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Hess: North Dakota ready once oil prices recover

Company said it needs to see oil prices closer to the $60 range for cash flow from Bakken shale.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Hess: North Dakota ready once oil prices recover
Hess Corp. sets target of around $60 per barrel for oil for a stronger production program from North Dakota. Photo by David Gaylor/Shutterstock

NEW YORK, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- The oil price recovery isn't quite strong enough to support a program targeting production growth from North Dakota, energy company Hess Corp. said

Hess last year set a 2016 spending target of between $2.9 billion and $3.1 billion. By January, the company revised its full-year guidance lower to $2.4 billion, 40 percent below 2015 spending levels.

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In July, the company said it was upbeat about the potential for growth in North Dakota, where exploration and production had shown some recovery. Speaking from the podium of an energy conference in New York, CEO John Hess said the market still wasn't ripe enough for a strengthened focus on operations in the state's Bakken shale oil reserve, however.

"We do not believe that it makes sense to accelerate near-term production in this low-price environment and drill up our best locations at the bottom of the cycle," he said in a transcript provided over email by the company.

Hess said the company has moved to cut its exploration and production budget considerably as the pressure from lower oil prices endures. In the Bakken, he said the company is nevertheless in a good position once the market recovers.

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"This is all from operating improvements and efficiency," he said.

The inventory in North Dakota is there to support a stronger portfolio, but the company does not want to "give the oil away" if oil hovers near the $40 range for West Texas Intermediate.

"As WTI prices approach $60 per barrel, we plan to increase activity which would allow us to both resume production growth and generate free cash flow from the Bakken," the CEO said.

The price for WTI, the U.S. benchmark price for crude oil, was around $45 per barrel early Monday.

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