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CERAWEEK: Growing role of oil majors in shale to blunt impact of price volatility: IEA

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CERAWEEK: Growing role of oil majors in shale to blunt impact of price volatility: IEA

Houston — Major oil companies are accounting for a growing percentage of US shale output, a trend the International Energy Agency believes could blunt the impact of price volatility on US supply.

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US shale oil growth has almost entirely been driven by smaller, independent producers. However, the majors are less responsive to prices and have longer-term strategic plans and balance sheets that can allow them to continue to invest despite volatile prices, said Toril Bosoni, a senior oil market analyst with IEA, during a news conference Monday at CERAWeek by IHS Markit.

Bosoni said that while the majority of shale production is still by independents, the share of output from majors - including ExxonMobil and Chevron - will grow substantially over the next five years.

"The majors are clearly taking a larger share," Bosoni said.

In its Oil 2019 report released Monday, IEA said 2019 may be the first year that investment growth in shale is led by big oil companies rather than by independents.

"This is a remarkable change for a sector, which has hitherto been dominated by smaller operators," IEA said. "The growing footprint of large players means that investments might become less volatile."

The oil majors will be able to continue investing and grow output even during a price downturn, the agency said.

ExxonMobil recently announced plans to produce 1 million b/d from the Permian by 2024, while Chevron announced plans to produce 900,000 b/d over the same time.

"Exxon and Chevron have made the Permian a centerpiece of their strategies, while Shell and BP are increasing their positions," IEA said.

At the same time, "pure shale operators," including Pioneer, Continental, WPX Energy, Parsley Energy, Centennial Resource Developments, Apache and Noble, all plan to cut spending in 2019 after oil prices fell at the end of 2018.

An Apache spokesman on Tuesday disputed IEA's description of the company as a pure shale operator. "We have significant exploration and production activities in the North Sea and in Egypt," the spokesman said.

In its report Monday, IEA said global upstream investment is set to increase for the third straight year in 2019.

"While global upstream spending, of around $500 billion, remains nearly $300 billion lower than the peak of 2014, a decrease in costs of between 30% to 40% means that the industry is able to do significantly more with less than only a few years ago," IEA said.

OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo warned that upstream investment is falling short of future needs.

"What we are seeing in the US basins is definitely not happening outside of the United States," Barkindo said at the CERAWeek conference.

"The shrinkage in investment in the last couple of years is still a huge challenge," he said.

"We welcome the revival of this industry," Barkindo said. "What we need to focus on now is that this rebound ... should now be reflected in long cycle projects around the world."

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Jeff Mower, jeff.mower@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jennifer Pedrick, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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