ConocoPhillips, the world’s largest independent, continued last year to drive up volumes from the Lower 48, its largest production segment, as the “Big 3” unconventional assets led the way with healthy increases.

Production from the Bakken and Eagle Ford shales, along with the Permian Basin, hit 387,000 boe/d, up from 379,000 boe/d in the year-ago quarter. Production from the Big 3 plays increased 22% year/year in 2019.

Under a plan announced in November, ConocoPhillips intends to continue driving results from those plays. About 60% of capital expenditures over the next decade, or roughly $4.2 billion/year, is to be dedicated to the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Permian and Montney formation in Western Canada.

The Houston-based independent unveiled capital guidance of $6.5-6.7 billion for this year, including funding for ongoing development drilling programs, major projects, exploration and appraisal activities, as well as maintenance. Capital spend is expected to be higher in 1Q2020 largely from winter construction and exploration and appraisal drilling in Alaska, where it is the state’s largest oil producer. Guidance does not include capital for acquisitions. The company spent $6.6 billion on capital expenditures and investments last year.  

This year’s global production is forecast at 1.23-1.70 million boe/d, compared with 2019 production volumes of 1.30 million boe/d and 1.24 million boe/d in 2018, excluding Libya.

Fourth quarter production averaged 1.3 million boe/d, excluding Libya, or a decrease of 24,000 boe/d from the same period in 2018.

ConocoPhillips divested $2.3 billion worth of assets in 2019. The company set forward an ambitious plan late last year to repurchase $30 billion of shares and pay about $20 billion in dividends as it pursues a program designed to distinguish it from its peers. 

“Strong 2019 performance capped off a highly successful three-year period in which we transformed our business model and significantly improved our underlying performance drivers across the company,” said CEO Ryan Lance. “We’ve positioned ConocoPhillips to deliver sustained value through price cycles due to our strong balance sheet, focus on free cash flow generation, compelling returns of and returns on capital and our commitment to environmental, social and governance leadership.”

The company announced Tuesday a quarterly dividend of 42 cents/share payable March 2 to stockholders of record. The board also approved a $10 billion increase in the existing share repurchase program to $25 billion.

Fourth quarter profits declined, however, as the company wrestled with some of the macro factors weighing on the oil and gas industry. Net income for the period was $720 million (65 cents/share), compared with 4Q2018 earnings of $1.9 billion ($1.61).

The decline came after the company failed to realize a gain on the sale of its partial interest in UK assets, as well as a noncash impairment related to the pending sale of Niobrara assets in the Rockies. The company recorded $296 million of impairments in the fourth quarter.

Total realized prices for the period declined 9% year/year to $48.78/boe.

Full year net income was up, however, to $7.2 billion ($6.40), versus 2018 earnings of $6.3 billion ($5.32). Free cash flow was more than $5 billion.

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