Tag Archives: Exxon Mobil Corp.

Wall Street Journal: Big Oil Feels the Need to Get Smaller

Repost from The Wall Street Journal

Big Oil Feels the Need to Get Smaller

Exxon, Shell, Chevron Pare Back as Rising Production Costs Squeeze Earnings
By Daniel Gilbert and Justin Scheck, Nov. 2, 2014
Extracting oil from Western Canada’s oil sands, such as at this Shell facility near Fort McMurray, Alberta, is a particularly expensive proposition. Bloomberg News

As crude prices tumble, big oil companies are confronting what once would have been heresy: They need to shrink.

Even before U.S. oil prices began their summer drop toward $80 a barrel, the three biggest Western oil companies had lower profit margins than a decade ago, when they sold oil and gas for half the price, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

Despite collectively earning $18.9 billion in the third quarter, the three companies— Exxon Mobil Corp. , Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Chevron Corp. —are now shelving expansion plans and shedding operations with particularly tight profit margins.

The reason for the shift lies in the rising cost of extracting oil and gas. Exxon, Chevron, Shell, as well as BP PLC, each make less money tapping fuels than they did 10 years ago. Combined, the four companies averaged a 26% profit margin on their oil and gas sales in the past 12 months, compared with 35% a decade ago, according to the analysis.

Shell last week reported that its oil-and-gas production was lower than it was a decade ago and warned it is likely to keep falling for the next two years. Exxon’s output sank to a five-year low after the company disposed of less-profitable barrels in the Middle East. U.S.-based Chevron, for which production has been flat for the past year, is delaying major investments because of cost concerns.

BP has pared back the most sharply, selling $40 billion in assets since 2010, largely to pay for legal and cleanup costs stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that year.


To be sure, the companies, at least eventually, aim to pump more oil and gas. Exxon and Chevron last week reaffirmed plans to boost output by 2017.

“If we went back a decade ago, the thought of curtailing spending because crude was $80 a barrel would blow people’s minds,” said Dan Pickering, co-president of investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. “The inherent profitability of the business has come down.”

It isn’t only major oil companies that are pulling back. Oil companies world-wide have canceled or delayed more than $200 billion in projects since the start of last year, according to an estimate by research firm Sanford C. Bernstein.

In the past, the priority for big oil companies was to find and develop new oil and gas fields as fast as possible, partly to replace exhausted reserves and partly to show investors that the companies still could grow.

But the companies’ sheer size has meant that only huge, complex—and expensive—projects are big enough to make a difference to the companies’ reserves and revenues.

As a result, Exxon, Shell and Chevron have chased large energy deposits from the oil sands of Western Canada to the frigid Central Asian steppes. They also are drilling to greater depths in the Gulf of Mexico and building plants to liquefy natural gas on a remote Australian island. The three companies shelled out a combined $500 billion between 2009 and last year. They also spend three times more per barrel than smaller rivals that focus on U.S. shale, which is easier to extract.

The production from some of the largest endeavors has yet to materialize. While investment on projects to tap oil and gas rose by 80% from 2007 to 2013 for the six biggest oil companies, according to JBC Energy Markets, their collective oil and gas output fell 6.5%.

Several major ventures are scheduled to begin operations within a year, however, which some analysts have said could improve cash flow and earnings.

For decades, the oil industry relied on what Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry calls its “colonial past” to gain access to low-cost, high-volume oil reserves in places such as the Middle East. In the 1970s, though, governments began driving harder bargains with companies.

Oil companies still kept trying to produce more oil, however. In the late 1990s, “it would have been unacceptable to say the production will go down,” Mr. Henry said.

Oil companies were trying to appease investors by promising to boost production and cut investment.

“We promised everything,” Mr. Henry said. Now, “those chickens did come home to roost.”

Shell has “about a third of our balance sheet in these assets making a return of 0%,” Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden said in a recent interview. Shell projects should have a profit margin of at least 10%, he said. “If that means a significantly smaller business, then I’m prepared to do that.”

Shell late last year canceled a $20 billion project to convert natural gas to diesel in Louisiana and this year halted a Saudi gas project where the company had spent millions of dollars.

The Anglo-Dutch company also has dialed back on shale drilling in the U.S. and Canada and abandoned its production targets.

U.S.-based Exxon earlier this year allowed a license to expire in Abu Dhabi, where the company had pumped oil for 75 years, and sold a stake in an oil field in southern Iraq because they didn’t offer sufficiently high returns.

Exxon is investing “not for the sake of growing volume but for the sake of capturing value,” Jeff Woodbury, the head of investor relations, said Friday.

Even Chevron, which said it planned to increase output by 2017, has lowered its projections. The company has postponed plans to develop a large gas field in the U.K. to help bring down costs. The company also recently delayed an offshore drilling project in Indonesia.

The re-evaluation has also come because the companies have been spending more than the cash they bring in. In nine of the past 10 quarters, Exxon, for example, has spent more on dividends, share buybacks and capital and exploration costs than it has generated from operations and by selling assets.

Though refining operations have cushioned the blow of lower oil prices, the companies indicated that they might take on more debt if crude gets even cheaper. U.S. crude closed Friday at $80.54 a barrel.

Chevron finance chief Patricia Yarrington said the company planned to move forward with its marquee projects and is willing to draw on its $14.2 billion in cash to pay dividends and repurchase shares.

“We are not bothered in a temporary sense,” she said. “We obviously can’t do that for a long period of time.”

List of refineries that have been shut down, saved or sold in past 5 years

Repost from The Financial Post, Toronto
[Editor’s note: Here in Benicia, Valero is repeatedly using a scare tactic as one of its primary talking points.  When Valero says that their Crude By Rail project will “ensure the refinery remains a strong and healthy member of the community” (quoting from Valero’s mailer), it plainly IMPLIES that without this project, Valero may NOT remain strong and healthy, nor a member of the community.  Valero has in this way frightened their own employees about their job security, and they hope to scare the rest of Benicia about the possibility of a sell-off or closure, harming the local tax base and economy.
20x1_spacerA few fearful and disorderly refinery employees and/or supporters have made verbal threats and ruined SafeBenicia signs, but opponents of the project don’t scare that easily.  A transition away from fossil fuels will be fought with money, fear and every form of propaganda.  Don’t listen.  Solidarity with the workers is fine, but don’t buy into the threats that feed their fear and fury.
T20x1_spacerhe following article on “Atlantic Basin” refineries details 15 closures, 1 sale and 5 “saved” refineries over the last 5 years.  Four of the closures were U.S. refineries, one in Canada.  These closures and retrofits will be a growing phenomenon as we transition out of fossil fuels as a primary energy source.  It will be tough on us all, but good for life on Earth.  – RS]

Shut down, saved or sold: The Atlantic Basin refineries

Selam Gebrekidan, Reuters | June 21, 2013
Imperial Oil Dartmouth Refinery, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Imperial Oil Dartmouth Refinery, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. | Imperial Oil Limited

Imperial Oil Ltd said earlier this week it was unable to find a buyer for its refinery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and will instead convert the facility into a terminal operation.

The refinery, which employs some 400 staff and contractors, is Imperial’s least-profitable operation, as it uses high-priced imported crude oil. The company’s other three refineries process cheaper Canadian crude.

Imperial, controlled by Exxon Mobil Corp, put the refinery up for sale more than a year ago and has had interested parties but was not able to make a deal.

The refinery, the only one in Nova Scotia, is among several on both sides of the Atlantic that operators have put up for sale, shut down, or threatened to close due to poor economics.

Below is a list of these refineries.


Owner: Imperial Oil Ltd
Capacity: 88,000 BPD
Imperial said in June 2013 it was unable to find a buyer for its Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, refinery after putting it up on sale more than a year ago, and will instead convert the facility into a terminal operation. The refinery is Imperial’s least-profitable operation as it uses high-priced imported crude oil. Imperial is controlled by Exxon Mobil Corp.

Owner: Hess Corp
Capacity: 70,000 BPD
Hess shut down its Port Reading refinery at the end of February, 2013, the second such facility the company was forced to shutter over the last year, marking the company’s exit from the refining and terminal business.

Owner: Valero Energy Corp
Capacity: 235,000 BPD
Valero decided to convert the refinery into a crude oil and refined products terminal in September 2012 after failing to find a buyer for the plant.

The refinery had been idled since March 2012 due to weak profit margins since it processes heavy sour crudes it bought at a higher cost. Chinese oil giant PetroChina was said to be among strong bidders for the refinery.

Owner: Hovensa LLC, a joint-venture between Hess Corp and state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela
Capacity: 350,000 BPD
Hovensa first reduced rates from 500,000 bpd and then shut the refinery in February 2012. The government of the U.S. Virgin Island objected to the shutdown and in April 2013 said it had agreed to a 14-month sales process with Hovensa LLC, during which time the company could use the plant as a terminal.

The refinery had been powered by fuel oil rather than cheap natural gas because its isolation in the Caribbean mean gas imports are not available. That fact contributed to Hovensa making a loss of $1.3 billion in the last three years of its operation and any future owner will have the same problem to contend with.

Owner: Sunoco Inc, part of Energy Transfer Partners LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, which is part owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
Capacity: 178,000 BPD
Sunoco shut the refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, in December 2011, due to excess capacity and poor margins. Sunoco Logistics then bought the refinery in April 2013 for $60 million and plans to turn it into a natural gas liquids hubs to take advantage of the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

The company received no offers for the plant as a refinery. Sunoco is processing natural gas at the plant.

Owner: Western Refining
Capacity: 66,300 BPD
Western Refining shut the refinery in September 2010 because of poor refining margins. The site was subsequently sold to Plains All American in December 2011 and is currently in use as a terminal.

Owner: Sunoco Inc, part of Energy Transfer Partners LP.
Capacity:145,000 BPD
Sunoco shut the Eagle Point refinery in November 2009, the first of the casualties of weak demand and slim profit margins among Atlantic Basin refineries. The site, which is connected under the Delaware River to Sunoco’s other sites, Philadelphia and Marcus Hook (see above), is a terminal with capacity to receive barges of Bakken crude from Albany.

Owner: LyondellBasell
Capacity: 105,000 BPD
In January 2012, LyondellBasell mothballed the refinery in southeastern France having been unable to find a buyer for the plant since it began a sales process in May 2011.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty ImagesAn employee of US chemical group LyondellBasell waves a French flag as the employees gather during a new general meeting to protest against the closing of their plant in Berre l’Etang, southern France, on September 29, 2011.


Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 175,000 bpd
A joint-venture of UK Ltd, Vopak and Greenergy bought the refinery from Petroplus and converted it into a terminal in June, 2012. The refinery had stopped processing crude in May last year after its estimated $1 billion price tag failed to attract buyers.

Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Matthew Lloyd/BloombergThe Petroplus refinery in Coryton, Essex.


Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 117,000 bpd
Petroplus idled the plant in April 2009.

Owner: PetroPlus
Capacity: 161,000 bpd
Petroplus announced in April 2013 that it will shut the refinery after bids to buy it were rejected as unfeasible by the plant’s administrator.

Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 85,000 bpd
Petroplus closed the refinery in eastern France in the second quarter of 2011. The least profitable of the plants in the PetroPlus refinery stable, the refinery was converted to become a terminal.

Owner: Total SA
Capacity: 150,000 BPD
A French court authorized oil major Total to permanently close the refinery in late October 2010 and proceed with plans to develop non-refining activities on the site.

Owner: ConocoPhillips
Capacity: 260,000 bpd
ConocoPhillips put the simple, hydroskimming refinery up for sale in July 2010. It was bought a year later by private Dutch company Hestya. It is currently being used as a terminal.

Owner: Tamoil
Capacity:  90,000 bpd
Libya’s Tamoil shut the Italian refinery at the end of March 2011 and said it would pursue plans to convert the plant to a storage site.



Owner: Murphy Oil
Capacity: 130,000 BPD
U.S. oil firm Murphy Oil Corp said it would sell the plant to focus on oil and gas exploration and its U.S. retail business. In its first quarter earnings, announced in May 2013, the company said it continues to look for a buyer.


Capacity: 330,000 BPD
Current Owner: Philadelphia Energy Solutions
Former Owner: Sunoco Inc. Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest refinery on the U.S. East Coast and is a joint venture of Carlyle Group LP and Energy Transfer Partners, which bought its former owner, Sunoco.

Sunoco and Carlyle reached a deal in the summer of 2012 to keep the plant running with Carlyle overseeing daily operations while Sunoco retained a minority stake in return for its refinery assets. JPMorgan Chase & Co’s commodities division would supply the refinery with crude and non-crude feedstocks and purchase fuel produced by the plant for offtake.

Regional legislators, refinery unions and industry operators lobbied against the plant’s shutdown arguing that fuel shortages in the East Coast after the plant’s potential shutdown could create fuel shortages and hurt U.S. national security.

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg News

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg NewsSunoco Inc.’s Philadelphia Refinery stands on the banks of the Schuykill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Capacity: 185,000 BPD
Current Owner: Monroe Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines
Former Owner: ConocoPhillips, which later spun off its refining and downstream arm Phillips 66 Delta bought the refinery from Conoco Phillips in spring of 2012 in order to control its jet fuel costs, which had reached $12 billion in 2011. The refinery has not yet become profitable But Delta said it expects the plant to turn a profit of $75 million to $100 million in the second quarter. It expects to use 50,000 bpd of cheap shale oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota by the end of 2013.

Delta has a contract with BP Plc for crude supplies and former owner Phillips 66 to sell or swap products other than the jet fuel that the airline needs.

Jeff Topping/Getty Images

Jeff Topping/Getty Images


Capacity: 68,000 BPD
Current Owner: Varo Energy Holding, a joint venture between Vitol and Marcel Van Poecke, co-founder of PetroPlus, and founder of AtlasInvest.
Former Owner: Petroplus Vitol, the world’s largest oil trader, formed the joint venture to buy the refinery in June 2012, six months after Swiss-based Petroplus filed for insolvency. The refinery was fully operational by July that year.

Capacity: 107,500 bpd
Current Owner: Gunvor, Swiss-based trading house
Seller: PetroPlus Swiss-based trading firm Gunvor, co-owned by Russian tycoon Gennady Timchenko, bought the refinery in March 2012 from insolvent Petroplus to expand its infrastructure footprint in Europe’s largest oil trading hub. The purchase also provides Gunvor with “bricks and mortar” assets, giving it a reason to hedge exposure to physical markets ahead of stringent regulations on derivatives trading.

Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

Jock Fistick/BloombergStorage tanks are seen at the Antwerp oil refinery.


Capacity: 100,000 bpd
Current Owner: Gunvor
Former Owner: PetroPlus Gunvor bought the refinery from insolvent Petroplus in May 2012 and began operating the plant that August. The refinery had been in stand-by mode for seven months before the deal.