As most investors are probably aware, integrated oil companies are struggling to grow their oil and gas production in an environment in which the so-called "easy" reserves have already been depleted or are zealously protected by foreign governments.
While the production outlook for the integrated majors as a whole is rather weak, one company is a cut above the rest: Chevron (NYSE:CVX). Let's look at the three key areas that should allow this energy giant to deliver peer-leading production growth and boost its 3.3% dividend payout over the next few years.
The Gulf of Mexico
The first key is the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where Chevron boasts a leading position. It has already discovered some 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or BOE, in the Gulf, and expects to discover another 14 billion BOE in the future. With three major Gulf of Mexico projects slated to begin this year and next, the region will provide a massive boost to the company's oil production and cash flow.
These three projects -- Chevron-operated Jack/St. Malo and Big Foot and Hess-operated Tubular Bells -- will contribute over 150,000 BOE per day of net production at full capacity, more than doubling Chevron's 2012 deepwater Gulf production of 125,000 BOE per day. Assuming Gulf crude benchmark differentials don't weaken significantly, these projects should generate significant cash flow for the company.
The second key driver of Chevron's production will be its two major liquefied natural gas projects in Australia: Gorgon and Wheatstone. Gorgon, which will have a capacity of 15.6 million metric tons of LNG per year, is expected to begin shipping its first LNG cargos by mid-2015. The first LNG train at Wheatstone, which will have a production capacity of 8.9 million metric tons per year, is slated to go into service in 2016.
When operating at full capacity, the two projects will contribute roughly 400,000 barrels a day of net production. Due to the stable production profile of LNG projects, Gorgon and Wheatstone should generate a strong and stable cash flow for decades to come, while requiring very little capital investment after start-up. Indeed, Chevron views the projects as two of its most important future legacy assets.
Last but not least are Chevron's shale/tight oil operations mainly in West Texas' Permian Basin and Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale. Chevron, which has emerged as the largest acreage holder in the Permian's Delaware Basin, commanding roughly 1.3 million net acres, expects to nearly double its Permian production to some 250,000 BOE per day by 2020 from 135,000 BOE per day last year.
Meanwhile, Chevron is working with state-owned YPF to develop the Vaca Muerta shale, which is believed to be one of the largest shale oil reservoirs in the world. Current gross production from Vaca Muerta is only about 15,000 BOE per day, but is expected to rise sharply in coming years. Chevron and YPF plan to drill 140 wells in the play using a 17-rig drilling program this year.
These three key growth drivers should allow Chevron to increase its production to 3.1. million BOE per day by 2017, representing a compound annual growth rate of 4%. That's notably better than the 1%-3% annual growth expected by peers such as ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell.
In addition to its stronger production growth prospects, Chevron also boasts the highest upstream price realizations per BOE in its peer group, the highest upstream return on capital employed, and the second-lowest upstream costs per BOE, thanks in part to its heavily oil- and liquids-weighted production profile, which features 80% oil-linked pricing.
Assuming oil prices remain high and Chevron can avoid further delays and cost overruns at key growth projects, it should be able to deliver above-average dividend growth roughly in line with its 11% annualized average over the past decade. Investors looking for strong, oil-levered growth would do well to take a closer look at the company.