Shell plans aggressive effort to develop U.S. oil and gas resources

MarketWatchNovember 30, 2012 

NEW YORK -- Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell wants you to know it's working hard to increase the share of the Americans' fuel pumped out of Uncle Sam's back yard.

Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum sees Royal Dutch Shell's growing presence in the U.S. as a selling point for investors.

"I think Wall Street probably does care about a strong country, and there's an aspect of producing your own resources that definitely plays into that," Odum said in an interview on Thursday at the Platts Global Energy Outlook Forum. "The real question you have to come down to in the end is: Are these economically competitive projects to go after? The answer is yes, they are."

More oil produced at home makes sense for balance of trade and helps strengthen the economy, he added.

The U.S. accounted for about 12 percent of the company's overall production of 3.2 million barrels of oil equivalent a day.

The oil major has been hiring thousands of people a year and spending billions to boost output here.

"This has been a very heavy part of the world of investment for us," said Odum, who oversees Shell's production and exploration in the Western Hemisphere. "We've never been busier in the Gulf of Mexico. We're ramping up in a very significant way in our onshore development in the U.S., and we started exploring offshore Alaska. This is a very important area for us."

Odum's comments followed the closely watched International Energy Agency annual World Energy Outlook, which estimated that U.S. oil production could jump to 11.1 million barrels a day by 2020, up from 8.1 million barrels a day in 2011.

The current record for U.S. oil output was set in 1970 at about 9.64 million barrels of oil equivalent a day.

At the same time, U.S. oil demand is expected to fall to about 15 million barrels a day by 2025, down from about 17 million barrels a day now, according to IEA estimates.

While the U.S. will continue to import oil to meet demand, the figure will drop to about 4 million barrels a day from 10 million barrels a day now, the IEA said.

Odum said Shell shares the IEA's optimism about growth in domestic energy production.

"There's enough oil and there's enough gas to actually reach those kinds of milestones," he said. "The question really then becomes what are going to be the policy mechanisms, what are going to be the permitting mechanisms that allow that production either to be developed or not -- what the energy policy of the United States going to be."

In his keynote speech at the Platts conference, Odum said the Obama administration agrees with the need to "establish a faster, more efficient, more predictable and even more thorough permitting process for our industry."

He added that the U.S. worked with Shell to allow it to explore for oil off the coast of Alaska.

Shell has invested more than $4 billion as it cleared a lengthy permitting process, only to face the challenge of oil exploration in one of the harshest locations on Earth.

In September, Shell said a containment dome in its project off the coast of Alaska had been damaged during tests, forcing it to scrap efforts for the year.

"The important message is we started exploration in Alaska after several decades of inactivity," Odum said in his interview. "We think the size of the prize out there is definitely worth the effort and the money we put into it."

Shell has permission to drill up to five exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska in 2013.

"We'll have somewhere between a couple of wells and five, but it's hard to predict," Odum said.

Odum declined to comment about any future acquisition plans after it recently closed the $2 billion purchase of 618,000 net acres in West Texas' Permian basin from Chesapeake Energy Corp. But he said the oil major sees growth opportunities there.

Shell is also considering plans to build a gas-to-liquids facility along the U.S. Gulf Coast, it's also pushing for wide use of liquid natural gas as a fuel for trucks, trains and ships.

Overall, Odum said, investors need to know that Shell's push into the U.S. makes sense for the company's bottom line.

"This is reasonably low-cost oil and gas to go after," he said. "That's why it's attractive from an economic point of view. It's a very stable part of the world. It has reasonably good fiscal frameworks to produce oil. . . . From that standpoint, these are quality investments that investors should pay attention to. ... There's no question it's a very, very important area for us. A lot of our investment has gone into this area, so we have big growth expectations."

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