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Shell’s lavish spending on quixotic drilling adventures

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 15.38.09Shell’s quest for new reserves has seen it pump billions into money-devouring plays such as its Athabasca Oil Sands Project in northern Alberta and the Kashagan oilfield, a deeply troubled project in Kazakhstan. It’s even tried deep water drilling in the high Arctic. That attempt ended when the stormy waters of the Chukchi Sea crippled its Kulluk drilling platform, forcing the company to pull up stakes. Investors can’t simply count on ever rising oil prices to justify Shell’s lavish spending on quixotic drilling adventures around the world.

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Why Turning a Buck Isn’t Easy Anymore for Oil’s Biggest Players

Former Chief Economist, CIBC World Markets

27 Jan 2014

Judging by pump prices, Canadian drivers might think oil companies were rolling in profits that only move higher. Lately, though, the big boys in the global oil industry are finding that earning a buck isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, just announced that fourth quarter earnings would fall woefully short of expectations. The Anglo-Dutch energy giant warned its quarterly profits will be down 70 percent from a year earlier. Full-year earnings, meanwhile, are expected to be a little more than half of what they were the previous year.

What makes such poor performance especially disconcerting to investors is that it’s taking place within the context of historically high oil prices.

Shell’s quest for new reserves has seen it pump billions into money-devouring plays such as its Athabasca Oil Sands Project in northern Alberta and the Kashagan oilfield, a deeply troubled project in Kazakhstan. It’s even tried deep water drilling in the high Arctic. That attempt ended when the stormy waters of the Chukchi Sea crippled its Kulluk drilling platform, forcing the company to pull up stakes.

Investors can’t simply count on ever rising oil prices to justify Shell’s lavish spending on quixotic drilling adventures around the world.

Shell’s costs to find and develop oil fields, for instance, have tripled since 2003. What’s worse, when the company does notch a significant discovery, such as Kashagan, production seems to be delayed, whether due to the tricky nature of the geology, politics, or both.

Shell ramped up capital spending last year by 50 percent to a staggering $44 billion. Oil analysts are basically unanimous now in saying the company needs to rein in spending if it hopes to provide better returns to shareholders.

FULL ARTICLE

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