recent Wolfcamp Shale completions. At a cost to drill of about $8-$8.5 M and production of 250 bbl/day oil and 340 bbl/day NGL’s (apparently averaged between the two wells), their completions translated into a roughly 20-30% after-tax rate of return, a figure management seemed quite proud of. Again, our average Utica completion will certainly meet or exceed these figures, especially after adjusting for difference in production (higher) and drilling costs (lower). The production mix reported to be 47% gas, 23% oil, and 30 NGL’s should also be comparable, and not require us to make complex adjustments in comparing the two prospects. 

Conclusion? If Cimarex considers these to be the highlights of their entire portfolio, they would be damn proud to be possessing Utica holdings. Believe me, their expectations regarding return on investment and as to stockholder profits are similar to every other participant in the industry. No wonder 7 of the top 9 largest E&P companies are already represented here. You can be assured they are all quite aware of recent ODNR estimates showing Utica potential of as much as 5.5 B bbl oil and up to 15.7 tcf of natural gas (assuming a 5% recovery factor). An Energy Analysts International, Inc. associate was quoted by Business First on 9/14/12 as having predicted the Utica to become the third-largest continental production formation, potentially pumping as many as 500,000 boe/day, a figure equating to 1% of total recoverable US resources. Note: the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) released a report dated 10/9/12 which estimated “recoverable” Utica reserves to be in excess of 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and over a billion barrels of undiscovered oil. As per Keith Kohl, chief pundit for Energy and Capital, “this figure is likely low-balling the true amount of potential barrels in the play”.

Crunching Numbers for Gulfport’s Wagner 1-28H (Harrison County)

In 2013 Gulfport Energy  hit what was at that times being praised as the most prolific Utica completion to date. Their Wagner 1-28H in Harrison County was labeled by industry pundits as the “alpha dog” of the entire play , with production exceeding that even of CHK’s Buell well. The fact that both are in Harrison County speaks volumes as to the geology there.   As per their recent earnings call to stockholders, “the Wagner 1-28H was recently brought online from its resting period and tested at a gross peak rate of 17.1 MMCF per day of natural gas and 432 barrels of condensate per day. Based upon composition analysis, the gas being produced is 1,214 BTU rich gas. Assuming full ethane recovery, the composition is expected to produce an additional 110 bbls of NGL’s per MMCF of natural gas and result in a natural gas shrink of 18%”.

Translation? Let’s give it a try. First, the reference to the BTU being high (at 1,214) and being described as being “rich” are indicators that the production is liquid rich. Second, the reference to a “natural gas shrink” means that, through processing, they can convert much of the dry gas into LNG’s but at an 18% conversion loss. The amount of production reported as being gas (17.1MMCF) will be converted at an 82% rate vs. normal conversion into liquids. The trade for losing 18% of the gas production (a net 3.078 MMCF loss) is a gain of 110 bbls liquids for every MMCF sacrificed. In numerical terms, the 3.078 MMCF lost is valued at about $3/MCF for a total of $9.234 sacrificed daily. The reward is 110 bbls liquid production from every million cubic feet of that 17.1 MMCF of gas, a net of 181 barrels. Consequently, gas production (17.1 MMCF) x value per bbl of liquid production ($110) = 1881 barrels of liquids (valued at about $35 per barrel), a trade resulting in over $65,000 in additional net income daily.

We must now attempt to value the percentage of production which is dry but still of value. Using a conversion factor of 6000 CF/boe, we can do just that. Remember, the gas production must first be discounted by 18% due to the loss converting some of it to LNG. Total gas production (17.1 MMCF) less 18%, is now 14.022 MMCF. Divide by 6000 as per the formula, and you have 14,022,000/6000 for a total of 2337 boe.

Add the production reported as being “condensate” which is 432 bbls/d to the LNG production (post shrinkage) which is 1881 bbls/d to the 2337 bbls/d assigned to what had previously been described as “natural gas” and you are looking at total production of 4650 bbls of oil equivalent per day. A rough value of the production would be about $100,000 per day, based upon its comparison to an analysis made by West Virginia Professor Tim Carr in relation to Gulfport’s Stutzman well in Belmont County (4060 boe with similar BTU’s and liquid content). At that rate, payout to the driller occurs in only 70 days. Remember, these wells will decline steadily over time, so the $100,000 per day figure is not perpetual, but it is still impressive to recoup a $7M investment in such a short time period. Gulfport is using longer laterals and more fracking stages than competitors, incurring an additional half million dollars or so per well.

Gulfort’s Shugart 2-1H Well (Belmont County)

If you think Gulfport is proud of their Wagner well, they must be positively giddy about their most recent completion. Anything close to what was reported by on 10/9/12 would almost certainly be the best well drilled in the continental US this calendar year, and perhaps one of the best ever, period. Their Shugart 1-1H well in Belmont County reportedly tested at a peak rate of 20 MMCF per day of natural gas, 144 bbls of condensate per day, and 2002 bbls of LNG per day. Assuming full ethane recovery and a natural gas shrink of 17%, net production was calculated at an incredible 4,913 BOE daily. Even more mind blowing was their 11/27/12 announcement, that their new Shugart 1-12H Well had an initial production rate of 7,482 boe daily, a figure unheard of in the industry!! Keep an eye on this one for sure.  Gulfport plans to drill 50 new wells in Ohio during 2013.  

That news was followed by a January 23 announcement regarding their first 2013 completions. They seemed proud, rightfully so, to announce the fourth biggest producer thus far their Stutzman well in Somerset Twp, Belmont County, which reportedly was producing 4060 bbls of oil equivalent, including 21 Mmcf of natural gas and 945 bbls per day liquids (presumably condensate). Their Clay well in Freeport Twp, Harrison County was impressive in its own right, coming in at 2,226 boe daily to rank eighth thus far. Gulfport is dominating the production numbers and it is no surprise that they have plans to drill 50 new Utica wells in Ohio during 2013.

Anyone who has been keeping up with this play knows that competitors, including Antero and Rice Energy have completed wells with production exceeding that of the Gulfport completions mentioned here.   However, they were reportedly almost exclusively dry gas, although high quality with a BTU content of just over 1050.  Production has been described as being “pipeline quality”.


Almost all my blogs are original in nature (unless otherwise cited) and have reliable bibliographies to accompany each.

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Comment by Paul Martinelli on June 9, 2014 at 8:37am

THANKS....great Analysis.

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