NEW YORK/HOUSTON, June 15 (Reuters) - A cadre of oil companies, seeing continued profits in shale, are mulling Royal Dutch Shell’s holdings in the largest U.S. oil field as the European giant considers an exit from the Permian Basin, according to market experts.
The potential sale of Shell’s Permian holdings, located in Texas, would be a litmus test of whether rivals are willing to bet on shale’s profitability through the energy transition to reduce carbon emissions.
Shell would follow in the footsteps of other producers, including Equinor and Occidental Petroleum that have shed shale assets this year, looking to cut debt and reduce carbon output in the face of investor pressure.
Shell, which declined to confirm on Reuters’ report on Sunday that it was weighing the blockbuster sale of its Texas shale assets, also did not comment for this story.
To showcase its 260,000 acres (105,200 hectares) in the Permian, Shell has opened a data room, according to two people familiar with the matter.
ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, Chevron Corp , EOG Resources and some private energy houses are all potential bidders for some or all of Shell’s Permian assets, according to analysts. None of the four publicly-traded companies immediately responded to comment requests.
U.S. oil output is still roughly 2 million barrels per day below its all-time record production of nearly 13 million bpd hit before the coronavirus pandemic, that made it the world’s top producer.
Oil prices have rebounded in 2021 with fuel demand rising as the pandemic ebbs. Benchmark U.S. crude futures are up 49% this year to nearly $72 per barrel, more than double their 2020 lows.
Against this backdrop, estimates for Shell’s acreage run from $7 billion to over $10 billion, the latter implying a valuation of almost $40,000 an acre.
That would be in line with the per-acre price Pioneer Natural Resources paid for DoublePoint Energy in April, the most costly deal since a 2014-2016 rush by producers to grab positions in the Permian.
Most Permian deals this year have closed between $7,000 and $12,000 per acre, said Andrew Dittmar, senior mergers and acquisitions analyst at data provider Enverus.
A cash deal seems preferable for Shell, which could deploy the proceeds into debt reduction or clean-energy investments. To increase the number of bidders, Shell could accept shares in the buyer or divide the land into multiple packages, people familiar with the process said.
ConocoPhillips owns acreage close to Shell’s holdings and analysts say it is a top contender for the assets. Rival Chevron also has nearby operations that could make a deal attractive, said Artem Abramov, of Rystad Energy.
Devon Energy is likely the smallest company that could bid on the acreage, according to analysts. Sven Del Pozzo, analyst at IHS, said the assets could be valuable to the Oklahoma City-based company.
Smaller competitors are less likely to buy the assets because of the size of the sale, analysts said, and because acquisition financing is limited since last year’s oil price crash.
“Financing of fossil fuels is under massive pressure,” said Paul Sankey, analyst at Sankey Research in New York. “The banks have a choice of multiple sectors to finance and it’s a lot easier for them to not finance oil, gas and coal.”
The assets are located in the Delaware Basin, the westernmost shale field within the Permian. The location deters Pioneer Natural Resources, which is focused in the Midland region, located further east.
Some producers that could qualify for financing might avoid it, said Rystad’s Abramov. Mewbourne Oil, the largest private producer in the Delaware, where Shell operates, has decades of good inventory in its existing acreage, making an acquisition unnecessary. The company did not respond to a comment request.
Occidental operates in partnership with Shell and is a logical fit for the property, but is still shoring up its balance sheet following its acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum, said Alex Beeker, principal corporate analyst at Wood MacKenzie.
Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Jennifer Hiller, additional reporting by David French in New York and Ron Bousso in London Editing by Marguerita Choy