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President and CEO of Encana Doug Suttles answers questions during a media round table in Calgary, Alberta, June 11, 2013. (Todd Korol For The Globe and Mail)
President and CEO of Encana Doug Suttles answers questions during a media round table in Calgary, Alberta, June 11, 2013. (Todd Korol For The Globe and Mail)

Encana puts greater focus on oil Add to ...

Encana Corp., the natural gas company that has been trying to shift away from that energy production for more than two years, is once again touting its push into more valuable commodities such as oil.

The Calgary company said it will produce roughly 30 per cent more oil and natural gas liquids next year compared with 2013, according to its 2014 budget, released Wednesday. This falls short of what investors expected as the company rewrites its strategy, and still leaves Encana heavily dependent on natural gas.

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Doug Suttles took over Encana as chief executive officer in June and rolled out his renovation plans in November. Many energy companies – including oil outfits – have languishing stock prices, and investor patience is thin. Talisman Energy Inc. is under pressure from an activist investor and throwing slews of properties on the auction block. Penn West Petroleum Ltd. is shifting its strategy. Even stalwarts like Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. have sold or want to sell assets.

Encana intends to spend three-quarters of its 2014 budget, which rings in between $2.4-billion (U.S.) to $2.5-billion, on five oil and liquids-rich assets: the Montney, Duvernay, DJ basin, San Juan basin and the Tuscaloosa marine shale. The company intends to fund its budget through cash flow, which it expects to match spending plans.

“We are looking toward achieving a balanced liquids and natural gas portfolio,” Mr. Suttles said in a conference call explaining Encana’s 2014 budget. “We’ve heard many comments from investors that 2014 is a transition year and the excitement doesn’t show up beyond this year. I would actually disagree with that.”

Encana expects to produce a combined total of between 70,000 and 75,000 barrels a day of oil, condensate and natural gas liquids such as propane and butane in 2014. Its output totalled roughly 50,000 to 60,000 barrels of these products, collectively called “liquids” at Encana, in 2013. The market, however, expected Encana’s liquids production to hit 83,000 barrels a day, according to Laura Lau, a senior vice-president at Brompton Funds in Toronto.

“That’s the big thing everyone is hanging their hat on,” she said. “They are not growing their liquids production as fast as [investors] would like.”

For a company the size of Encana, the difference between 75,000 barrels and 83,000 barrels is barely noticeable. Investors, Ms. Lau believes, are being overly impatient. (In February, 2012, before Mr. Suttles rein, the head of Encana’s operations in the U.S. said Encana wants to triple its liquids production by 2015. At the time, that would have translated into 80,000 barrels of liquids a day).

The market, Mr. Lau said, is also underwhelmed by Encana’s expectations for cash flow. While the company’s spending aligns with cash flow, there is nothing left over.

Encana predicts its natural gas production will clock in between 2.6 billion and 2.8 billion cubic feet a day, according to its budget.

Its plan to increase liquids production by 30 per cent will mean these products will make up about 20 per cent of its overall production in 2014, said Jay Averill, a spokesman for the company. Natural gas will make up the remaining 80 per cent. Right now, roughly 10 per cent of Encana’s production comes from the more valuable commodities, while natural gas production accounts for the remaining 90 per cent.

The company hopes that by 2017, these numbers will look much different. It wants a more “balanced” mix when it comes to cash flow, and expects that means one-third of its production will come from oil and condensate, one-third from other natural gas liquids, and the remaining third from natural gas, Mr. Averill said.

Encana wants liquids to make up 75 per cent of its cash flow by 2017.

 
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