(Adds earnings estimate, production details, stock move)
By Ernest Scheyder
HOUSTON, May 2 (Reuters) - Continental Resources Inc , the U.S. shale producer controlled by billionaire Harold Hamm, posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Wednesday thanks to rising oil prices and spiking output in its core North Dakota Bakken shale operations.
For the second consecutive quarter, Continental bested rival Whiting Petroleum Corp to be the largest oil producer in the Bakken, solidifying that crown and its place as one of the most-prolific U.S. shale companies.
“We are breaking away from our peers and capitalizing on decades of exploration success and operational,” Hamm, the company’s chief executive and largest shareholder, said in a statement.
The quest to regain the top producer spot in one of the most-prolific U.S. shale basins had eluded Hamm’s Continental since at least 2014, when Whiting bought smaller rival Kodiak Oil and Gas.
That deal, though, saddled Whiting with billions in debt just as oil prices cratered, giving Continental an edge as it spent cash to improve ways it fracks wells.
Continental’s success for the second consecutive quarter over Whiting highlights the importance of improving hydraulic fracturing processes, including the use of larger amounts of sand, which the Oklahoma City-based company has helped pioneer.
Continental’s North Dakota production jumped about 50 percent in the first quarter, leap-frogging Whiting’s output in the state by about 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d).
“We are clearly seeing a structural uplift in well performance across the Bakken field,” Jack Stark, Continental’s president, said in a statement.
Denver-based Whiting, which posted a better-than-expected first-quarter profit of its own on Monday, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Continental posted net income of $233.9 million, or 63 cents per share, compared with $469,000, or less than a penny per share, in the year-ago quarter, when oil prices plummeted - and the company’s production costs were higher.
Excluding one-time items, Continental earned 68 cents per share. By that measure, analysts expected earnings of 64 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Overall production rose 35 percent to 287,410 barrels of oil equivalent per day.
Continental plans to hold a conference call to discuss the quarterly results on Thursday. (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Dan Grebler)