The natural decline of an oil and gas well is the enemy of an energy production company. It's a constant battle to find new sources of energy to mitigate this decline, and a real uphill battle to grow production above it. Just to keep its production steady, ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) needs to spend 55% of its annual capital budget. As we drill down into the company's international development plans we'll see just how hard it is to keep production steady in the midst of these declines.

Western Canada
ConocoPhillips is one of the top three natural gas producers in Canada. By investing $5.5 billion over the next five years the company will increase its production enough to keep 105,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day flowing and mitigate base decline completely. Without this investment production here would have been cut in half by 2017. A big portion of the target here will be natural gas liquids as the company looks to shift its production mix from 80% gas down to 60% over the five-year period. As an investor, steady production is the minimum of what you want to see. 

Among its many European operations, the Britannia natural gas and condensate field is one of the largest fields in the North Sea. This venture, in which it has partnered with Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and BP (NYSE:BP), has been producing since 1988. However, Britannia, along with its European other assets are in a constant rate of decline.

Despite investing $2.5 billion on development projects in Europe, ConocoPhillips will only be able to offset 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to mitigate its base decline to 7% per year. That's not a bad showing, but it is production that'll need to be made up elsewhere. The good news here is that ConocoPhillips does have some major projects in Europe that are in the works which will begin to deliver incremental production over the next few years.

Asia Pacific and the Middle East
With a five-year plan to spend about a billion dollars, ConocoPhillips expects to mitigate its decline rates in Asia and the Middle East to just 5% per year. It'll do that by investing in high-value gas drilling in Indonesia with its many Indonesian partners including, Chevron in the South Natuna Sea and Talisman (NYSE: TLM) is South Sumatra. By 2017 the capital invested is expected to contribute 25,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. However, like Europe, ConocoPhillips and its partners in the region will need to turn to other development projects to offset these production declines. 

My Foolish take
When you add it all up, ConocoPhillips plans to spend more than $9 billion to drive 170,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2017. Unfortunately, that won't be enough to stop its production declines around the world through development capital alone. However, there is good news for investors as development projects in the U.S. along with major projects around the world will not only pick up the slack but enable the company to actually grow its production by 3%-5% per year through 2017. Stay tuned to as we take a deeper look into ConocoPhillips' plan to offset its natural production declines and grow in the years ahead.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.