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Chevron to Ply Existing Assets, High-Grade Portfolio to Drive Production Through 2020, Says CEO

Chevron Corp. is ready, willing and able to excel in any market environment, with plans to use its existing assets and high-grade the global portfolio to achieve success, executives said Tuesday.

During the annual analyst meeting, CEO Michael K. Wirth outlined the company’s near-term strategy. The San Ramon, CA-based supermajor plans to invest $18 billion for capital programs this year, with spending of $18-20 billion a year through 2020.

“We intend to grow free cash flow in 2018 and thereafter,” Wirth said. “Even with no commodity price appreciation, we expect to deliver stronger upstream cash margins and production growth. This is a powerful combination.”

Chevron has increased its guidance for base plus shale/tight sands production, “which we expect to grow at 2-3% per year between now and 2022 at a capital spend of approximately $9 billion to $10 billion per year,” Wirth said.

Chevron is “diverse in asset class, geography and asset maturity,” he said. It has a “young” liquefied natural gas (LNG) position in Australia, “early-in-life unconventional assets in the Permian, a more developed conventional oil and gas business in Kazakhstan and deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and a mature heavy oil asset in California with a lot of resource still remaining.

“Our portfolio is sustainable and long-lived with a number of large assets with flat or low decline production profiles. Operating costs are low; cash margins are high and growing. Risk is decreasing as our capital spending becomes more weighted toward smaller, shorter cycle investments in areas with relatively less geopolitical risk.

“And we have opportunities to further high-grade the portfolio, cycling cash back in to the most attractive opportunities.

The plan is to “further lower our cost structure, get more value from our existing assets and continue to high-grade our portfolio,” Wirth told analysts. “We believe execution of these plans will support our primary commitment to shareholders, which is a sustained and growing dividend over time. As we generate surplus cash, we would expect to be in a position to resume our share repurchase program.”

Upstream opportunities are plentiful, said Executive Vice President Jay Johnson, who oversees the business.

“Our objective is to ensure our upstream business provides competitive returns throughout the price cycle,” Johnson said.

Production growth in part is to be driven by the Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects in Australia. No discussion was made about Chevron’s half-stake in the Kitimat LNG export project in British Columbia, still in preliminary stages. Chevron is rumored to be looking for a buyer for the Kitimat stake.

“In 2017, we grew production by 5%,” Wirth said. “Our forecast for this year is to do it again.”

Growth should then continue into 2019, with the full-year impact of Train 2 at Wheatstone and ramp-ups from the deep portfolio in the Gulf of Mexico, including Big Foot and Stampede, and from Hebron and Clair Ridge projects.

There also is more to come from the shale and tight assets, said the CEO. Into 2020 and beyond, “we’re well-positioned to sustain this momentum.”

The Permian, where Chevron has operated for decades, has only begun to show its full value, Wirth said. “We’re seeing reserves grow, costs shrink, efficiencies expand and production rise.”

During February, Chevron was running 16 operated rigs in the Permian and employing six pressure pumping crews. It plans to end this year with 20 company operated rigs.

Last year, Chevron added more than 60,000 acres to its legacy acreage through various swaps, joint ventures, farmouts and sales.

Another project ready to lift volumes is Tengiz in Kazakhstan, which is on track to deliver first production in 2022, Johnson noted. There also are “multiple deepwater assets and emphasized near-term opportunities to leverage existing infrastructure, apply technology and increase standardization to improve capital and operating cost efficiencies for these deepwater assets.”

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