Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) is stepping up investment in U.S. shale production, even as the second-largest U.S. oil and gas group prepares to cut its total capital spending for a fifth year in succession.
The company on Wednesday afternoon announced a budget for capital and exploration spending for 2018 of $18.3 billion, about 4% lower than the expected out-turn for 2017.
Within that, however, there will be a sharp acceleration in its planned investment in shale. The company intends to invest $2.5 billion in shale this year, most of it in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico. For next year, it plans to increase that by about 70% to $4.3 billion, with $3.3 billion going to the Permian alone.
John Watson, Chevron’s CEO who is leaving the company on Feb. 1, said in a statement that the company was spending about three-quarters of its capital and exploration budget on projects that would start returning cash within two years, a category that includes most shale developments.
He added that driven by strong growth in output in the Permian, the 2018 plan should “deliver both strong production growth and solid free cash flow, at prices comparable to what we’ve seen this year”.
The overall reduction in planned capital and exploration spending reflected improved efficiency and moves to focus on only the investments with the highest returns, as well as the completion of its liquefied natural gas megaprojects in Australia, Watson said.
Chevron has already cut its annual spending from a peak of $41.9 billion in 2013 to about $19 billion this year, as it has completed the LNG projects, Gorgon and Wheatstone. Gorgon, which started production last year, and Wheatstone, which started in October, had a combined cost of about $88 billion, of which Chevron’s share was about $47 billion.
The company has made clear that any expansion of those projects, which was still being worked on last year, is now not on its agenda, as it focuses on investments with a quicker payback. The one large development Chevron is still committed to, with a planned $3.7 billion investment next year, is the Future Growth Project in Kazakhstan, an expansion of its highly lucrative Tengiz oilfield. In a sign of the field’s importance to Chevron, planned spending on it accounts for two-thirds of the company’s total budget for big capital projects for next year.
Chevron’s plans to cut total capital and exploration spending contrast with the budgets set out by ExxonMobil, which is the largest U.S. oil and gas group, and ConocoPhillips, which is the largest exploration and production company.
ExxonMobil raised its capital budget by 16% for this year compared with last year’s spending, and has said it plans a further 14 per cent increase next year. ConocoPhillips cut spending this year, but last month set out plans to step it up again for the next three years. Both ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, like Chevron, are aiming for rapid growth in the Permian Basin.