Although the shale oil industry has been rocky of late, oil majors remain keenly interested, as evidenced by Chevron’s $33 billion shale deal.
Chevron announced on April 12 that it will purchase Anadarko, an oil & gas company with a substantial shale business, for $33 billion in cash and stock. This is the latest in what could be series of such deals in the global energy industry. Less than a year ago British oil giant BP purchased the American shale assets of Anglo-Australian multinational BHP for $10.5 billion. Another oil major, ExxonMobil, is doubling down on shale as well, announcing in March that it plans to produce 1 million barrels a day of oil equivalent in Texas’s Permian basin by 2024.
From its deal with Anadarko, Chevron will gain a big liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique, as well as holdings in the Gulf of Mexico that will make it the second-biggest producer there. Most significant, however, is Anadarko’s vast acreage in the Delaware basin, the second-largest of three component basins comprising the Permian basin, the oil-rich region spanning more than 86,000 square miles (220,000 km) in America’s southwest.
The boom in fracking, used to extract oil from shale, transformed the oil & gas industry a decade ago, making the U.S. one of the biggest exporters and driving production sky-high. But in the past few years, fracking fever has largely cooled. The industry suffered a blow when Saudi Arabia declined to cut production in 2014, causing already low prices to plummet. This decision was reversed in 2016 and oil prices have risen, but only marginally. According to Morgan Stanley, frackers saw a median return on equity of less than half that of the S&P 500 last year. The spectre of climate change looms large over the energy industry, and shareholders have rebuked Chevron’s choice to ratchet up shale oil production rather than expanding renewables.
What is sparking interest in shale oil amongst the oil majors likely has to do with their focus on producing oil at the lowest possible cost, according to The Economist. A keen cost-consciousness has resulted from the glut in oil and, speaking more existentially, the changed status of big oil companies as the world’s most valuable corporations. Shale offers faster drilling times and predictable cash flows. “It becomes your throttle”, says Bob Brackett of research firm Bernstein. “When times are good, you dial it up.” In this light, the Delaware basin looks especially ripe for consolidation. The process is already underway.