EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) was on a mission during the oil market downturn to exit in better shape than it entered. That was a tall order, given the company was already in excellent condition. However, as its fourth-quarter results prove, the EOG Resources' mission was a success. Here are three numbers to prove that point.

Fourth-quarter U.S. oil output: 306,000 barrels per day

Heading into the quarter, EOG Resources expected that its U.S. operations would produce between 290,000 and 300,000 barrels of oil per day. However, thanks to extraordinary operational success, it exceeded the high end of that guidance range by 6,000 barrels per day. That pushed its full-year companywide oil average up to 282,500 barrels per day. While that was slightly below 2015's average of 284,400 barrels per day, EOG achieved that output despite spending 42% less on capex. Furthermore, full-year output was also above the high end of its guidance of 278,500 to 282,100 barrels per day.

A close up photo of an oil well silhouette with a beautiful sunrise above the distant horizon.

Image source: Getty Images.

One of the drivers of last quarter's expectation-beating output was the company's world-class position in the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian. The company completed several wells during the quarter that delivered excellent initial production rates by further optimizing its proprietary well-targeting methods. In addition to that, the company completed several wells last quarter across its portfolio that it had drilled prior to 2016 but had not completed due to low oil prices. Many of these wells delivered excellent initial production rates due in part to advances in well-completion technology over the past year.

Total operating costs down 15% year over year

Not only did EOG Resources achieve remarkable capital efficiency gains last year, but its operating expenses dropped sharply. Lease and well expenses, for example, were down 20% year over year on a per-unit basis while transportation expenses fell 8%, also on a per-unit basis. Overall, operating expenses were down 15% to $10.55 per barrel of oil equivalent, which was below its full-year target.

Because costs came under budget and production trounced expectations, EOG Resources' earnings in the fourth-quarter came in $0.13 per share ahead of the consensus estimate. Meanwhile, discretionary cash flow jumped 52.5% to more than $1 billion during the quarter on just an 18.5% year-over-year improvement in EOG's average realized oil price.

A drilling rig in a field.

Image source: Pioneer Natural Resources, Sands Weems.

Targeting 18% U.S. oil growth in 2017

With its productivity rising and costs contained, EOG Resources is a well-oiled machine that expects to start growing again in 2017. The company currently plans to boost spending from $2.7 billion last year up to a range of $3.7 billion to $4.1 billion in 2017. That capital should enable the company to complete 480 wells this year, which it expects will fuel an 18% increase in oil output compared to last year. Furthermore, the company can fully fund that growth and its current dividend within cash flow at $50 oil.

That's a faster growth rate than many of its similarly sized rivals. Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN), for example, sees its oil output growing 13% to 17% from its 2016 exit rate of 244,000 barrels per day to its 2017 exit rate. That growth rate implies that Devon Energy's oil growth rate versus its 2016 average will be even lower. Meanwhile, Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD) sees its companywide output growing 15% to 18% this year off a base of 234,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. While Pioneer Natural Resources does expect its oil production to grow by a faster rate of 24% to 28% this year, it's off a much smaller base than EOG's oil output.  

One other thing that is noteworthy about EOG's plan is that it represents a higher growth rate than the company's long-term forecast of 15% compound annual oil output growth through 2020 at flat $50 oil. One reason for the faster growth rate this year is that the company expects that well costs will remain flat to slightly lower than last year. That said, equipment and service prices will likely rise in 2018 and beyond as more of its peers go back to growth mode.

Investor takeaway

EOG Resources has clearly turned the corner. The company's drilling operations are outpacing expectations, and its costs have fallen sharply. Because of that, EOG plans to start growing again this year as long as crude is more than $50 a barrel, which is a remarkable feat for a company that once relied on much higher oil prices to fuel growth.