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After 2 flat quarters, Ohio shale oil and gas volumes tick up in Q3

After two quarters of flat production growth, Ohio's shale wells showed a 9% uptick in oil, gas and NGL volumes in the third quarter as Gulfport Energy Corp. returned to active drilling in the state and pint-sized Montage Resources Corp. punched above its weight, racking up a 48% volume gain over the same quarter of 2018.

Ohio producers reported 7.8 Bcfe/d of production in the third quarter, according to the latest data released Dec. 13 by the state Department of Natural Resources, a 12% increase over the third quarter of 2018 and 9% more than the second quarter of this year.

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The state's largest producer, private equity-backed Ascent Resources, reported double-digit percentage gains in production volumes both year over year and quarter over quarter but still a slowdown from its 2018 hectic pace when it nearly doubled production. Ascent has slowed its activity in the second half, dropping two of six rigs in the face of continued low prices. The private company is husbanding its cash, reporting to investors that it had net income of $130 million in the third quarter, compared to a small loss in 2018's third quarter, and burned only $4 million in negative cash flows out of the more than $1 billion in cash that moved through the company during the quarter. The driller will show positive cash flows soon, CEO Jeff Fisher said, pointing to the Dec. 16 reaffirmation of Ascent's $2 billion borrowing base by its syndicate of bankers as evidence of progress.

Ascent continues to split its activity between dry gas counties along the Ohio River, such as Jefferson, and more liquids-rich counties farther west, such as Harrison. Harrison and Jefferson counties showed the greatest volume growth year over year, according to state data. Natural gas liquids volumes are reported as either oil or natural gas in Ohio, which collects no data on NGL production.

Montage Resources, the smallest of the publicly traded Appalachian pure plays with a market capitalization of $242 million at the Dec. 16 opening bell, showed the fastest growth of any producer in the Utica quarter over quarter and year over year.

Stifel Nicolaus & Co. shale analyst Jane Trotsenko thinks that Montage will continue to push its drilling to target light condensate oil from the Marcellus Shale and dry gas from the Utica. Trotsenko also thinks that Montage is ripe to be picked up by a larger company. "While we have no knowledge of any M&A activity or discussion, we believe Montage Resources represents a compelling acquisition target, given its clean balance sheet, undedicated volumes, and cheap valuation," Trotsenko told clients Nov. 22.

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