Chevron takes a $10 billion hit from cheap oil and gas prices
Posted December 11, 2019 7:53 a.m. EST
CNN — America's abundance of crude oil and natural gas is forcing Chevron to slash the value of its energy portfolio.
Chevron announced Wednesday it dimmed its long-term outlook for oil and gas prices because of that glut of fossil fuels. The nation's No. 2 oil company plans to take a $10 billion to $11 billion charge to reflect that gloomier outlook.
More than half of that non-cash charge is related to natural gas properties in Appalachia, although Chevron is also writing down the value of a major Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil drilling project.
Chevron pledged to cut funding to multiple natural gas projects in the United States and Canada. The company is even weighing selling those projects, underlining the weak outlook for natural gas.
Taken together, the moves by Chevron reflect the consequences of America's shale oil and gas boom that has reshaped the global energy landscape.
The shale revolution has made the United States the world's largest producer of both oil and natural gas, reducing the nation's dependence on foreign energy. But an oversupply of fossil fuels, especially gas, is keeping a lid on prices. That's great news for most households and businesses, but it's putting pressure on energy producers.
"The announcement continues a wave of writedowns related to price downgrades," Tom Ellacott, senior vice president of corporate analysts at consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, wrote in a note on Wednesday. "US shale gas assets have been hardest hit, reflecting the weak outlook for US gas prices."
Chevron's $4.3 billion gas deal backfired
Wall Street is pressuring Big Oil to keep its spending in check to prevent another crash in crude prices caused by excess supply. Oil companies are also under pressure to repair their debt-laden balance sheets.
Chevron is heeding that advice by announcing plans to keep spending flat at $20 billion for the third straight year. And that's despite Chevron continuing to pump more money into the Permian Basin, the booming West Texas oilfield. Chevron plans to spend $4 billion on the Permian alone next year.
"We are positioning Chevron to win in any environment," Chevron CEO Michael Wirth said in a statement, by investing in "the highest return, lowest risk projects in our portfolio."
Chevron said it will reduce funding to its Appalachia shale properties as well as international projects, including the Kitimat liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia.
The Appalachia writedown shows how Chevron's 2011 takeover of Atlas Energy hasn't paid off. That deal, valued at $4.3 billion including debt, greatly expanded Chevron's exposure to Appalachia gas, especially in the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania.
Yet Chevron achieved just $1 billion of free cash flow from Marcellus shale gas between 2012 and 2019, according to Rystad Energy. Chevron's large Marcellus portfolio isn't worth more than $600 million in the current price environment, Rystad said.
"Obviously it can be viewed as massive value destruction," Artem Abramov, head of shale research at Rystad, said in an email to CNN Business. "Persistent gas price weakness did not allow Chevron to generate any value from the assets."
Chevron also said its revised oil price outlook resulted in an impairment charge at Big Foot, a US Gulf of Mexico oil drilling project. Chevron has previously said that the deepwater oilfield is estimated to contain total recoverable resources north of 200 million barrels.
"With capital discipline and a conservative outlook comes the responsibility to make the tough choices necessary to deliver higher cash returns to our shareholders over the long term," Wirth said.