Impressive 2018 Marcellus Growth Not So Impressive Because of DUCs?

Our lead story today is about Gulfport Energy which highlights some exciting news: This year (in 2018) Gulfport will fund their entire drilling budget out of the cash flow the company generates from selling gas/oil/NGLs (see Gulfport Energy Continues Focus on Utica for 2018, No Borrowing). Thing is, Gulfport isn’t the only Marcellus/Utica driller to advertise the fact that this year they are “living within their means” and not borrowing. Others include Range Resources, EQT and Antero Resources. Wow! We’re finally profitable!! Or are we? MDN spotted some analysis by a hedge fund manager. Writing on the Seeking Alpha investor’s website, Josh Young says (in our words) “hold on a minute” with respect to M-U drillers appearing to be able to grow production without borrowing. Why is Josh not convinced with this good news? Because when you dig deeper into the numbers, you find that “organic growth within cash flow is further from reach” because drillers are using DUCs to spend less on drilling, and grow production, than they otherwise would be. A DUC is a Drilled but UnCompleted well. Many times drillers will drill the initial hole in the ground, but then not “complete” (or frack) the well. Why do that? For a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is usually because the commodity price of gas (or oil, depending on the well) is not favorable. Rather than lose the lease (an expensive proposition), drillers will begin the process by drilling, and then leaving, the well, returning later to complete it when prices go up again. Josh’s thesis is that by using DUC inventory drillers aren’t really funding the entire budget from current year cash flow, because some of the money was spent in a previous year to drill the well. They are, in essence, still borrowing–from a different year. Josh estimates an average of 20% of the “new” wells coming online are DUCs and not truly new wells funded by current year dollars–meaning these companies aren’t as “profitable” as they may seem. Does he have a point? Is it all just financial mumbo jumbo? You decide…

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