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Resilient rig counts, MLP merger to drive ONEOK's 'NGL-centric strategy'

After weathering volatile second-quarter oil prices, ONEOK Inc. expects strong rig counts in North Dakota's Williston Basin and the Midcontinent to drive natural gas liquids growth transportation growth during the second half of 2017.

"Despite commodity price fluctuations ... drilling rigs have remained steady," Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer Kevin Burdick said Aug. 2 during an earnings conference call, citing the 135 wells connected in the Williston and in Oklahoma's SCOOP/STACK shale plays during the second quarter. "We expect to connect approximately 100 wells on our dedicated acreage in the Midcontinent in 2017 as our volume ramp is expected to be weighted more towards the second half of the year."

The pipeline company recently announced several expansion projects to accommodate increasing STACK production growth, including expansions of its Canadian Valley natural gas processing plant and the Midcontinent NGL gathering system and its Sterling III pipeline. The midstream NGL giant expects to complete both projects before the end of 2018, Burdick said.

President and CEO Terry Spencer noted during the call that the company is "even better positioned to execute our long-term growth strategy" through organic growth opportunities following ONEOK's merger with its master limited partnership ONEOK Partners LP, which closed at the end of June. Future M&A growth, he added, would have to fit with ONEOK's "NGL-centric strategy."

ONEOK on Aug. 1 reported $71.5 million of net income available to common shareholders for the second quarter, or 33 cents per share, compared to $85.9 million, or 40 cents per share, during the prior-year period. The S&P Capital IQ consensus normalized earnings estimate for the second quarter was 43 cents per share.

Distributable cash flow for the quarter was $330.1 million, compared to $345.4 million in the same quarter of 2016. The dividend coverage ratio was at 1.50x in the second quarter, down from 1.62x in the prior-year period.

ONEOK narrowed its adjusted EBITDA guidance to a range of $1.89 billion to $2.06 billion, compared with its previously announced range of $1.87 billion to $2.13 billion.