* Rigs in operation in Q1 falls to 15 vs 33 year-ago
* To record $12 mln exploration expense in Q1
* Says on track to double Marcellus production in 2009
* Says low cost structure helps
April 16 (Reuters) - Independent oil and gas company Range Resources Corp (RRC.N) said first-quarter production grew 12 percent beating its own target despite a 54 percent fall in operational rigs, as its Marcellus and Barnett shale plays and Nora field progressed well.
Range expects to recognize an exploration expense of about $12 million, including $8 million in seismic expenditures, for the quarter, the Fort Worth, Texas-based company said.
While first-quarter production rose to 416 million cubic feet equivalent per day (Mmcfe), the number of rigs in operations fell to 15 from 33, a year earlier.
"We are well-positioned to continue to add per-share value despite the lower commodity prices. Our low cost structure, strong hedge position and increasing production are leading the way," Chief Executive John Pinkerton said in a statement.
"We are on track to more than double our Marcellus production in 2009," Pinkerton said.
Range, like many other U.S. oil and gas companies, has had to contend with the steep fall in oil and gas prices from their peaks in 2008.
After adjustment for hedging, it estimates a 31 percent decline in first-quarter oil and gas prices, which would average $6.60 per mcfe, down from $9.55 per mcfe a year earlier.
Shares of the company closed at $41.33 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.
For related alerts, double-click. [ID:nWNAB3936] (Reporting by Shradhha Sharma in Bangalore; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)