How Scott Sheffield revived oil production in West Texas
ExxonMobil's acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources for about $60 billion is rated as the largest US oil industry transaction in decades.
Behind the colossal acquisition agreement of Pioneer Natural Resources, which exploits the rich deposits of the Permian basin in the USA, from the energy giant ExxonMobil hides an important “orchestrator” and entrepreneur, Scott Sheffield. The 71-year-old American started working in 1979 at Parker & Parsley, as a young petroleum engineer, as reported by the Financial Times. His company was trying to drill in West Texas, once called the “graveyard of oil prospects.” That business gradually morphed into Pioneer Natural Resources, which Sheffield sold to ExxonMobil for about $60 billion – the largest US oil industry deal in decades. In 2010-2020 Pioneer helped revive the moribund Permian Basin in Texas, which is considered a key source of supply internationally. “We took something on our hands that many thought was unprofitable and turned it into potentially the largest oil and gas basin in the world,” Sheffield told the FT. “When you add up the deposits in gas, liquefied natural gas and black gold, then you realize that they are as big as Saudi Arabia.” The Exxon deal comes to cap a cycle of massive upheaval in the oil industry, including two OPEC price wars, an unprecedented drop in prices below zero in 2020, and the emergence of climate change as a fundamental concern for investors.
People who have worked with Sheffield describe him as a hands-on CEO, fierce competitor and philanthropic on critical issues. “Scott has a certain uniqueness because he bridged the world between the smaller independents, where he started, and the oil majors, as his has evolved,” said Bobby Tudor, founder and chief investment officer at Artemis Energy Partners. Scott Sheffield has worked in almost every department and every hierarchy in the oil industry. After dropping out of the University of Texas in the early 1970s, he worked six months on an offshore drilling rig. “Let's just say it didn't take long for me to realize that a university degree is very important,” he told a student audience in 2016. He returned to the auditorium, changed his major to study petroleum engineering, graduated, and joined the oil company Amoco Production in his Odessa Texas. Entered Parker & Parsley, became its chief executive a decade later, and in 1997 merged it with rival Mesa Petroleum to create Pioneer, according to the FT.
The company became a leading force in the exploitation of shale deposits with its technique hydraulic fracturing. Oil and gas production soared. US oil production has soared from about 5 million barrels per day in 2008 to 13 million barrels per day this year. After a brief retirement, in 2019 Scott Sheffield returned to Pioneer and when the coronavirus pandemic crushed oil prices in 2020 he was one of the oil group leaders who asked the Texas authorities to intervene to limit oil production and save the shale industry. He also took advantage of the downturn by acquiring Permian Basin rivals Parsley Energy and Double Point Energy in 2021 for $11 billion. The acquisitions eventually made his company the largest producer in the state of Texas.