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Exxon Executive: Switching US Drilling Rigs To Oil Areas, Away From Gas

By Isabel Ordonez Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES HOUSTON -(Dow Jones)- Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) said Thursday it is reducing the number of rigs drilling for shale gas in the U.S. and switching them to oil-rich areas such as North Dakota's Bakken Shale and West Texas's Permian Basin. Exxon Mobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, also continues to acquire properties in shale oil areas in the U.S., the company said. "We have continued to shift [rigs] to the liquids rich plays...focusing on the Bakken, the Permian," said David Rosenthal, Exxon Mobil's vice president of investors relations. We have "continued to acquire liquids rich acreage at attractive prices and shift our rig fleet over to those areas while minimizing the incremental exposure to dry gas wells." The remarks are a reversal for Exxon Mobil, which despite low natural gas prices, had continued to drill for shale gas in recently acquired properties in areas such as Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. Exxon's change in drilling focus follows similar moves by other energy producers that have seen cash flows and earnings hit by depressed natural gas prices, which have been trading at their lowest point in a decade at around $2 per million British thermal units. Exxon posted Thursday an 11% drop in earnings on lower oil-and-gas production and a drop in chemical profits that more than offset the benefits of high crude prices and improved refining results. The company's production dropped 5%, with natural gas production falling 3.3%. The average price at which Exxon sold its natural-gas production in the first quarter was $2.74 per thousand cubic feet, down 20% from the same period a year earlier. --By Isabel Ordonez, Dow Jones Newswires; 713-547-9207;

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