Integrated energy giant Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) could use a shot in the arm. Its upstream results were nothing to brag about, as field declines took a toll on production. In fact, many companies within the integrated space were negatively affected by deteriorating upstream results last year. ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) posted a 10% drop in upstream earnings in 2013. European rival Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B ) did even worse. Its upstream profits collapsed by 25%.
As a result, getting upstream production and profits growing again will be critical for Chevron and other integrated majors over the next couple of years. Fortunately, Chevron's two major projects in Australia can do just that, and represent major opportunities for the company's future.
Chevron's diversified production profile will soon get a boost
Chevron has an effective and balanced production profile that spans across the world. Chevron produced 728,000 barrels of oil equivalents per day in North America; 690,000 barrels per day in Asia-Pacific; 592,000 barrels per day in Africa and Latin America, and 587,000 barrels per day in Europe, Eurasia, and The Middle East.
Unfortunately, Chevron's balanced portfolio fell flat in 2013. Total net production of oil equivalents dipped by approximately 0.5% in 2013. While disappointing, Chevron held up well relative to ExxonMobil. Exxon's production last year fell 1.5%.
Going forward, Chevron's Asia-Pacific operations stand to be meaningfully boosted by the company's two major projects in Australia. Chevron believes these two projects will greatly help it meet the increasing energy demand in Asia. The company is rapidly building its liquefied natural gas business, which will greatly help reverse its upstream production woes. That's why its two major projects in Australia are so critical to Chevron's future.
Get to know Wheatstone and Gorgon
Chevron's Wheatstone and Gorgon projects together represent the company's major inroads into liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Wheatstone development is a $29 billion undertaking, which includes two LNG trains with a combined capacity of 8.9 million tonnes per annum and a domestic gas plant. First shipments are expected in 2016. Here, Chevron owns a 64% interest, with the remainder split between a group of participants.
The other major development in Australia is the Gorgon project. Chevron holds a 47.3% working interest there, with ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell owning approximately 25% each. The Gorgon project is one of the world's largest natural-gas projects and the largest single resource development in Australia's history.
The Gorgon project includes eight high-rate development wells, as well as a sub-sea gathering and pipeline system that will deliver the gas from the Gorgon fields. On the downstream side, the Gorgon Project includes a 15.6 million tonnes-per-annum liquefied natural-gas facility, and an LNG storage plant. Chevron expects the first shipment of LNG from the Gorgon project in early 2015.
These projects will help Chevron's future earnings in two ways. First, they don't require nearly as much spending as in prior years. Chevron management has stated that Gorgon is almost 75% complete and Wheatstone has reached important construction and LNG marketing milestones. That means that this year will represent a peak year for spending on these initiatives, which will help reduce Chevron's overall costs. In addition, bringing them online and closer to first production will obviously boost Chevron's production and cash flow for many years.
Bet on the future of Australian LNG
Chevron, as well as ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, posted disappointing results last year due to eroding refining profitability and disappointing upstream production. As a result, it's crucial for each company to reengineer growth once again. On the upstream side, a fantastic opportunity presents itself in the forms of the Wheatstone and Gorgon projects.
These two massive liquefied natural gas projects will give Chevron a major operational footprint in global LNG, and will allow the company to serve the rapidly expanding Asian emerging economies. While last year was a disappointment, the Wheatstone and Gorgon projects represent huge potential in 2015 and beyond.