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ConocoPhillips Targets Lower 48 in 2019 Capex, with Tilt to Permian, Eagle Ford, Austin Chalk

ConocoPhillips on Monday announced a broad $6.1 billion capital spending plan for 2019, with most of the funds targeting Lower 48 prospects, including the Permian Basin, Eagle Ford Shale and the emerging Louisiana Austin Chalk.

North American capital expenditures (capex) are also targeting growth in Alaska and Canada’s Montney formation, the Houston-based super independent said.

Overall global output is forecast to be 1,300-1,350 million boe/d in 2019, which at the midpoint would represent year/year growth of 8% for the world’s largest exploration and production (E&P) company.

“The 2019 operating plan follows a successful year in 2018 in which we achieved key strategic and operational goals well ahead of schedule,” CEO Ryan Lance said. “As we head into 2019, we plan to keep capital flat, increase our payout target and deliver high-margin production per-share growth.”

The 2019 capex plan includes:

  • Appraisal drilling of the Willow discovery in Alaska;
  • Continued multi-well pad appraisal drilling in the Montney;
  • Multi-well pilot tests of completion designs in the Eagle Ford and the Permian’s Delaware sub-basin;
  • Exploration drilling in the Austin Chalk; and
  • New “major” projects in Alaska, Europe and Asia Pacific.

“Production growth in 2019 will come primarily from continued ramp up of unconventional production in the Lower 48 and conventional production increases in Alaska,” the E&P said. Capex is basically flat versus 2018, but that reflects “the roll-off and roll-on of major projects, additional activity associated with Montney success, and the impact of increased scope and a higher working interest in Alaska.”

About $3.1 billion (51%) of next year’s spend is directed to the Lower 48, with 10-11 rigs slated to run in the Eagle Ford, Bakken Shale and Permian Delaware unconventional plays. In the Eagle Ford and Delaware, multi-well completion design pilots are planned that could be applicable to other unconventional plays, including the Austin Chalk.

Alaska capex has been bumped to about $1.2 billion, versus $900 million spent this year, which would include the recently sanctioned Greater Mooses Tooth No. 2 project.

In Canada, ConocoPhillips is planning to spend about $500 million, an increase from $300 million this year, mostly to continue appraisal and development activity in the Montney. Operations are underway to drill a multi-well pad and install processing capacity to appraise the position. The capex increase also includes upgrades for the Surmont oilsands project.

ConocoPhillips expects to end this year with a resource base of 16 billion boe, at less than $40/bbl West Texas Intermediate (WTI) cost of supply.

“This plan is focused on executing a consistent, balanced capital program that continues delivering predictable performance from our base business, as well as early stage investments in attractive opportunities that can add low cost of supply inventory and drive sustained future returns,” Lance said.

Around $3 billion of share repurchases also are targeted for the coming year, representing a shareholder payout, including dividends, of about 50% of cash from operations if WTI prices average $50/bbl.

“We no longer think of our value proposition as merely disciplined, we view it as the new order,” Lance said. “We are running our business for sustained through-cycle financial returns, which is necessary for attracting investors back to the E&P sector.

“We believe we have designed ConocoPhillips to offer investors both resilience to lower prices and participation in higher prices via an approach that rations capital across a low cost of supply portfolio, competes on per-share versus absolute growth and pays out a significant portion of cash from the business to shareholders.”

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