Equinor ASA’s Lower 48 operations, mostly centered in the Marcellus and Bakken shales, have been suspended, as it attempts to stem the bleeding across the energy sector from the global pandemic and stinging oil price war.

The Norwegian-based supermajor reduced organic capital expenditures (capex) for 2020 by about 20%, to $8.5 billion from $11 billion. Exploration spending has been cut to $1 billion from $1.4 billion, with operating costs reduced by about $700 million.

“Within U.S. onshore activities, drilling and completion activities are being halted to produce the volumes at a later period, reducing investments significantly for 2020,” Equinor management said. “Reductions in organic capex are driven by a strict process of prioritization where flexibility of cost and schedule for sanctioned and nonsanctioned projects have been reviewed.”

The cost cuts are in addition to suspending share buybacks, which Equinor already had announced.

"Equinor is in a strong financial position to handle market volatility and uncertainty,” CEO Eldar Sætre said. “Our strategy remains firm, and we are now taking actions to further strengthen our resilience in this situation with the spread of the coronavirus and low commodity prices.”

The CEO said Equinor also had implemented measures to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus “and have so far been able to maintain production at all our fields.”

In 2014, Equinor needed an average oil price of around $100/bbl to be organic cash flow neutral. With the new austerity measures, the producer said it now needs an average oil price around $25 through the rest of 2020.

Oxy Retreat

Meanwhile, Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy), facing an internal struggle over management with major shareholder Carl Icahn, on Wednesday said it is cutting 2020 capex plans nearly in half.

Oxy now expects to earmark $2.7-2.9 billion from $5.2-5.4 billion, a midpoint reduction of 47%. At current commodity prices, 2020 annual production from continuing operations is expected to be 1.275-1.305 million boe/d, down 6% from previous guidance.

Oxy also plans to reduce operating and corporate costs by at least $600 million, “including significant salary reductions for executive leadership.” Among other things, CEO Vicki Hollub is reportedly taking an 81% cut in annual compensation.

"We are making solid progress with additional cost reductions to help withstand the low commodity price environment and other macroeconomic pressures impacting our industry and the global economy," Hollub said. "Based on our team’s recent efforts, we now expect to significantly lower our costs in all aspects of the business. We will continue to take actions as necessary to further strengthen our balance sheet and ensure the long-term viability of our business."

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Italy’s supermajor Eni SpA has cut capex by 25% for the year, or by around $2.2 billion because of the “sharp decrease in commodities prices and the foreseeable constraints arising from the Covid-19 pandemic,” CEO Claudio Descalzi said.

Mostly upstream projects are to be trimmed, “particularly production optimization and new projects developments scheduled to start in the short term. In both cases, activities will be restarted as soon as appropriate market conditions appear, and related production will be recovered accordingly.”

State-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Co., better known as Aramco, said “in light of current market conditions and recent commodity price volatility,” it has reduced capex to $25-30 billion from $32.8 billion in 2019 and $35 billion in 2018.

“The recent Covid-19 outbreak and its rapid spread illustrate the importance of agility and adaptability in an ever-changing global landscape,” CEO Amin H. Nasser said. “This is central to Saudi Aramco’s strategy and we will ensure that we maintain the strength of our operations and our finances. In fact, we have already taken steps to rationalize our planned 2020 capital spending.

“As the world deals with the difficult and dual challenge of satisfying demand for more energy alongside responding to the rising desire for cleaner energy, I believe we are well positioned given our oil production is among the least carbon intensive in the world.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reportedly has called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to see if there is some way to bring to an end the oil price war launched earlier this month by the kingdom and Russia, which combined with the demand reductions from the pandemic, has decimated oil prices.

"Secretary Pompeo and the crown prince focused on the need to maintain stability in global energy markets amid the worldwide response” to Covid-19, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Wednesday. As Saudi Arabia is a leader of the Group of 20 nations, aka G-20, “and an important energy leader,” the country “has a real opportunity to rise to the occasion and reassure global energy and financial markets when the world faces serious economic uncertainty."

Steeling For Losses

Also impacted by the decline in oil prices is United States Steel Corp., aka US Steel, which plans to idle indefinitely the iron and steelmaking operations at Great Lakes Works outside of Detroit. The company also plans to idle all operations in Lorain, OH, and in Lone Star, TX. 

"U.S. Steel advised employees that Lone Star Tubular Operations in Lone Star, Texas, and Lorain Tubular Operations in Lorain, Ohio, will indefinitely idle operations due to challenging market conditions and high import levels," a spokesperson said. “This decision is largely related to market conditions, including oil pricing, imports and demand,” not necessarily because of Covid-19.

U.S. Steel’s Tubular business segment “remains challenged as oil prices remain under significant pressure and rig counts continue to be low,” CEO David B. Burritt said. “We are continuing to monitor the recent change in market conditions with respect to our Tubular business and will evaluate the impact on the carrying value of the net assets of this business…

“We understand the situation remains fluid, and we are preparing our operations to be flexible as circumstances may warrant,” he said of the coronavirus pandemic. “Our regional supply chain minimizes the risk of significant supply-chain related production disruptions…”

Coronavirus Contraction

IHS Markit estimated Wednesday that global liquid demand now points to a year/year contraction of more than 14 million b/d in 2Q2020. The current supply trajectory “sets up implied global liquids builds of more than 12.0 million b/d in 2Q2020,” said Vice President of Financial Services Roger Diwan.

“Given the trajectory of the outbreak, the next few weeks are unlikely to provide material relief to bearish momentum as markets digest and price the reality that supply will need to resolve this balance. It can do so through shut-ins or through management. We are yet to see a workable path to coordinated supply action on the scale required to mitigate the physical challenge ahead,” he said.

“Some sort of management or partial management is likely to emerge as paralysis spreads across the sector, but lower prices and shut-ins are likely to occur first.”