Hess expects U.S. output to take over 4 years to return to pre-COVID levels

(Reuters) – U.S. oil output could take more than four years to reach pre-pandemic levels, oil producer Hess Corp (HES.N) said on Wednesday, sticking to its spending plan despite rising demand to focus on shareholders returns over growth.

U.S. crude prices have jumped over 50% this year but in a departure from previous boom cycles, shale producers have hunkered down to their previously stated plans for spending and production to provide greater investor returns by way of buybacks or dividends.

“Shale will not be growing at the level that it was growing at in the last five years … it’s going to be hard to get to pre-COVID levels of 13 million barrels a day probably for the next three or four years,” Chief Executive Officer John Hess said on an earnings call.

Hess added that oil demand was running at about 98 million barrels a day, about 2 million less than pre-COVID levels globally.

The company will add one rig in North Dakota’s Bakken basin in September. It also said it expects net output in 2021 to be 295,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd), which is the upper end of its previous forecast range of 290,000 boepd to 295,000 boepd.

Still, Hess maintained its exploration and production capital expenditures forecast at $1.9 billion.

Benefiting from a 30% sequential rise in average prices for its crude to $59.79 a barrel, the company beat expectations for second-quarter adjusted profit.

But its production, excluding Libya, fell 2.5% to 307,000 boepd.

Hess shares were up 3.2% at $76.44 in afternoon trading.

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