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Marathon to Cut Capex by 20%, With 'Significant Weighting' to U.S.

Marathon Oil Corp. plans to cut 2015 spending by 20%, or about $1 billion, year/year with "significant weighting" to U.S. resource plays.

The Houston producer anticipates capital expenditures (capex) in the coming year to be $4.3-4.5 billion, which is about one-fifth less than it set aside for 2014. Excluded is spending for the company’s recently sold Norway business.

"The 2015 capital program will reflect a significant weighting to the company's high-return investment opportunities in its U.S. resource plays and lower exploration spending," the operator said. Assuming this level of investment, total production growth (excluding Libya) is forecast to be in the "high single digits" in 2015.

CEO Lee Tillman in November said if that there were to be a pullback in 2015 activity, it likely would not be in the U.S. onshore (see Shale Daily, Nov. 4).

"We remain confident in our investment opportunities in the three U.S. resource plays," he said Wednesday. "Our 2015 capital program is not opportunity-constrained but will reflect sound discipline in managing cash flows in the current price environment."

Among its three big U.S. onshore targets, Marathon's biggest contributor is the Eagle Ford Shale, where production in 3Q2014 averaged 117,000 boe/d net. The Bakken Shale contributed 56,000 boe/d net during the period. Oklahoma output within the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (SCOOP) averaged 19,000 boe/d net. Marathon also is a large operator in the Gulf of Mexico.

Marathon's 2015 capex plans, like those of many of its brethren, aren't yet set in stone as crude oil prices continue to look for a bottom. The largest U.S. independent, ConocoPhillips, earlier this month also cut its capex plans by 20% and said it would defer some Lower 48 development (see Shale Daily, Dec. 8). Almost daily, North American explorers of all sizes have been announcing big reductions in 2015 capex.

"The continuing dynamic change in crude oil markets together with the expected impacts to oilfield service costs warrants additional time before finalizing the 2015 budget," Marathon's management said. "The 2015 capital program will be scalable higher or lower depending on market conditions." The company "is well positioned for the current commodity price environment supported by a deep and high-quality inventory in its three U.S. resource basins as well as the strength of its balance sheet."

Details of the 2015 capital, investment and exploration budget, together with 4Q2014 results, are planned to be released in February.

The revised guidance is a positive step, according to analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. The implied fiscal 2015 volumes "are 6-9% lower than our model for 20% less capex." On the planned spending, analysts are modeling 9% growth, keeping Eagle Ford and Bakken spending unchanged, but "flattening" capex for the eastern Eagle Ford's Austin Chalk and in SCOOP.

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