Marathon Oil Earnings Call Nuggets: Completion Design and Pilot Testing

Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE:MRO) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Completion Design

Ed Westlake – Credit Suisse: Just diving into a bit of the detail, and obviously, we can all download data from the Texas Railroad Commission, but one of the things that you’re doing is changing the completion design. I think you’re operating certain frac spreads with an improved completion design and seeing some good results. As you look overall in the first quarter, can you give us some color of, say, how many wells you completed were on the old design, how many on the new design, so that we can sort of gauge your progress on IP rates against what you’re doing in the wells, and if there’s any color on longer laterals as well, that would be helpful.

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Clarence P. Cazalot Jr. – Chairman, President and CEO: This is Clarence. I don’t have that kind of detail to give you today. We’ll certainly look at including some of that color as we put together our future investor presentations. But I think as you’ll recall when we look at the investor presentations we’ve been showing, we’ve got a couple of slides in there that show the progress that we’ve seen particularly in the sell-through East Longhorn and South Barnhart areas, comparing if you will sort of our original completion design to what we’ve seen of late, and of course, we’ve seen relative to the 30 day IP rates anywhere from a 33% to 75% improvement, and then we give greater detail by quarter in a sell-through where we show the improvement in the 30-day IPs, again where we’ve seen upwards of the 75% improvement. I think we’ll continue to show that kind of improvement with our first quarter results. And I also know, Ed, you’d had some questions about the state data perhaps not reflecting some of the higher rates that we’ve shown. We have to certainly look at and understand why the state data doesn’t show certainly the results we’re seeing, part of it we believe is that the data is reported on a lease level rather than a well level, but we certainly when we look at some of our more recent wells we’re seeing rates of anywhere from 2,000 BOE per day to 3,800 BOE per day, of which liquids, or oil I should say, ranging from 1,600 to 3,000 barrels a day. So really outstanding results reflective I think of the improvements we’re making in our completion methods, but we’ll look to provide some of that additional detail and color going forward.

Ed Westlake – Credit Suisse: Yeah, helpful color on those recent of 24 RIP. Could you just update us on the well cost as well that you’re running because I think service cost is still sort of little bit coming down?

Clarence P. Cazalot Jr. – Chairman, President and CEO: It is and I think we are targeting a drilling and completion cost here in the second quarter of about $7.6 million per well and we see that trending down by the fourth quarter to about $7.2 million. On top of that drilling and completion cost you have about $600,000 per well of facilities costs. So we are seeing continued reduction in our costs, but I think we’ve extracted pretty good efficiencies out of our operations as well as cost improvements from some of our vendors.

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Pilot Testing

Doug Leggate – Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Clarence, if I could maybe just follow-up on Ed’s question, over the last several quarters I guess we’ve had discussions backwards and forwards about not so much the completions but your operating philosophy as it relates to choke sizes and so on. And my understanding was that you were going to be experimenting with that somewhat. So I’m just wondering if you can provide us an update as to – for now you have decided to open these things up little more aggressively than the early days.

Clarence P. Cazalot Jr. – Chairman, President and CEO: Well again I think the choke management, Doug, is one of the outcomes that we will provide forward guidance on when we are through the pilot testing. The pilot testing as you know is both lateral spacing, vertical placement and certainly completion methods to include choke side. So, more detail to come on that but I would simply say that I think we continue, I’d say to remain a bit on the conservative side at this point of not opening these wells up and we continue to believe stress dependent permeability is an issue out here and we would rather constraint the early flow rates and enhanced recovery as opposed to opening the wells up and getting higher initial rates. So, again more detail to come on that. I think as we second half of the year we will provide guidance on the results of the pilot program and what it really means if you will in terms of the wells that we will drill, the resource and how we will best complete these wells…

Doug Leggate – Bank of America Merrill Lynch: My follow-up is some unrelated. I guess you reported the first Norwegian exploration results, I’m guessing that didn’t quite come in as you expected. My question is if Norway exploration doesn’t work, you got obviously a big organization in Norway, what is the prognosis for Norway as a core asset for Marathon going forward.

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Clarence P. Cazalot Jr. – Chairman, President and CEO: I think as you recognized we have said pretty clearly that 2013 will be the year that we begin to see the decline in our Norway producing assets. Again the asset has outperformed our expectations in the first quarter. We’ll continue to do what we can to maximize its recovery, but pretty clearly, it is going into and will be fine. Having said that, we continue to look for opportunities in and around Alvheim to extend the life of this asset and we’ll continue to do so. We are hopeful that the exploration we do here in the third quarter is successful and that will give us an additional future development in Norway. But as you recognize, this is an asset that generates very significant cash flow for us. It’s an asset that I think is pretty clearly misunderstood by the investment community. I continue to see it referred to as low margin barrels, they are not low margin either on earnings basis and certainly not on a cash flow basis and it’s a very high return asset. And so, I think it is an essential part of our portfolio today. There will be a point in time obviously when it reaches a certain level of production that we would look to divest of it and perhaps put in the hands of someone for whom it creates greater value, but at this point in time, Norway is a key producing asset and we believe it has upside.