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Shell CEO: U.S. Energy Independence Almost Possible in 20 Years

The United States could achieve "near energy independence" within 20 years if the nation's top leaders enact an energy policy that promotes the country's abundant onshore and offshore natural gas and oil resources, Royal Dutch Shell plc CEO Peter Voser said last week.

Shell, which is one of North America's leading energy explorers and leaseholders in both conventional and unconventional fields, issued its 2Q2012 earnings and operations report, which Voser discussed in London with analysts and reporters.

U.S. energy independence is possible if leaders encourage more gas and oil development, including in the deepwater and Alaska, Voser said.

"I think whoever is in charge of energy policy...will look at this on the one side as a secure energy policy but on the other side also about jobs and revenues," said the Shell chief.

The European-based major has a long list of to-do items on its plate in the United States and Canada. Shell is preparing to begin an exploratory drilling program in Alaska's offshore. Gulf of Mexico deepwater development also is being readied, along with heavy oilsands development in Canada. In addition, Shell is leading the charge to build the largest liquefied natural gas export project to date in British Columbia, a terminal that could export up to 12 million metric tons/year to Asian markets.

Taking advantage of North America's abundant natural gas should be a priority, Voser said. He highlighted the potential from natural gas-derived fuel products, which are linked to higher oil prices. Shell plans to lock in profits "along the value chain" by using cheap domestic gas and turning it into more valuable LNG for export or diesel.

"On top of it all, it would bring manufacturing industries back into the country, petrochemical industry back into the country, because you have a cheap feedstock," he said of natural gas.

Global oil and gas prices are expected to remain under pressure to the end of the year in part because of ongoing weakness in the worldwide economy, he told analysts. "Given the macroeconomic downturn at this stage, I think you will clearly see a lower oil price compared to the last 18 months," Voser said. "I see the oil price soft in the second half."

Long-term price trends for gas and oil are used to plan for future investments and Shell expects to see "a rather increasing price scenario in the long term and a more volatile world compared to the last 30 years. Setting assumed prices for gas and oil are important for long-term project planning and to measure the potential of a project, but they don't necessarily set the agenda for where Shell works, he explained.

"The short term prices are important for how much cash flow we generate this year but do not influence our long term view on investment in projects," said the CEO.

Shell has scaled back plans this summer to drill up to five wells offshore Alaska, in part because of construction delays on an emergency spill containment barge and in part because of the weather, Voser said. Only two exploration wells now are expected to be completed in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. To take advantage of drilling rigs and support vessels already in the region, Shell may begin some initial top-hole drilling in other parts of the Arctic region, which is allowed as long as it doesn't penetrate hydrocarbon zones, Voser said. Shell then could come back to those sites in the future to drill some wells.

"Ice conditions will dictate how long the drilling season will last, with a slower start due to heavy ice conditions," Voser said. The thick shore ice, considered unusual at this time of the year, has kept Shell from sending drillships into planned exploration area, which has shortened its brief summer window to drill. Under U.S. regulations, Shell has to stop drilling in the Chukchi Sea in late September; Beaufort zone drilling has to end by Oct. 31.

Shell, like other European oil companies, measures its current costs of supplies (CCS) in earnings, which strip out the impact of price swings between production and sales. Shell's 2Q2012 earnings on a CCS basis were $6 billion, 25% lower than the year-ago earnings of $8 billion. CCS earnings excluding identified items, were $5.7 billion compared with $6.6 billion in the second quarter 2011, a decrease of 13%.

Net profits dropped by more than half (53%) year/year to $4.06 billion (65 cents) from $8.66 billion ($1.39 cents). Shell had booked $1.44 billion worth of asset sales in 2Q2011. Revenues in the latest period declined to $119.9 billion from $124.6 billion.

Production worldwide climbed year/year almost 2% to 3.103 boe/d, but output was down sequentially because several of Shell's global facilities were offline for maintenance. Quarterly sales fell to $117 billion from $121 billion.

"Our industry continues to see significant energy price volatility as a result of economic and political developments," said Voser. However, Shell still plans to spend $32 billion this year on its exploration and production portfolio. "We are moving forward in volatile times," he said. "Our profits have fallen with energy prices, but our growth strategy is delivering to the bottom line."

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