FRACTIONAL FLOW

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More on LTO Economics in the Bakken

The goal for any commercial company is to make as high as possible profit and returns on invested (employed) capital, primarily the owners’ capital, equity.

Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction from the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota had a new high of 1,17 Mbo/d in Apr-18 according to data published in Jun-18 by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC).

This article is an update of this (which has more details on specific costs to which there are small changes) and is a small expansion focused on profitability/financial metrics.

  • Scenarios were run there no wells were added as of Jan-19 (in the Bakken, Three Forks formations) with an initial flow above 1,2 Mbo/d to get estimates on NPV (DCF) and returns for the project and on equity (owners’ capital), ROE and ROI with a sustained oil price of $60/bo and what oil price would provide the project with a 7% return (ref table 1).
    All at the wellhead (WH).
    These runs had cut off end 2040.
    The objectives with such scenario analysis is to establish baselines from which it becomes possible to follow developments in several financial metrics, also adjusted for oil price movements.
    Applied to companies, it provides for benchmarking of companies’ management performances.
  • At $60/bo (and $2,50/Mcf for natural gas) the Bakken project would return about 4%.
  • A 7% return was obtained with a sustained oil price of $73/bo (and $3,00/Mcf).
    • The above estimates do not include costs for acreage, 800 Drilled UnCompleted (DUC) wells with an estimated total cost (employed capital) of $2,0B – $2,4B, any refracking (ref Marathon), flared gas and future costs for Plugging & Abandonment (P&A) for about 12 000 wells started as of Jan-09 to end 2018, estimated at a total cost of $1,8B – $2,4B and recognized write downs.
  • Including the items described above, the estimates show a full cycle return of 7% for the Bakken as one big LTO project would be achieved at a sustained future oil price at about $80/bo [$90/bo WTI].
  • One of the best and most reliable metrics for investors are NPV projections for Equity (Owners’ Capital).
    A NPV projection for equity that comes in at about 0 with a discount rate of 10% (the higher the better) is considered acceptable (reference also tables 1-5).
    This metric allows comparisions across sectors.
  • A run was done to estimate the effects from pushing back the time from where no wells were added with 5 years (from 2019 to 2024) while remaining close to cash flow neutral (all other things kept equal). This reduces the return for both the project and equity (owners’ capital).
    The discounted return on equity (owners’ capital) was lowered from 14% to 10% with $73/bo at WH.
    Alternatively a higher oil price is required to achieve some targeted return.
  • By applying financial leverage in the extractive industries, like oil extraction, it allows to extract the reserves faster (accelerate the depletion). In the Bakken the use of high financial leverage explains the rapid buildup in extraction levels.
    In this article financial leverage expresses the ratio of debt [inorganic funding] to equity [owners’ capital] used in a company’s investment.
    When financial leverage works, it boosts return (acts as a multiplier) on owners’ capital.
    If it does not work (what many companies painfully discovered after the oil price collapsed in 2014), leverage works fast in the opposite direction and destroys owners’ capital.

    • From companies’ SEC reports it was found that there is a huge span in their financial performances in the Bakken, one major big oil company has lost all their equity of $4+Billion [in the Bakken], one was found to have big negative retained earnings (accumulated deficit) of $2+Billion and then there are several companies on trajectories towards varying degrees of profitability.
  • The 3 years, 2015-2017 with the oil price under $50/bo left primarily the wells of the 2014 – 2016 vintages (ref also figure 2), suffering from the low oil price, and it is now projected these vintages could incur total losses (write downs) of $6B – $8B with a sustained oil price of $60/bo.
    These losses are and/or will be recognized on the companies balance sheets (equity, reduced owners’ capital) as the wells end their economic life and are Plugged & Abandoned (P&A).

    • Older vintages and future wells could fully or partially make up (cover) for these losses from their profits at a sustained oil price of $60/bo. A lasting oil price above $60/bo speeds the healing.
      Irrespective of a future higher oil price and how this probable loss is handled by the oil companies, the 2014 – 2016 vintages will for many years provide strong headwinds to the profitability for many companies in the Bakken.
      This is one of the many things that is hard (close to impossible) to identify from the companies’ SEC filings.

This post includes some estimates with some profitability metrics for the average 2017 vintage well for 2 price scenarios and how a company with solid finances and strong discipline can boost discounted return on equity.
This also illustrates why project NPVs, undiscounted cash flows, time to pay outs, ROE and ROI may be poor metrics when analyzing and ranking several projects and/or companies.
Short story, several metrics should be estimated and compared to get the best possible information about the prospects for financial profitability for any project/company.

Figure 1 Bakken annual NCF and Cumulative 2009 to Apr 2018

Figure 1: The chart above shows the estimated net cash flows by year [black columns]. The red area shows the estimated cumulative net cash flow since Jan-09 and per Apr-18. LOE, G&A and interest rates (effective, i.e. adjusted for tax effects) based on a weighted average from several companies’ SEC 10-K/Q filings. Taxes according to what was in force. Price of oil, monthly North Dakota Sweet (NDS) and realized gas price; the average from several companies’ quarterly reports.

NOTE; the chart in figure 1 shows an estimate (red area) on the development of total capital employed (equity and borrowed) (as from Jan-09 to Apr-18) that first needs to be recovered before profits can be made.

The payouts were reached late 2022 at $60/bo and late 2021 at $73/bo.

The chart does not give any indication about future profits or losses.

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A little on the Profitability of the Bakken(ND)

In the first part of this post I present an update on the profitability for Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction in the Bakken (ND) as one big project.

This is followed with economic life cycle analysis for the average LTO well of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages in the Bakken.

This analysis found that companies in aggregate continue to outspend net cash flows from operations and for 2017 this is now expected to total $2 – $3 Billion.

  • The strong growth and sustained high LTO extraction from the Bakken were facilitated by considerable amounts of debts. The growth in total debts outstanding (employed capital) continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace.
  • With oil prices sustained at present levels the total employed capital (primarily debt) constitutes severe obstacles for the profitability for the Bakken.
  • In a scenario where no wells were added post 2017 and the wellhead (at WH) price remained at $40/bo [~ $50/bo WTI] estimated losses for the project would be $20 – $22 Billion.
  • In a scenario where no wells were added post 2017 and the wellhead price remained at $60/bo [~ $70/bo WTI], the payout was reached after 7,5 years (in 2025) and the estimated return for the project becomes 3,5%.
  • With a sustained wellhead price at $74/bo [~ $84/bo WTI] post 2017, the payout was reached after 4,3 years (in 2022) and the estimated return becomes 7%.
    What makes the profitability for the Bakken challenging are the number of years front loaded with negative cash flows.
  • So far the recent years improvements in flow and Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) have not entirely caught up with the decline in and the sustained lower oil price.
  • For the average 2016 vintage well it was estimated that a sustained oil price of $53/bo at WH [~ $63/bo WTI] would return 7%.

    Figure 01: The chart above shows the estimated rolling 12 months totals [black columns] net cash flows. The red area shows the estimated cumulative net cash flow since Jan-09 and per Jul-17. LOE, G&A and interest rates (effective, i.e. adjusted for tax effects) based on a weighted average from several companies’ SEC 10-K/Q filings. Taxes according to what has been in force. Price of oil, North Dakota Sweet (NDS) and realized gas price as reported by several companies.

In the Bakken(ND) and since January 2009 and per July 2017 an estimated $100 Billion has been used for manufacturing operational LTO wells and at end July 2017 an estimated $35 Billion were outstanding to be recovered from the estimated remaining proven developed producing (PDP) reserves.

At the most CAPEX for well manufacturing in the Bakken out spent cash flow from operations at an annual rate of $9 Billion. For the Bakken there has been two distinct CAPEX cycles, the first in 2011/2012 while the oil price remained high, followed by another in 2015 after the collapse in the oil price.

The second cycle may have been rationalized by several factors like an expected rebound in the oil price, which OPEC (primarily its Middle East members) helped derail through their rapid increase in oil supplies starting in early 2015 in an (believed) effort to fight for market share. The second cycle may also have been rationalized by the incentive structure for management of LTO companies in which these were rewarded by volume growth over profitability.

Incurred costs for drilled, uncompleted wells (DUCs) and salt water disposal wells (SWDs) are not included. Directors cut for September 2017 listed 889 wells waiting for completion. Costs from any heavy and costly well maintenance/interventions are not included.

The DUCs represents $2,2 – $2,7 Billion in capital employed.

For the Bakken as one big project and the life cycle analysis the gross interest costs of 6% were reduced by 35% to reflect corporate tax effects.

Effects from hedges and from bankruptcy proceedings (debt restructuring) are not included.

Any arbitrage from the realized oil price adjusted for wellhead price, transport costs and any tax effects from this arbitrage are not included.

Some companies are now recirculating primarily borrowed money (at some interest) from the net operating cash flow and injecting additional capital  to continue the manufacturing of new wells.

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Written by Rune Likvern

Sunday, 8 October, 2017 at 19:26

Are the Light Tight Oil (LTO) Companies trying to outsmart Mother Nature with their Financial Balance Sheets?

In this post I present what I found from applying R/P (Reserves divided by [annual] Production) ratios for Light Tight Oil (LTO) for 3 big companies in Bakken/Three Forks/Sanish.

The companies are; Continental Resources, Oasis Petroleum and Whiting Petroleum, which operated 28% of total LTO extraction in the Bakken(ND) in December 2014.

  • Undertaking oil and gas reserves assessments are just as much an art as a science.

From previous work with LTO from Bakken I kept track of the R/P ratio for wells/portfolios and generally found it was in the range of 3 – 4 after their first year of flow. This suggested that 25 – 35% of the wells’ Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) was extracted in their first year of flow.

This made sense as extraction (production) from LTO wells are heavily front end loaded and have steep initial declines.

Examining some big Bakken companies SEC 10-K (SEC; Securities and Exchange Commission) filings for 2014 I noticed that these had R/P ratios for Proven Developed Reserves (PDP) that ranged from 7 – 9.

(Refer to the end of this post for more detailed explanations/definitions of PDP and PUD)

That did not make sense and R/P ratios give away powerful and very valuable information about likely future extraction trajectories.

About 50% of the companies’ total LTO extraction (flow) in Dec 2014 in Bakken (ND) were from wells started in 2014. In other words, the flow was dominated by “young” wells which decline rapidly. Therefore, whatever flow data (monthly, quarterly) that was annualized it should be expected a R/P ratio for total extraction around 4 for 2014.

What I present is how PDP, extraction data and R/P data derived from the 3 companies SEC 10-K statements compares to what was derived from actual data. Further, what actual data now is projecting for EUR for the average well for these companies.

Figure 1: The chart above shows developments in average well first year LTO totals (productivity) for some companies and by vintage. The colored columns for 2013 and 2015 show projected financial performance based on average well first year LTO totals. For 2013 the chart is based on: WTI at $98/b and a type well at $10M was found to have a 0% return with a total first year LTO flow at about  50 kb.  For 2015 the chart is based on: WTI at $60/b and a type well at $8M was found to have a 0% return with a total first year LTO flow at about 90 kb.  The chart illustrates that the well productivity has been on an upward trend. So far the productivity improvements and cost reductions have not fully compensated for the effects from a much lower oil price.  The profitability equation of the type well was solved for the equivalent total first year flow for various oil prices and costs on a point forward basis. A lower oil price makes the red columns “push” the other ones upwards (moves the profitability bands upwards). Wells of 2015 vintage (pre May) are on a trajectory close to those of the 2014 vintage. kb,  kilo barrels = 1,000 barrels

Figure 1: The chart above shows developments in average well first year LTO totals (productivity) for some companies and by vintage. The colored columns for 2013 and 2015 show projected financial performance based on average well first year LTO totals.
For 2013 the chart is based on: WTI at $98/b and a type well at $10M was found to have a 0% return with a total first year LTO flow at about 50 kb.
For 2015 the chart is based on: WTI at $60/b and a type well at $8M was found to have a 0% return with a total first year LTO flow at about 90 kb.
The chart illustrates that the well productivity has been on an upward trend. So far the productivity improvements and cost reductions have not fully compensated for the effects from a much lower oil price.
The profitability equation of the type well was solved for the equivalent total first year flow for various oil prices and costs on a point forward basis.
A lower oil price makes the red columns “push” the other ones upwards (moves the profitability bands upwards).
Wells of 2015 vintage (per May) are on a trajectory close to those of the 2014 vintage.
kb, kilo barrels = 1,000 barrels

LTO in Bakken will now generally work profitably with an oil price (WTI) above $80/b.

The willingness of several companies to sell more debt (obtain more credit), assets and equity to continue to manufacture LTO wells which estimates showed were not commercially viable have had many analysts puzzled.

Something was likely overlooked, and chances are that this is related to EUR driven incentives to expand assets/equity on the companies’ balance sheets (or “book to model”).

As companies drill wells and puts these in operation (production), it allows them to book reserves on the balance sheets. And reserves are the biggest portion of the LTO companies’ balance sheets.

The rush to use credit/debt to drill what likely would become unprofitable wells (applying project economics) with a lasting, low oil price appears driven by some perverse incentive to grow booked reserves to grow assets and thus equity on the companies’ balance sheets, overriding outlooks for poor profitability. High equity on the balance sheets allows for more debt.

Looking at actual, hard well data (from NDIC; North Dakota Industrial Commission) this strategy will at some point have to face up to the realities of physics and Nature. And physics and Nature do NOT negotiate.

  • Using actual data for LTO wells strongly suggests that the PDP (and thus PUD) estimates in companies’ SEC 10-K filings for 2014 are grossly inflated. If so, this has inflated the assets/equity numbers on the companies’ balance sheets.
  • The findings from this study suggest that the massive drilling activity funded by growing debt, was likely motivated by balance sheets expansions of assets, and thus the equity from inflated EUR numbers (“book to model”) which made room to take on more debt.
  • An inflated balance sheet that allows for a debt load above the carrying capacities of the real underlying collateral, will at some point in time turn against their creators and call for revisions of future plans and expectations.
  • It will be interesting to see how the LTO companies’ balance sheets and their profitability respond as it become Mother Nature’s turn with the bat.

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Written by Rune Likvern

Monday, 3 August, 2015 at 10:33

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