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Noah Zivitz

Managing Editor, BNN Bloomberg

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Birchcliff Energy Inc. is not about to start spending hand over fist on production increases until shareholders get some cash in their pockets after riding a volatile wave of commodity prices, its chief executive said.

"No," Jeff Tonken said in an interview Thursday when asked if he has any desire to boost output more aggressively than the 78,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) forecast for this year, and an estimated 82,000 boe/d next year.

"And the reason is, I had my head handed to me as a shareholder over the last seven years. And now I want to see the money. And my shareholders want to see the money. So give me the money! And then reinvest in [our] assets."

Birchcliff has emerged as one of the S&P/TSX Composite Index's star performers over the past two years after a brutal stretch. Between 2014 and the end of 2020, its shares sank almost 76 per cent, lagging the TSX energy subgroup (which fell almost 49 per cent), and falling way behind the broader market as the TSX gained 28 per cent over the same seven-year stretch.

But the pendulum swung as the energy sector regained favour amid rising prices. In 2021, Birchcliff posted the fifth-highest return on the TSX as its shares soared 265 per cent. And it's been building on that momentum this year, with a gain of almost 50 per cent.

Late Wednesday, the Calgary-based natural gas producer rewarded its investors as it reported a record $95.4 million in first-quarter free funds flow. The company said its board approved a doubling of the quarterly dividend to $0.02 per share, and Tonken stated in the release that he's aiming for a minimum annual dividend of $0.80 per share next year.

"We're going to set up our shareholders to make a big return and then we'll start investing in our company," he said in the interview.

"And so the balance will be there. But we are not all of a sudden going to start spending a lot of money until our shareholders get a return."

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