A Pioneer of Texas Shale

In Texas there is a pioneer investing in every major play it can to fuel growth: Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE: PXD  ) . The company has also been using different ways to save on well completion costs in plays like the Eagle Ford to maximize its capex budget.

Cost savings
Pioneer has several different ways to save on costs, and one is by changing the proppant it uses in the Eagle Ford. As of August 2013, 84 wells had been tested by using cheaper white-sand proppant versus ceramic proppant, which has saved Pioneer $1.1 million per well. Proppant is used to frack wells, and is a major cost in the process. So far wells stimulated with white-sand are seeing similar results to ceramic wells.

In 2013 Pioneer plans to use white-sand in 75% of its wells. White-sand was primarily used in the shallower areas of the play, but as Pioneer drills deeper wells it will need to test well results with each proppant.

Another plan Pioneer has is to increase the use of down spacing. Currently Pioneer uses 115-acre spacing, but it wants to test out 40-acre spacing. This would increase the amount of wells that can be drilled on the same amount of land and can increase the amount of recoverable oil. While management has said it will take several quarters to see the effects of this change, it could offer a promising catalyst in the future.

Pioneer has been utilizing pad drilling, which increases the amount of time needed to complete a well but saves Pioneer $600,000 to $700,000 as well. In 2012, 45% of Pioneer's wells were drilled on pads, which will hit between 70% and 80% by the end of 2013. 

Going forward Pioneer has several things to look forward to in regards to lower well costs. Pioneer can drill more wells on pads and use more white-sand to further reduce costs. Down spacing has the chance to boost its drilling inventory, and reduces the need to purchase more land, which gives it more cash to invest in boosting output.

Production growth
Management plans on drilling 130 wells in the Eagle Ford, which is the same as last year but is being done with just 10 rigs instead of 12. So far 68 wells have been completed and 72 are expected to be completed by the end of the year. This year management sees 36% to 50% production growth in the Eagle Ford over 2012.

Pioneer is also really focusing on growth in the Wolfcamp play. Right now seven rigs are up and drilling in Wolfcamp and Pioneer is going to increase that to 10 rigs in 2014. So far Pioneer is on track to complete 86 wells in the Wolfcamp play by the end of 2013, so in 2014 expect far more wells to be completed.  

Pioneer is guiding for production of 185,000-195,000 barrels per day by the fourth quarter, which would be up 20,000-30,000 bpd from Q4 last year. Pioneer for the past few quarters has beaten its own production estimates and should be able to hit the high range of its guidance due to many pad wells coming online in Q4 2013. 

The down spacing tests in the Eagle Ford, if as effective as they have been elsewhere, would boost Pioneer's drilling inventory and possibly increase the amount of recoverable oil.

2014 is when Pioneer is going to ramp up production through more rigs and pad wells coming online, and by the end of 2013 total production will have increased by 12%-18%.

Other Eagle Ford players
There are other players looking to make a fortune in the Eagle Ford, and one of them is Murphy Oil (NYSE: MUR  ) . Murphy is leaning very heavily on the Eagle Ford and attributes most of its earnings and production growth to the play. This is from its latest earnings call: "Production averaged 39,700 barrel of oil equivalent net in quarter 2, an increase of some 10,800 barrel of oil equivalent per day over quarter 1, with an oil waiting of 92%."

Murphy plans on ramping up production throughout 2013 and wants to focus on liquids-rich plays because of their higher margins.

As of Murphy's latest quarter they had drilled 308 wells in the play and 255 were online, which means many more wells are about to start producing.

Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO  ) is another player with its eyes on the Eagle Ford. Marathon produces roughly 80,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from the Eagle Ford, up 11% from the beginning of the year.

Management currently sees 3,000 possible locations to drill in the Eagle Ford, up from 1,200 previously. In December Marathon plans on giving investors an update on down spacing tests in the area, which could further increase drilling locations. The more locations Marathon can drill the longer the growth runway of Marathon's production.  

Both Murphy and Marathon need the Eagle Ford to grow oil output and grow their bottom lines.

Final thoughts
Pioneer is changing up its drilling style and is yielding great results. Well completion costs are being significantly lowered while drilling is increasing. Pioneer is worth a look due to higher margins and a larger top line, which is the perfect combination to propel profits upwards.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 09, 2013, at 2:31 PM, williestrange wrote:

    While Pioneer may be saving $1.1 million per well by changing the frac particles, how much are they now paying in stuck/failed pumps and all associated pulling costs over the course of say 3 years due to the heavy amount of "cheap" sand that's tearing up their downhole equipment?

    Sometimes in this business, what you save on the front end bites you on the back end.

    Don't be a fool.

    Pioneer is successful smart company, but don't start calculating how many wells they have by 1.1 million and assume you'll be good because of it.

    Find other reasons to go with Pioneer.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 12:32 PM, callumturcan wrote:

    So far Pioneer's management has said it is seeing similar results from white-sand versus ceramic so I would say that its huge cost savings is paying off. Management hasn't said any of its pumps are breaking so over the next 3 years investors will be greatly rewarded by the cost savings. Until management or someone else with physical access to the pumps says it is breaking, you are fine. Don't be a fool and predict the apocalypse without any proof. Pioneer is seeing strong production growth and lower well completion costs, a bullish combination.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2013, at 4:34 PM, williestrange wrote:

    Apocalypse?

    Proof?

    You a Pioneer lap dog, too?

    Ask someone else, other than Pioneer which frac proppant is peskier in pumping operations.

    There's a reason the other proppant costs more.

    As I alluded to before, lower well completion costs are good; but there are still production costs over the life of the well. Tell the whole story.

    Oh wait, you figured you'd bring up one note you heard someone say and decided to run with it.

    My original message was that Pioneer is a good company, but don't base your decisions on minimizing costs on the front-end without considering all ends to this multi-faceted industry.

    The production is what matters most, and their very good at getting production. Cost-savings are great, but slow down there a bit, hi-speed.

  • Report this Comment On October 11, 2013, at 4:37 PM, callumturcan wrote:

    Again you bring up no factual information, but I do agree that Pioneer is a good company.

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8/29/2014 4:05 PM
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