Chevron Revives Million-Barrel Permian Target After Cuts

Chevron Corp. revived aspirations to pump 1 million barrels a day in the Permian Basin after drastic budget and job cuts trimmed operating costs.

Chevron plans to ramp up investment in North America’s biggest oil field through 2025, reversing the pandemic-driven production decline, the company said in an investor presentation Tuesday. Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth surprised investors by restoring the million-barrel Permian target only a year after it disappeared from the company’s guidance as Covid-19 crashed energy markets.

The California oil titan expects its Permian wells to generate $3 billion in free cash flow by the middle of the decade, assuming international crude prices average $50 a barrel. The region straddling West Texas and New Mexico incurred the deepest spending cuts in last year’s pullback amid the oil market’s unprecedented collapse.

Chevron Revives Million-Barrel Permian Target After Cuts

Chevron plans to double returns on capital employed and expand free cash flow by 10% a year, more than twice the cash-flow growth rate promised by Exxon Mobil Corp. last week. Chevron’s dividend isn’t imperiled even if crude falls to $40.

“This, in our view, confirms CVX’s superior investment case relative to XOM,” Giacomo Romeo, an analyst at Jefferies International Ltd., said in a note to clients.

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The London-traded worldwide benchmark traded at $67.83 a barrel at 10:23 a.m. in New York.

The main question for investors monitoring the virtual presentation on Tuesday is what Wirth plans to do with the windfall from this year’s rally in oil prices. The company has a lower debt burden than its Big Oil rivals and has shown an unwillingness to take on major growth projects. Still, Chevron has bought back shares in recent years and pursued takeovers such as the $5 billion purchase of Noble Energy last year.

“We’re investing in only our best projects, funding those that meet our high-return expectations,” Wirth told analysts. “This improvement is anchored in self help. We’re not betting on higher prices to bail us out.”

Demand Recovery

Chevron was little changed at $109.52 at 10:24 a.m. in New York. The stock has climbed about 20% in the past month, buoyed by surging crude prices and prospects for a recovery in energy demand to pre-pandemic levels.

Though Chevron may be in a better place than its peers, the trauma of 2020 will be evident for some time to come. The company’s debt increased by 64% to $44.3 billion due to the double blow from low oil prices and weakening refining margins.

Chevron also announced:

  • New targets to lower carbon intensity 35% by 2028 and eliminate routing flaring by 2030
  • Cost savings from the Noble deal to double to $600 million
  • U.S. Gulf of Mexico will have two final investments decisions by 2022
    • Anchor development expected to begin pumping oil in 2024
  • Chevron sees an extra 1-2 billion cubic feet per day “export potential” from its Israeli gas fields

The Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on Big Oil, accelerating the push by some down a path away from fossil fuels, while others rowed back on long-term growth plans. Chevron was in the latter camp, pledging to spend about 27% less than pre-pandemic levels all the way through 2025.

Chevron Revives Million-Barrel Permian Target After Cuts

Despite the new carbon intensity goals, Chevron has yet to follow its largest European rivals in announcing a long-term net zero target. Like Exxon, the California-based oil giant is focusing on reducing emissions from its own operations and small-scale joint ventures in novel technologies.

Chevron has committed to spend about $300 million on such investments this year, or 2% of its annual budget. Wirth has sounded caution on soaring valuations of clean-energy startups in recent months.

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