Quarterly Alaska earnings improve to $99M for ConocoPhillips

Tuesday, 27 June 2017, 03:25:37 PM. ConocoPhillips, like Alaska’s other major oil producers, said higher oil prices have boosted its global income.

ConocoPhillips reported Tuesday it has given up its small stake in the Point Thomson gas field, and said it earned $99 million in Alaska in the first quarter of 2017, not counting the Point Thomson transaction.

In reporting its first-quarter income, ConocoPhillips, like Alaska's other major oil producers, said higher oil prices have boosted its global income.

The state sees some increased benefit from the higher prices, including in production taxes. For every $1 increase in the price of oil when Alaska crude is in the $50-a-barrel range, as it has been lately, the state receives about an extra $25 to $30 million though its production tax, said Ken Alper, director of the state tax division.

Worldwide, ConocoPhillips on Tuesday reported earnings of $800 million, up from a loss of $1.5 billion during the same period a year earlier. ConocoPhillips' quarterly report is anxiously awaited in Alaska because it's the only one of the three major producers to break out its in-state operations, a requirement of federal regulators.

In an email to a reporter, ConocoPhillips also said Tuesday it relinquished its stake in the Point Thomson field in northeastern Alaska, a gas-rich unit considered important to the state's effort to export North Slope natural gas. The company held about 5 percent of the field.

Conoco's share went to the other owners, primarily Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP.

An email from Natalie Lowman, communications director at ConocoPhillips Alaska said the company decided the project does not compete with other investments in its portfolio.

The company is focusing on investments in which the company has a greater share of the ownership, the email said.

Last April, the field began producing a small amount of light oil similar to kerosene or diesel fuel.

The $4 billion development is considered costly, in part because the field is highly pressurized and the oversized pipeline was built for a much larger amount of production in the future. Increasing production there would require more investment, said Alper.

ConocoPhillips' statement that it had pulled out of the Point Thomson unit seemed to catch state officials off-guard, though they said there had been rumors about it lately.

ConocoPhillips has not filed the necessary application and documents with the state in order to make the change, said Mark Wiggin, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Wiggin said it was too early to speak about how such a change in unit ownership, if it occurs, would affect future development at the field.

"This is developing," he said Tuesday.

ConocoPhillips on Tuesday reported a $174 million "impairment" associated with the relinquishment at Point Thomson. The impairment reduced asset values on the company's balance sheet, lowering ConocoPhillip's income for the quarter, according to an email from Lowman.

The reduction helped push ConocoPhillips earnings in Alaska to just below negative for the quarter. But if that reduction is excluded, the company earned $99 million in Alaska, according to its adjusted earnings.

In an earnings call with financial analysts, much of the attention was on the company's plans in Alaska, typically a strong moneymaker relative to ConocoPhillips operations elsewhere around the world.

A highlight was the Willow discovery in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, announced in January as a prospect that could yield up to 100,000 barrels of daily oil production as early as 2023. The company has completed a 3-D seismic test to further analyze the area, said Alan Hirshberg, an executive vice president.

The company remained on track with other new Alaska oil projects. He said the company's Alaska production had increased 3 percent, compared to the same quarter last year.

Alaska's two other major producers have reported improved global revenues in the quarter. Those companies don't separate out quarterly revenues in Alaska.

Exxon Mobil on Friday reported worldwide profits of $4 billion, more than double the amount earned in the previous year's quarter.

BP on Tuesday reported net global income of $1.5 billion, about $1 billion higher than a year ago.

Crude oil prices for the quarter hovered around $50 a barrel, about 65 percent higher than the year before.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said the state should be getting more from its tax at current oil prices than it is, though she agreed the higher prices are good news. She said under the current tax system, the benefit to Alaska will be limited unless prices reach about $70 a barrel, when the 4 percent minimum tax begins to rise.

"We still have a 2.7 billion deficit," said Tarr, who co-introduced a bill this year to increase revenue from the tax. Under it, the minimum tax would begin to increase at about $50 a barrel, she said.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she also supports increased production-tax revenue for the state at today's prices, but not too much.

She said the companies continue to struggle in the United States and Alaska as they recover from a long stretch of low oil prices. In Alaska, they have sharply increased production from the year before, she said. That has increased royalty income to Alaska, a benefit that comes in addition to production taxes.

"We need to make sure we increase production year-over-year in Alaska," she said. "That means we need to continue to be a place where companies receive a fair, balanced tax structure."

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