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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Top Oil Companies Report Dismal Earnings

After a dismal quarter for oil prices, the oil majors are starting to report their earnings – and they don’t look good.

Royal Dutch Shell is the latest to release figures, outdoing some of their peers in terms of red ink. Shell posted a rather large third quarter cost-of-supplies loss – a metric similar to net income – of $6.1 billion. This is a particularly sizable loss when compared with the $5.3 billion gain the company earned a year ago.

The Anglo-Dutch company wrote off a massive $7.9 billion in assets, taking impairment charges on Arctic drilling ($2.6 billion) and the Carmon Creek oil sands project in Alberta ($2 billion). “These are difficult, but impactful decisions. I am determined that Shell will become a more focused and competitive company as a result,” CEO Ben van Beurden said in a statement, referring to the company’s decision to scrap projects in the Arctic and Canada. Related: Iran May Not Be That Attractive To Oil Industry After All

When not accounting for the write-offs, Shell’s quarterly profit stood at $1.8 billion, a 70 percent decline from the third quarter in 2014. Shell left its dividend unchanged. The major was insulated by its downstream unit, however, as refining margins grew. Shell’s downstream earnings hit $2.6 billion, up from $1.8 billion last year.

The company remains focused on the $70 billion purchase of BG, which will transform the its operations. “The BG deal, which remains on track for completion in early 2016, is a springboard to focus Shell into fewer and more profitable themes, especially deep water and integrated gas,” van Beurden said.

It has been a dismal year for Shell, as it had to pull the plug on its Arctic campaign, which spanned the better part of a decade and cost more than $7 billion. Shell’s Arctic campaign has been described as one of the most expensive failed oil ventures in history. “This is bad for Shell, but also bad for the industry and bad for the U.S.,” Oppenheimer & Co analyst Fadel Gheit told The Wall Street Journal in September after Shell scrapped its Arctic program. Related: Stop Blaming OPEC For Low Prices

BP already reported its results earlier this week. The results were better than Shell’s, with a $1.8 billion profit for the quarter, though that figure was down 40 percent from the year earlier. Assuming oil would average $60 per barrel over the next several years, BP announced plans to once again slash capital expenditures. Instead of spending $24 to $26 billion in 2015, BP will drop that down to $19 billion. Spending will then drop to $17 to $19 billion per year in 2016 and 2017.

ConocoPhillips posted a $1.1 billion loss for the third quarter, down from a profit of $2.7 billion in 2014. There were some impairment charges related to a cancelled rig in the Gulf of Mexico, but even excluding those charges, the company had a $446 million loss. Related: Policy, Coincidence Or Conspiracy: What’s Really Holding Oil Prices Down?

French oil giant Total also reported lower earnings. Total’s profit plummeted by 69 percent in the third quarter compared to the same period in 2014. However, like Shell, that figure included some one-time impairment charges. Excluding those figures, Total’s profit dropped only 23 percent – painful, although not terrible considering the depressed marketplace. Total also took a write-down on some Canadian oil assets ($650 million). But Total’s quarterly performance was better than some of its peers because it managed to increase output. Production rose to 2.34 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe), a 10 percent increase from a year ago. Total shipped its first LNG cargo from the Gladstone project in Australia, and also added production from projects in Angola and Canada.

Suncor Energy, Canada’s leading oil sands company, swung to a loss for the third quarter. The company posted a CAD$376 million loss, down from a net profit of CAD$919 million a year earlier.

Canada seems to be a theme here as high cost oil sands ran into not only cheap oil prices, but discounted Canadian benchmark prices. In fact, after the current spate of projects under construction are completed, there is a dearth of new projects in the pipeline. According to ARC Financial, the oil industry has scrapped 18 oil sands projects in Canada so far during the downturn. As a result, after 2020, there will be very few new sources of output that will come online in Canada.

ExxonMobil and Chevron will report on October 30.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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