Press Release: National Fuel Reports First -2-
The Exploration and Production segment operations are carried out by Seneca Resources Company, LLC ("Seneca"). Seneca explores for, develops and produces natural gas and oil reserves, primarily in Pennsylvania and California.
Seneca's first quarter GAAP earnings decreased $53.6 million versus the prior year. This was primarily driven by a non-cash, pre-tax impairment charge of $76.2 million ($55.2 million after-tax) to write-down the value of Seneca's oil and natural gas reserves under the full cost method of accounting. This method requires Seneca to perform a quarterly "ceiling test" comparing the present value of future net revenues from its oil and natural gas reserves based on an unweighted arithmetic average of the first day of the month oil and gas prices for each month within the 12-month period prior to the end of the reporting period ("the ceiling") with the book value of those reserves at the balance sheet date. If the book value of the reserves exceeds the ceiling, a non-cash impairment charge must be recorded in order to reduce the book value of the reserves to the calculated ceiling. Seneca does not expect to incur impairment charges in the remaining quarters of fiscal 2021. Excluding this item, Seneca's first quarter earnings increased $1.6 million.
Seneca produced 79.5 Bcfe during the first quarter, an increase of 21.1 Bcfe, or 36%, from the prior year, despite the impact of approximately 4 Bcf of price-related curtailments. The increase was primarily driven by higher natural gas production from the Company's fourth quarter fiscal 2020 acquisition of Appalachian upstream assets, as well as production from new Marcellus and Utica wells. Net production increased 16.4 Bcf to 45.7 Bcf in the Eastern Development Area ("EDA"), primarily due to higher production from the acquisition. Net production increased 5.0 Bcf to 29.9 Bcf in Seneca's Western Development Area ("WDA"), primarily due to the ongoing development program in the region. Oil production for the first quarter decreased 38,000 Bbls, or 6%, from the prior year due to production declines in Seneca's Midway Sunset and Lost Hills areas as a result of reduced steam activity and delayed workover expenses in response to lower commodity prices in the second half of fiscal 2020. These declines were partially offset by new production brought on-line in Seneca's Pioneer and Coalinga development areas.
Seneca's average realized natural gas price, after the impact of hedging and transportation costs, was $2.14 per Mcf, a decrease of $0.18 per Mcf from the prior year. Seneca's average realized oil price, after the impact of $6.43 per Bbl of hedging gains, was $49.91 per Bbl, a decrease of $13.01 per Bbl compared to the prior year. The decline in oil price realizations was due primarily to lower market prices for unhedged crude oil at local sales points in California.
Lease operating and transportation ("LOE") expense increased $14.8 million primarily due to higher transportation costs in Appalachia from increased production and an increase in well repairs, as well as higher steam facility repairs and maintenance and steam fuel costs in California. LOE expense includes $46.7 million in intercompany expense for gathering and compression services used to connect Seneca's Marcellus and Utica production to sales points along interstate pipelines. DD&A expense increased $1.2 million due largely to higher natural gas production, partially offset by the impact of ceiling test impairments recorded during fiscal 2020. Seneca's general and administrative ("G&A") expense increased $1.6 million due primarily to higher personnel costs.
On a unit of production basis, Seneca's combined G&A, LOE, other operation and maintenance ("O&M") expense, and Property, Franchise, and Other Taxes decreased $0.12 per Mcfe, or 10%, during the quarter.
Interest expense increased by $1.4 million from the prior year, primarily driven by additional long-term borrowings from the Company's long-term debt issuance in June 2020 that was used to fund a portion of the Company's Appalachian acquisition. The increase in Seneca's effective income tax rate was largely driven by an increase to a valuation allowance for deferred tax assets that was initially established in the second quarter of fiscal 2020.
Pipeline and Storage Segment
The Pipeline and Storage segment's operations are carried out by National Fuel Gas Supply Corporation ("Supply Corporation") and Empire Pipeline, Inc. ("Empire"). The Pipeline and Storage segment provides natural gas transportation and storage services to affiliated and non-affiliated companies through an integrated system of pipelines and underground natural gas storage fields in western New York and Pennsylvania.
The Pipeline and Storage segment's first quarter GAAP earnings increased $6.1 million versus the prior year, with higher operating revenues partially offset by higher DD&A expense and higher interest expense. The increase in operating revenues of $15.5 million, or 22%, was largely due to an increase in Supply Corporation's transportation and storage rates effective February 1, 2020, in accordance with Supply Corporation's rate case settlement, coupled with new demand charges for transportation service from the Company's Empire North expansion project, which was placed in service near the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020. The increase in DD&A expense of $3.9 million was primarily attributable to an increase in Supply Corporation's depreciation rates associated with its rate case settlement combined with incremental depreciation from the Empire North expansion project. The increase in interest expense of $3.6 million was primarily driven by additional long-term borrowings from the Company's long-term debt issuance in June 2020.
The Gathering segment's operations are carried out by National Fuel Gas Midstream Company, LLC's limited liability companies. The Gathering segment constructs, owns and operates natural gas gathering pipelines and compression facilities in the Appalachian region, which primarily delivers Seneca's gross Appalachian production to the interstate pipeline system.
The Gathering segment's first quarter GAAP earnings increased $4.6 million versus the prior year. The increase was primarily driven by higher operating revenues, which was partially offset by higher DD&A expense, higher O&M expenses and higher interest expense. Operating revenues increased $12.2 million, or 35%, primarily due to increased gathering throughput resulting from the Company's Appalachian acquisition in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 and from new Appalachian wells that were brought on-line. The increase in DD&A expense of $2.8 million was primarily attributable to incremental depreciation expense related to the recent Appalachian acquisition, as well as higher average depreciable plant in service compared to the prior year. Compression leasing expenses associated with the Appalachian acquisition were primarily responsible for the $1.9 million increase in O&M expense, partly offset by a decline in compressor station O&M expenses on Company owned facilities. The increase in interest expense of $1.9 million was primarily driven by additional long-term borrowings from the Company's long-term debt issuance in June 2020 that was used to fund a portion of the Appalachian acquisition.
The Utility segment operations are carried out by National Fuel Gas Distribution Corporation ("Distribution"), which sells or transports natural gas to customers located in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania.
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February 04, 2021 16:45 ET (21:45 GMT)