It follows the recent appointment of new chief executive Ben van Beurden who is expected to take a more investor-friendly approach than his predecessor Peter Voser, likely to involve generating cash from asset sales as Shell seeks to boost returns for shareholders while carrying out major investments.
The Anglo-Dutch supermajor said in October that it would step up divestments “significantly” in 2014 and 2015 to keep cash flowing in, having made record capital expenditure last year of $45 billion that was $5 billion over guidance.
A source close to the company told the Financial Times it would divest mature upstream assets in the North Sea and elsewhere, more of its refining portfolio and some projects that have not yet reached final investment decisions and “make sense for others to develop”.
Shell has already announced strategic reviews of its loss-making US shale business and Nigerian assets, which have been dogged by rampant sabotage and oil theft.
The company announced last year that it was selling its position in the Eagle Ford and Mississippi Limeshale plays in the US, while also deciding not to proceed with a gas-to-liquids plant in Louisiana with a multi-billion dollar price tag.
Analysts and bankers believe some of the company’s Nigerian oil blocks plus a 23.1% stake in Australian group Woodside Petroleum – worth over $6 billion at current prices – could be put on the block, Reuters reported.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Shell were to sell some North Sea assets,” Santander analyst Jason Kenney said.
“In the North Sea, something like 80% of its production comes from 20% of its asset base so there’s a long tail of smaller positions.”
Shell, once one of the biggest players in the British offshore sector, still reportedly produces more than 12% of the UK’s oil and gas, with interests in more than 50 fields, while it also holds assets off Norway.
In recent years, the company has sharply reduced its North Sea presence by selling older assets to smaller companies that specialise in extracting more resource value from mature fields.
Kenney said he expected Shell under Van Beurden to focus on capital discipline, better returns and selling peripheral assets.
Some analysts have suggested the supermajor could go even further, with JP Morgan Cazenove analyst Fred Lucas stating in a note the company could divest as much as $30 billion in non-core assets.
Shell has insisted that it intends to meet its spending target of $130 billion between 2012 and 2015, despite last year’s record outlay, but this is dependent on making asset disposals.
Major oil companies such as Shell and Statoil are facing increasing investor pressure to hold down spending as costs rise and prospects for oil prices wane.
*Steve Marshall, Upstreamonline