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ConocoPhillips (COP) said Monday it plans to continue shutting down its U.S. natural gas production due to low commodity prices, and that a major liquefied natural gas project offshore Australia is on schedule to see a final investment decision in the second quarter.
"We...expect continued gas shut-ins in North America of around 9,000 BOE [barrels of oil equivalent] per day due to low gas prices" Conoco Chief Financial Officer Jeff Sheets told analysts in an earnings conference call. "We continue to evaluate this for further shut-in."
Conoco, which is splitting into two companies by the end of the month, has been curtailing natural gas production as prices continue to be depressed in a glut caused by the shale gas revolution. Prices have been trading at their lowest levels in a decade despite production cuts from Conoco and other companies. The Houston-based firm continues to shift drilling toward more profitable oil areas, Sheets said.
Separately, Conoco said the second phase of its Asian Pacific LNG project offshore Australia is on schedule to see a final investment decision in the second quarter and that delivery of its first cargo is expected in mid-2015. The company has not decided yet if it the project will require another expansion.
Conoco has drilled two of eight wells at its Jasmine project in U.K. and "results are exceeding expectations," the company said. Jasmine production is expected next year.
The company reiterated its target to sell $8 billion to $10 billion worth of assets in the next 12 months, and said it expects to repurchase $5 billion of its own shares in the first half of the year. "Timing of additional share repurchases will depend on timing of the dispositions," Sheets said.
Conoco said its 2012 capital expenditure budget is expected to be $15 billion, up from its previous guidance of $14.5 billion.
In the downstream side, the company's refineries will run at slightly more than 90% of capacity in the second quarter as the company takes about 140 million barrels a day in refining capacity offline for maintenance, Sheets said. On May 1, Conoco's refining arm will become a stand-alone refining company called Phillips 66.
Conoco said it is extending its sale deadline for its refinery in Trainer, Pa., to late May due to strong interest from buyers. Media reports have focused on Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL) as a possible buyer, with the airline considering using the 185,000 barrel-a-day refinery as a source of jet fuel. ConocoPhillips also continues to try to find a buyer for its 247,000 barrel-a-day refinery in Belle Chasse, La.
ConocoPhillips' said its chemical joint venture with Chevron Corp. (CVX), Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., is still studying a potential $5 billion ethane cracker to be built in Cedar Bayou, Texas. A final investment decision will be made in late-2012, with any project taking up to four years to complete.
-By Isabel Ordonez and Ben Lefebvre, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9207; firstname.lastname@example.org
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