Encana Corporation delivered strong financial results and operational performance in the first quarter of 2012 despite further downward pressure on natural gas prices. Cash flow of $1.0 billion, or $1.39 per share, was up 6 percent from the first quarter of 2011 supported by the company's commodity price hedging program, which contributed $358 million in realized after-tax gains, or 49 cents per share. Operating earnings were $240 million, or 33 cents per share, up 10 percent year over year.
Increased liquids production from key resource plays
Encana is aggressively expanding its exploration and development of oil and natural gas liquids (NGLs) throughout the company's extensive North American asset base, increasing first quarter production 26 percent over the first quarter of 2011 to about 29,000 barrels per day (bbls/d).
"Over the past year, Encana's teams have been very successful in advancing multiple oil and liquids-rich natural gas plays towards commerciality. Our tremendous depth and breadth of experience, and focus on highly efficient development programs, have greatly accelerated the speed at which our teams have been able to transition operating expertise from natural gas to oil and natural gas liquids resource plays," said Randy Eresman, President & CEO of Encana Corporation.
Financial discipline fortifies balance sheet
Encana has fortified its balance sheet, building a cash position of approximately $2.4 billion as of the end of the first quarter 2012. This healthy financial position was created through an effective commodity hedging program, operational efficiencies, and recent dispositions and joint venture transactions, including:
Encana is currently targeting to have approximately $3 billion in cash and cash equivalents on its balance sheet by the end of 2012. This target will be reviewed throughout the year and is dependant on a number of factors including commodity prices, success of the company's oil and natural gas liquids program, and additional potential joint ventures or asset divestitures.
"We continue to seek and develop partnership opportunities for the exploration and development of oil and liquids-rich assets throughout our land base, and for dry natural gas plays that could be linked to liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects," Eresman said. "Our target is to maintain financial strength and flexibility by balancing capital investment with cash flow. By accelerating investment in prospective oil and liquids-rich natural gas plays we expect to diversify our commodity mix and sources of cash flow."
In well-delineated, low-cost, operationally efficient assets, the company uses third-party capital to accelerate value recognition while significantly reducing its capital requirements. In early-life plays these arrangements reduce Encana's capital risk and accelerate evaluation and potential commercialization of the assets. Additionally, third-party capital is often employed in more mature assets to maintain an activity level that preserves capital and operational efficiencies.
Commitment to reduced pace of natural gas production
Natural gas production was approximately 3.27 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), 2 percent higher than the first quarter of 2011 and 5 percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2011. Encana is targeting capacity reductions totalling approximately 600 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) gross before royalties compared to 2011. Half of this reduction is attributable to declining production through a reduced capital program and the other half is attributable to physical shut-ins or otherwise curtailed volumes. There is a current weakness in market fundamentals due to an oversupply of natural gas and it is clear that a continued reduction of drilling activity will be required to restore market balance.
Recent developments cause for optimism
Despite the current weakness in North American natural gas market fundamentals, recent industry developments and announcements related to the increased use of natural gas and potential future LNG export projects may also contribute to a price correction.
Over the past five to six months, lower natural gas prices have resulted in 7 Bcf/d of fuel switching from coal to natural gas for electrical generation in North America.
Encana and its partners continue to advance negotiations related to the planned Kitimat LNG export terminal with potential off-take customers and are expecting to reach a final investment decision by year-end.
"We continue to see cause for optimism for higher natural gas prices in the approval of natural gas exports and export facilities, coal plant retirements, increased industrial demand for ethane and other NGLs, and gas-to-liquids projects," Eresman said.
Emerging resource play updates
Exploration of Encana's oil and liquids-rich plays to date has shown encouraging initial results. A preliminary update is provided below, with more detailed information to be presented at the company's Investor Day in New York on June 21, 2012.
In the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, where the company has about 310,000 net acres straddling the Mississippi and Louisiana border, Encana currently has three wells on production. The Board of Education 01H was a well drilled by a previous operator and completed by Encana. The Weyerhaeuser 73H-1 well was drilled by Encana at a horizontal lateral length of approximately 5,000 feet with a 30-day initial production rate of 740 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd). The Horseshoe Hill 10H-1 was drilled to a lateral length of 5,300 feet and successfully completed with 18 stages, and had an initial 30-day production rate of 656 boepd. Two additional wells were drilled in the quarter with lateral lengths of 7,500 feet and 8,800 feet and are expected to be completed by the end of April.
In the Eaglebine play in East Texas where Encana holds a historical land position, the company controls more than 105,000 net acres. Encana drilled its first well in 2011, the Gresham 1H, with a horizontal lateral of 5,200 feet and an initial 30-day production rate of about 240 boepd. Five more wells were drilled and completed in the first quarter of 2012.
In Michigan, where Encana is targeting the combined Utica and Collingwood formations, the company holds about 430,000 net acres. Two horizontal wells drilled in 2011 have now been tied into sales with encouraging results. One well has a 7,500-foot horizontal lateral length and the second well has a 5,300-foot horizontal lateral length. Plant NGL recoveries from the two wells are expected to be in excess of 90 barrels (bbls) of NGLs per million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas production.
In the San Juan Basin, which is located largely in the northwest corner of New Mexico, Encana now controls 168,000 net acres targeting the oil-prone area of the Gallup formation. Encana has drilled three wells of a five-well horizontal drilling exploration program, and is now flow testing two wells. Test results are expected in the next few months.
In the Alberta Duvernay, where Encana holds about 370,000 net acres, the company has drilled and completed three horizontal wells with lateral lengths up to 6,300 feet. Encana has obtained core and reservoir data on each well and is encouraged by the results, which confirm initial expectations. Each of the wells tested has flowed significant condensate volumes with favourable condensate to gas ratios in line with other industry-announced results. Encana has two rigs drilling in the Duvernay.
Encana's risk management program continues to supplement revenue and stabilize cash flow
As of March 31, 2012, Encana has hedged approximately 2 Bcf/d, or approximately 65 percent of expected 2012 natural gas production at an average NYMEX price of $5.80 per Mcf. In addition, Encana has hedged approximately 505 MMcf/d of 2013 natural gas production at an average NYMEX price of $5.24 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf).
Quarterly dividend of 20 cents per share declared
Encana's Board of Directors has declared a quarterly dividend of 20 cents per share payable on June 29, 2012 to common shareholders of record as of June 15, 2012.
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