As shale drillers stumble, Big Oil says it can do Permian better

August 05, 2019

HOUSTON (Bloomberg) - Exxon Mobil and Chevron aren’t fazed by the drilling mistakes and funding hurdles smaller shale producers are running into in the Permian basin.

The North American supermajors said Friday their strategy for the prolific oil field spares them from the slip-ups that sent shares of one of the largest independent Permian producers down over 20% Thursday. Both oil giants reported surging output from the area over the second quarter and stuck to their plans to pour investment into the shale basin.

Exxon and Chevron were late to the game in the Permian. While they’ve recently unveiled plans to eventually produce almost 2 MMboed from the West Texas and New Mexico basin, the area was long the home of wildcatters and independent explorers.

Those exploration and production companies are now facing mounting pressure from investors to cut spending and deliver returns, which for many means slowing down and selling some assets. Meanwhile, the supermajors have the means to come in with multibillion-dollar investments and ambitious growth plans.

“The positions that Exxon and Chevron have relative to a lot of E&Ps -- they’re multiples of the size,” said Devin McDermott, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “When you have decades of running room, you don’t really have to worry about tighter spacing.”

Concho Resources long considered one of the Permian’s premier operators, was forced to scale back activity after drilling almost two dozen wells too closely together. That move by the Midland, Texas-based producer spooked investors across the industry, with Evercore ISI predicting the “carnage” would have a lasting impact.

Concho’s problem with well spacing highlights the challenges of fracking so-called child wells: Too close to the “parent,” and output is less prolific; too far apart, and companies risk leaving oil in the ground.

Exxon and Chevron say they aren’t as exposed to those problems. Because of their size relative to smaller independent producers, the oil giants are able to lock up acreage, giving them room to be more conservative in their well spacing.

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