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Chevron looks to operational shifts, asset sales as new energy era unfolds

From its failed effort to buy Permian Basin producer Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to its disclosure of a massive fourth-quarter write-down, 2019 proved to be an eventful year for Chevron Corp. that is likely to spill into the next decade.

The United States' second-largest public oil company is looking to retool and streamline operations while paying down debt, generating cash flow and delivering dividends to shareholders. Chevron is considering selling off natural gas assets around the world as it evaluates its corporate structure to increase efficiencies, trim costs and generate profits in what promises to be a new era for energy.

"As our operational footprint has changed, markets have shifted, and new technologies have emerged, the company is proactively evaluating existing operating models and structures to better position Chevron to compete and win in any environment," Chevron spokesperson Veronica Flores-Paniagua said in a November email.

Analysts and investors were not surprised Dec. 10 when the California-based major announced it would take a write-down of as much as $11 billion in the fourth quarter, half of which would be on its Marcellus and Utica shale assets in Appalachia. The company said the massive write-down is due to its own expectations for ongoing weakness in oil and natural gas prices.

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Heading into 2020, Chevron plans to cut spending on natural gas investments around the world, including the Kitimat LNG project in Canada, as it considers selling its interests in some of these assets. But many analysts believe that finding buyers could be difficult since the medium- and long-term price outlooks for natural gas look so dismal.

While Chevron looks to extricate itself from its natural gas investments, it will continue to focus on capital discipline. For the third consecutive year, in 2020, Chevron will maintain a $20 billion capital spending and exploration budget spanning upstream and downstream investments, including projects in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Permian Basin and the Gulf of Mexico.

Chevron said Dec. 12 that it already approved the initial development phase of the Anchor project in the Gulf of Mexico for $5.7 billion. With a 62.86% working interest, Chevron, through its Chevron USA Inc. unit, will be the operator of Anchor. It will be built about 140 miles off the coast of Louisiana and will have a capacity of 75,000 barrels of oil per day and 28 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

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"The Permian has continued to dominate investor conversations around Chevron; however, this [final investment decision] signals the commitment to the [Gulf of Mexico], which has a solid pipeline of both operated (Ballymore; Chevron 60% working interest) and non-operated (Royal Dutch Shell PLC-operated Whale/Blacktip; Chevron 40%/20% working interest, respectively) projects with significant resource potential rivaling or exceeding that of Anchor, which we expect to be layered into development methodically," Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. said in a Dec. 13 note to clients.

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Like many of its competitors, Chevron will primarily focus on building out its shale operations in the Permian in Texas and New Mexico well into the next decade as it aims to boost regional production to 600,000 boe/d by 2020 and to 900,000 boe/d by the end of 2023. In 2020, Chevron will need about $4 billion for its Permian development plans, the company said.

Chevron's third-quarter unconventional Permian output totaled 455,000 boe/d, up 35% from the same period in 2018. In the third quarter, Chevron's total U.S. production reached 934,000 boe/d, rising by 103,000 boe/d from the same period a year earlier.

To hike cash flow and help fund its Permian expansion efforts, Chevron plans to divest $5 billion to $10 billion in noncore assets between 2018 and 2020. In November, Chevron said it had divested about $2 billion in assets in 2018. This year, the company sold holdings in Denmark, Brazil, the U.K. continental shelf and in Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea.