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Gulfport first-quarter production squeaks by estimates

By Ernest Scheyder

NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - Gulfport Energy Corp said on Wednesday it just exceeded first-quarter oil and natural gas production estimates and has begun interviewing candidates for chief executive officer and board seats.

The company produced 27,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed) in the first quarter, on average. The figure excludes about 900 boed from assets that Gulfport bought in Ohio from Rhino Resources Partners LP in February.

Combined, the company produced about 28,000 boed, just above expectations of first-quarter daily production of roughly 27,800 boed.

While the production estimate was only met through an acquisition, analysts were generally positive about the numbers, saying Gulfport was on track to meet its goal for 2014 production of 50,000 boed to 60,000 boed.

If reached, that would be more than triple its 2013 output.

Gulfport's board and a search firm have started reviewing resumes and conducting interviews to replace James Palm, who retired as CEO in February, said Michael Moore, the chief financial officer and interim CEO.

"There's no time frame to make a decision that they've allowed us to talk about," said Moore at the Independent Petroleum Association of America's OGIS conference in New York. "They just want to run a full process." Moore is a candidate to become permanent CEO.

Moore said the board is also interviewing candidates who could join as directors. The board currently has only four board members, low for a publicly traded company.

Gulfport has no plans to cancel its contract with Mike Liddell, who stepped down as chairman last June and stayed on as a consultant, earning $65,000 per month.

"Liddell has been responsible for a lot of the deal flow and vision of the company," Moore said. "The board made a decision to keep him on for future deal flow, and he serves at the board's discretion."

Separately, Gulfport said the Bank of Nova Scotia has increased its borrowing base to $275 million from $159 million.

The company, which is scheduled to post first-quarter results on May 7, had $299 million in debt at the end of 2013.

Shares of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based Gulfport rose 2.8 percent to $72.77 in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)