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PennWest Energy Trust (NYSE:PWE)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

May 5, 2010 12:00 pm ET

Executives

William Andrew – Chief Executive Officer

Murray Nunns – President, Chief Operating Officer

Analysts

Andrew Fairbanks – Bank of America

Jonathan Fleming – Cormark Securities

Greg Shaw – TD Securities

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

[Jason Frue – Credit Suisse]

Gordon Tate – BMO Capital Markets

Operator

Welcome to the PennWest Energy Trust’s first quarter conference call and webcast. I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. William Andrew, CEO of PennWest Energy.

William Andrew

Good morning to everyone out there this morning from a very wintery Calgary. We’re paying the price this morning for what’s usually the advantage of living so close to the Rocky Mountains.

Welcome to PennWest’s 2010 first quarter financial and operating results conference call. With me this morning in Calgary, is our President and Chief Operating Officer Murray Nunns, and our Chief Financial Officer Todd Takeyasu. As well, we’ve got other members of our senior management team around the table.

PennWest Trust units are traded both on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol PWE and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol PWT.UN. All references during this conference call are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise indicated and all conversions of natural gas and barrels of oil equivalent are done on a six to one conversion ratio.

Today, we’re pleased to report our operational results for the first quarter of 2010, and before I hand the call over to Murray for a much more detailed review of the quarter as well as some discussion, I just wanted to take a few minutes and sort of set the table for Murray a little bit on what I perceive as some of the highlights.

Firstly, something we want to make very clear is that our focus over the past five years with PennWest is becoming a lead oil for light oil production development and exploration in Canada and indeed, in North America. From a strategic point of view, this involved two large oil weighted corporate acquisitions, consolidation in key areas and the adaptation of the technology that really has sparked the shale gas revolution in North America as presently fueling a stampede to light oil plays in North America.

We believe this positions us extremely well and Murray will talk about that a little bit and highlight some of the plays that we’re pursuing and exactly how we’re positioned in light oil relative to most of our peers in North America.

Secondly, we will highlight the very significant progress that we made on debt reduction, and also, we’ll highlight the renewal of our syndicated banking facility, which occurred very recently.

Thirdly, we’ll talk a little bit about conversion. We are going to convert from an income trust to an E&P within the next little while, targeting towards the end of the year, and we’re very exciting about rejoining the ranks of North American E&P’s. We got a weight into light oil. That puts us in a favorable position. We believe the depth of our prospect inventory, particularly aimed towards light oil is second to none in North America.

Over the next six or seven months as we move towards conversion, we’ll be providing more details on an expanded capital program focused on our light oil rich oil resource plays and how we intend to blend growth with yield.

Certain information regarding PennWest transactions and results discussed during this conference call including management’s assessment of future plans and operations may constitute forward-looking statements under applicable securities laws and necessarily involve risks.

Participants are directed to PennWest’s new release, which we issued this morning to review the advisory notice therein. Participants are also cautioned that the included list of risk factors is not exhaustive. Official information on these other risk factors that could affect PennWest operations and financial results are included in reports on file with Canadian and U.S. securities regulatory authorities and may be accessed through the Sedar at www.sedar.com or the FCC website at www.fcc.gov.

And of course, any time, and all the time, we encourage you very much to visit our website which is www.pennwest.com and Jason and his group in investor relations do a good job in keeping that site up. We’ve got our latest investor presentation. We usually have some news clips with PennWest staff and management on it, as well as some of our interaction with the media. All of our financial results are on there as well as some operational information, and we do encourage you to go there and just have a look at what we think distinguishes PennWest from a lot of the pack right now.

During this conference call, certain reference to non-GAAP items may be made. Participants are directed to PennWests MD&A and financial statements available on our website as well as filings available on the website noted earlier to review the disclosure concerning non-GAAP items.

Following a review and update this morning, we’ll open the phone lines, as which time we’ll be pleased to answer your questions. With that, I’m going to turn the call over to Murray Nunns, our President and COO.

Murray Nunns

First off, we’ll take a quick run through on some of the financial results and hit some of the highlights. The funds flow forward in the first quarter was $344 million and were $0.81 per basic share, and this reflects the impact of some of the property dispositions in the first quarter.

Early in Q1, we closed an asset transaction in which we exchange the position at Leitchville in the [Shawn River] play for positions in two core light oil resource plays, the Viking at Dodsland and the Cardium at Pembina and all cash included in the deal at $430 million.

In addition, a private placement of unsecured senior notes was closed in March, bringing the total private debt level to approximately $1.6 billion. PennWest also closed our renewal of our unsecured revolving syndicated bank facility for the three years with an aggregated borrowing limit of $2.25 billion in April of this year. We now have approximately $1.1 billion of unused credit capacity available to us.

On the operations side of the equation, as expected, we entered the first quarter with daily production averaging roughly 165,000 BOE per day. Our production was weighted to crude oil, which is makes up almost 60% of our production. We have been actively hydrating our portfolio producing properties, selling those assets, which don’t fit with our long-term strategic direction for PennWest and also to streamline our operations.

In looking at the capital side of the equation, and we’ll dwell on this for a moment and give a little focus and a little color to the oil plays as we walk through. PennWest spent $263 in the first quarter, which excludes the A&D activity we had previously talked about.

The capital budget guidance for 2010 is projected to be between $700 million and $850 million. We’ve been targeting about in the $750 million mark right about now. We anticipate spending the bulk of this budget in the second half of the year as we accelerate our development into the third and fourth quarters.

I’d now like to provide some of the highlights of those key resource plays. First, down in the southwest corner of Manitoba, at the Waskada play. We’re currently producing from 10 wells. The flow characteristics of those 10 wells are in line with the industry type curves.

We anticipate drilling an additional 35 wells on this play before year end, finishing appraisal and starting into full development on this play. We plan on ramping up into full developed mode in 2011 as we march forward on this play. We are really happy with our results to date here.

At Dodson in southwest Saskatchewan on the Viking play, with 50 wells currently producing on this play, we have a well defined tight curve and expectations of results from it. We’ve also brought our costs into line. We’re very happy and pleased with the rate of return on this play overall.

Our plan calls for the drilling of an additional 50 wells for the balance of 2010 and we will continue to move the play both east and west while we fine tune the applications of the technologies on this play.

Moving on to the largest of our Loyola plays, the Cardium, we have the dominant industry footprint in this play with more than 875 sections of exposure. We have quickly ramped up our expertise, having participated in over 30 wells to date and the industry in total is at approximately 125 on the key oil portion of this play.

The production curves for our wells are consistent with the industry average. One key for us is that offset competitor activity continues to validate our land. Basically, every time somebody puts a drill bit in the Cardium, they’re proving up land for us. We plan for an additional 30 to 40 wells for the balance of this year and ramping up into next year’s programs.

Our capital program this year has an obviously light oil emphasis as we prioritize development projects towards higher net back products. The broad take away is that in 2010, we’ll continue to appraise our deep inventory of development and exploration projects in anticipation of our conversion to an E&P.

As an E&P, PennWest will provide a combination of organic growth and dividends, which will position us with senior independent and North American oil and gas producers, and we can compete with the best of them.

Just before we take some calls, I’d like to let everyone know that in addition to Bill Andrew and Todd Takeyasu, joining us this morning in the room are a number of members of PennWest’s senior management team, people who make the wheels turn at PennWest; Dave Middleton, the Executive VP of Engineering and Corporate Development, Hilary Foulkes, Senior VP of Business Development, Bob Shepherd, Senior VP of Exploration and Development, Keith Luft, our General Counsel and Senior VP of Stakeholder Relations, Thane Jenson, our Senior VP of Operations, Dave Sterna, the VP of Marketing, Jeff Kern, our VP of Accounting and Reporting.

With that, I’d like to turn the call over the operator and open the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Andrew Fairbanks – Bank of America.

Andrew Fairbanks – Bank of America

I was curious as you roll out the development at some of your title oil plays, do you have a sense for what kind of cost reductions you should be able to achieve over the next 12 or 16 months as you get into more efficient industrial development, pad drilling and what not at these plays.

William Andrew

The general pattern and anticipation as we scale up to a manufacturing model on these plays is fundamentally that we generally tend to see a 30% to 40% cost reduction from initial test of the plays, and we believe we can achieve that. On some of them, we believe we’ve got some of that in the bag. On others, we will add that as we scale up our projects.

The other side of the equation is that we also tend to see an improvement in the upfront deliverability on the wells as you go through the play and evolution of application of the tool, and we tend to see a 30% to 40% uplift on productivity.

We don’t think we’ve realized all of that yet. We think some of that is still ahead of us as we scale up our operations and as we fine tune our approaches to the reservoirs.

Murray Nunns

I think the one we lean on the most and the fellow who’s not in the room today is Mark Fitzgerald, our Senior VP of Production. He’s out doing what he normally does. He’s out in the field shaking the production up.

But basically what was learned at the [Kanatic] and what we learned at PennWest on the play in southwest Saskatchewan, was that we could take costs that were initially $3.5 million to $4 million drill complete equipped and get that price down by 40% to 50% by the end of the term, so we were drilling wells much closer to $2 million than to $4 million within a year and a half to two years.

We’re seeing the same type of thing and Thane is experiencing that with drilling operations and completions and we’re starting to see the kick in as well in our facilities. Just as you do more, it becomes, I hate to use the word manufacturing process because it’s not, but it really becomes much more process driven and logistically driven exercise and that certainly helps cost.

Andrew Fairbanks – Bank of America

How do you feel about the existing conventional base? Is it right sized given the outlook or would you look to do any additional asset sales going forward?

William Andrew

We think we’ve got the best A&D person in Canada working for us in Hillary Foulkes and Hillary likes to buy and sell. We will sharpen this base up quite a bit yet. It’s not a perfect time for divestitures, but we’ll pick our place for that.

We’ve always been a company, the original model for the company and I’m certain that’s something that we’ll do as an E&P, is that we will complement our organic growth with some key acquisitions that are complementary acquisitions with Murray providing the direction on where to focus, what type of plays to focus on.

We feel we’ve got the balance sheet in shape and are getting it into better shape so we’ll be in the A&D world.

Operator

You're next question comes from Jonathan Fleming – Cormark Securities.

Jonathan Fleming – Cormark Securities

I wonder if you could give a little more color on your Cardium drilling and contrast how the drilling is going in the water flooded part of the pool versus the halo part of the pool and then if you could talk to how much CapEx you’re spending on each of those components here in 2010 as a percentage.

Murray Nunns

I’ll field the basics on that one. Fundamentally we started our initial work actually using horizontal applications in the water flood area four or five years ago, long before people were thinking about horizontal completions in those areas. So we have an initial body of information that extends an extended period and we went in and actually re-fracked some of those old horizontal wells with a limited number of frac's.

Results to date, when we look one year out, let’s move away from the initial information. When we look one year out, essentially those are on the curve with any other part of the field. In fact, some of the front end areas where there’s pressure support, it can well exceed what the front end areas and other parts of the field can. So we’re quite comfortable the center of the pool can deliver at the same levels as the exterior parts of the pool.

In terms of where our balance point forward is, about 20% of our holdings are in the pool center, but 80% are on the perimeter of the halo. We’re going to be focusing on more appraisal work and setting up development programs around those perimeter areas of the pool. That’s going to be the focus for the midterm.

That’s where we’re setting up the balance of our plays whether it’s on the east side or on the west side as well as down into Williston and Green. We’re also looking at areas at Leitchland where we have large holdings, so we’ll be doing a series of appraisal work throughout those areas to set us up for really scaling up the project for next year.

So we’re quite confident that we can operate in both areas. We know enough about the water flood area now and it will compete, but we will now continue our appraisal in the perimeter and the halo areas.

Jonathan Fleming – Cormark Securities

On the Viking, how far along the development curve would you say you are there to the completion methodology? I know that when I talk to guys, they’re doing more smaller frac’s and I just wonder which inning are we in here with respect to finalizing how we’re going to drill up these wells, or is it still changing. Are we still finding theoretically better ways to go ahead and frac these wells?

Murray Nunns

As you look at how this technology evolves and on every one of these plays, the pattern seems to be following the same thing, is that we don’t bust up the rock enough. So what we’re doing is continuing to move out the spectrum of more smaller frac’s exactly as you indicated, and I think we’re about in the fifth inning there.

We can get the well down quickly. We’re as efficient as anybody and probably more efficient at getting the wells down. In terms of busting up the rock, we’re continuing to push out whether it’s going to be 14 frac’s or 20 frac’s, that’s in the fine tune to kind of close up the economics and add to the upfront delivery a little bit.

We’re comfortable with the economics now. I’d say a little bit more fine tuning on that methodology of just the number of frac’s and bringing the cost structure of that down, and then we’re pretty much at the optimum point.

The other thing is how close the wells have to be. How close can we put those frac’s, in one well bore, how close can we put those well bores together. That needs a little more time on the production curve, but again, all that’s going to do is add more reserves net on the game in the long run.

William Andrew

It also makes sense that we’re going to try some different methods and some different links and the amount of frac’s. It doesn’t matter where the resource play is. Generally what we’re refining is we’ve got excellent acreage position, so lots of room to move. So it makes sense for the size of operation that we anticipate in each one of those resource plays that we would do some work to try and find the most optimal rate.

Some of these engineers get stuck in a little bit of a groove, and something works don’t change it, and certainly that’s a good thing to do if you’ve got a small operation and you don’t want to make a mistake, but when we’re looking at the potential of these areas and the size of the operation, it makes sense as Murray said if we can get in and crack that rock up a little more, maybe look a drilling more than one lateral from a location and getting up and down in the zone itself. All those things make sense and we’re working on all of that.

Operator

You're next question comes from Greg Shaw – TD Securities.

Greg Shaw – TD Securities

On the well drilling activity through Q1 as well as Q4, where do you stand on tie in of those wells and secondly, as you’re looking to ramp up your capital program in the second half of the year, maybe you can walk through the conceptual allocation of that over the Q3, Q4 and time line between drilling and bringing on production from Dodsland, Viking.

William Andrew

If I looked at the early break up, it looks like we’ve got about 65% tied in of what we would liked to have tied in. Break up caught us like everyone else in the industry a little flat footed on finishing up some of those tie ins.

In terms of overall cycle time, we are putting out a target to ourselves of 60 days. So 60 days from spud to on-stream. That’s the challenge we’re laying out for ourselves. We believe we can get there. We’ve now got the skill and the logistics and the concentration of efforts, and we also have tied up and secured equipment to carry us through Q1, Q2 next year. So we believe that is an achievable goal, and that will be our ultimate aim.

In terms of the distribution of capital over this period, I’m going to indicate that about 60% to 65% of our capital will go into these key plays for the balance of the year. We’ve got some other plays we’re testing as well that we’re not actively talking about in the market, and we want to keep under the radar screen. So in a general sense, that will be how we distribute the capital.

In terms of the capital over the balance of this year, I would say of the $500 million roughly that we’ve still got to spend, you would see it ramp consistently from Q2 to Q3 to Q4. We want to be accelerating our development towards the end of the year as we convert. We don’t want to be pushing it out early and then having a lull in Q4.

Operator

You're next question comes from Clifford Griffith – Private Investor.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

I’d like to zero in on cash flow. $0.81 in the first quarter, now last year your average was $0.90. Why the decline?

William Andrew

It’s the old scales of balance. As you know, one thing that Todd and the crew have been really working on with Hillary is we’ve done some dispositions. We’ve brought in some cash and we’ve paid down debt and certainly if there was an overhang that caused Murray and I to lose some sleep the later part of 2008 and early 2009, was the amount of debt that we had.

Todd’s crew and Hillary’s bunch, they’ve done a wonderful job. So really, we’re down on volumes and those volumes are primarily volumes that we sold to get the debt down, so that’s pretty much why the cash flow is down.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

The net back was 28/34 for the first quarter. Last year it was 26/32. Do you anticipate a much higher net back by the end of the year?

William Andrew

As you know, we are very much an oil weighted company and I want to see for the sake of everybody in the industry, I’d like to see gas prices recover a little bit. That will put some downward pressure, continued downward pressure on our net backs because we are producing about 40% gas, so roughly 20% to 25% of our revenue is coming from gas, the other 75% to 80% from oil.

If oil stays where it is, or where it’s been in the last little while, we expect the net backs to remain pretty much where they are. The other thing that we’re doing, we’re not going to see as much impact of this this year, as we will next year when the crew gets out and really gets going on the horizontal wells, but as we replace the higher operating cost vertical wells with horizontal wells that are relatively cheaper to operate, that will help get the operating costs down and that will improve the net back as well.

So something that we want to be able to position the company back to where we can get some efficiency in operations, better efficiency in operations so that we’re not just dependant on commodity prices for our net backs.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

How much debt do you expect to pay off between now and the end of the year?

William Andrew

I think ideally, and something that Murray and I are speaking to a group of people or something that we’ve been fairly plain about and I think if the people listening to the call want to go back and listen to some of the discussion that Murray’s had on VNN and other places, we’ve always said that ideally if we had another $300 million or 4400 million off the debt, that would probably position us very well with almost anybody that would be a representative peer in North America.

So we’re quite close considering where we’ve come from. We’re down to the stage where we’re in the little bit of the fine tuning right now.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

So you’re looking at between $300 million to $400 million.

William Andrew

Yes, and we’ll try not to do that all in one event if we can. We’ll see what we do, but Todd and Jeff Kern and his guys look around to where there’s some cost savings and they really help both Mark and the people in the field that make the company run, and we’re looking at little bits of efficiencies.

You get to the point where $0.10 or $0.15 in operating costs and starting to throw a little bit more cash back into the company and things we can use to repay debt. The other part of course, is that Hillary is constantly receiving phone calls and talking to people about acquisitions and dispositions, so that opportunity probably will avail itself as well before the end of the year, so we’ll just kind of take it one day at a time.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

One way to reduce cost is to shop at Wal Mart. Why was 35% of this year’s production hedged at prices ranging from 75/72 down to $60.11? That seems like a pretty low price range and a pretty high production level to hedge.

William Andrew

I’ll answer the same way I did. If you recall, a couple of years ago in 2008, and I was the dummy that pushed the hedge. When we made the hedge last year, oil prices had been in the $30 to $40 range. They were starting to improve a little bit, so we started to layer in some hedges.

We’re quite pleasantly surprised. I’ve always said to the Board, I’m happy when we’re losing a bit on our hedges as long as we don’t have it all hedges. We’re about 30% hedged. When we’re losing a little bit of money on the hedge, that means that Dave and the marketing group are selling the rest of the product for more than we anticipated the price would be.

But basically that’s the answer, and I believe certainly as an income trust that was prudent for us to hedge a portion of that production.

Clifford Griffith – Private Investor

When you convert to a corporation, has it ever crossed your mind to go completely unhedged?

William Andrew

We did that in the two or three years leading up to conversion and I know for a fact that when Murray was COO of Rialto, they were unhedged a fair bit of the time. You’ve got to balance. We’re not gamblers and we’ll hedge a portion of it. We don’t want to hedge it all because there are people in other parts of the world than Calgary that are far more intelligent than most in this room, I guess Dave would be the exception, on trying to predict where oil prices are going or gas prices are going.

So we’re not going to hedge it all, and I don’t believe it’s prudent as well to go unhedged, and we’ll generally hedge enough to protect a portion of our capital programs. So I think in the future you’ll see generally our average has been about 20% to 25% hedged. Certainly we’ve been in excess of that the last few years, but I hope that investors understand we had debt that we had to repay and we had to make sure the operation kept going.

So we probably over hedged a little bit in 2008 and 2009. Our normal going ahead as I said, will probably be somewhere about 20% and 30% hedged.

With gas right now, it becomes a mugs game. Do you go to do something when the prices are where they are now, especially looking at the almost daily, you open up the computer and look at another company that has cut back on their gas drilling. So we’re happy to be reasonably unhedged on gas right now.

Operator

You're next question comes from [Jason Frue – Credit Suisse]

[Jason Frue – Credit Suisse]

Can you talk a little bit about your infrastructure position in the light oil plays you’re targeting and how that may or may nor facilitate your growth?

Murray Nunns

That’s a point worthy of discussion. On all of our plays, there’s virtually not a play where we do not control the infrastructure and a lot of these have been existing fields. We’ll take Penman as a case example, or let’s deal with the Cardium.

The Cardium through put in 1972 was about 140,000 barrels of oil a day and right now it’s at about 20,000 barrels a day. We control vast portion of that infrastructure. So we can effectively reduce our findings costs by a couple of dollars per barrel on an average play because we don’t have the infrastructure to pay for.

The other thing is, with you end up developing these fields off of pads regardless if it’s Penman or anywhere else, it’s very concentrated so it’s a limited amount of infrastructure we have to lay, a limited amount of pipe we have to lay, and we can lay it in advance of drilling the wells oft times once we get the pads started.

So we can be very efficient. And then, all of that flows through. We think the variable cost that we’re adding is about $10 a barrel so it should help to moderate some of our operating costs in our fields. So the infrastructure plays into it a multiple of ways in terms of the development of these types of plays.

[Jason Frue – Credit Suisse]

At Waskada, do you have existing pipe there as you’re looking to ramp that up?

Murray Nunns

We had existing pipe in the field in infrastructure and that’s important. The second key component, and this is critically important there, is the sales volume. We’ve got the off put capacity or take away capacity there. It can be ramped up with a limited amount of horsepower into the 20,000 plus barrel a day range, and that’s important.

That provides one-step function we don’t have to work around as we develop the Waskada field in particular.

Operator

You're next question comes from Gordon Tate – BMO Capital Markets.

Gordon Tate – BMO Capital Markets

On your capital allocation, if you look at some of the amounts that you’re dedicating towards your three principal oil plays, how would you break that up? How would you allocate that among those three on a percentage basis? Which one gets the most, the least and what’s in the middle?

William Andrew

Just based on the rough numbers, the Vicardi will be getting the most in terms of dollar impact.

Gordon Tate – BMO Capital Markets

What sort of percentage? Would it get half of the amount you’d be putting into those?

William Andrew

It will be half to 60% of the actual net dollars. Dodsland and Waskada tend to be relatively cheaper drills, smaller rates but cheaper drills. So the Cardium will be about 60%. Waskada will be about 25%, Dodson the balance.

Murray Nunns

The idea is to use, we’re certainly aggressive about Waskada and Dodsland but we kind of view them as a little bit of a boost too if the Cardium wells are a little longer to drill, a little bit more expensive and a little bit more complicated than what both Waskada and Dodsland and a couple of other areas where we’re pursuing the same technology.

They give the ability to get in there and get volumes quick so you can go from spud to sales in one heck of a hurry on those plays.

Gordon Tate – BMO Capital Markets

With the Waskada play, turned the drilling down so I can understand there’s some potential for pretty high levels of drilling density. Have you given any thought to what the potential locations you might have given where others are aiming in that area?

William Andrew

One of our Houston based directors yesterday reminded us in the Board meeting that they’re drilling gas in the States right now of one and a half acre effective spacing. So this is oil, if you can generally down space more than gas. But I think realistically, we’re looking at – when we went through the exercise, the idea was to with the shallower plays to try and get them down into about the five to ten acre range.

I believe as we go ahead, we’ll reduce that further and Cardium has always been an initiative. Let’s get it down to 20 and then work towards 10 and 5 and I’m very much a believer in what Murray’s talking about, the fact that you need to open this rock up.

So you need denser frac’s, probably a little smaller frac’s but a little denser spacing on your horizontal laterals as well.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. I would like to return the meeting over to Mr. Andrew.

William Andrew

Thank you very much. It was Murray’s birthday yesterday, so we’ll say happy birthday to Murray and wish you all well. Thank you.

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Source: PennWest Energy Trust Q1 2010 Earnings Call Transcript
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