Anadarko’s new CEO pledges to stay the course

Former investment banker Al Walker on Tuesday takes the helm of Anadarko, one of the world’s largest independent oil and gas producers, succeeding a chief executive credited with building one of the industry’s most attractive exploration portfolios.

James Hackett, who took over as CEO in 2003 and reversed Anadarko’s falling stock price, has handed the reins to Walker. Hackett remains with The Woodlands-based company, serving as executive chairman. He plans to retire in June 2013.

The company is in strong shape and well positioned to capitalize on the boom of domestic oil and natural gas production, with major deep-water exploration projects around the world, analysts say.

One of Walker’s biggest challenges coming in might be filling the shoes of his predecessor, said Andrew Coleman, managing director of exploration and production research for Raymond James and Associates.

“Jim Hackett cast a big shadow,” Coleman said. “Anytime you go from having an oil and gas veteran guy stepping down to a CFO type from the investment banking world, people will naturally expect a change in style.”

Walker, in an interview, said he plans to stay the course set under Hackett’s leadership, maintaining a portfolio focused largely on unconventional oil and natural gas development in the United States and investing in deep-water projects in Africa and Gulf of Mexico.

More than half of the company’s nearly $7 billion capital budget will funnel into exploration and production of oil and natural gas on U.S. land. Another 10 percent is slated for the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, Anadarko’s Greater Natural Buttes expansion project received the go-ahead from the Interior Department to drill up to 3,675 new natural gas wells in eastern Utah.

“The good news is nothing really is likely to change in the near future,” Walker said. “I don’t believe there is a need to do anything really different, other than to continue the momentum.”

Meeting shareholders

Walker will meet with shareholders Tuesday at its annual gathering.

Anadarko, with a market capitalization of $33 billion, has a number of major projects under way worldwide. The company is developing a major facility for liquefying natural gas in Mozambique, where it estimates there are 17 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.

Targeting projects with potential for massive natural gas production to feed the world’s growing power needs will be a focus of Walker’s leadership, he said.

“We made one of the largest gas discoveries in the world there,” Walker said of Mozambique. “Countries that historically leaned toward nuclear power are moving back toward natural gas, and it’s unlikely that that’s going to change.”

Following through

Walker’s challenge will be to take the exploration projects launched under Hackett to production, Coleman said.

“Can they follow up all of that exploration success with actually making sure they hit the targets of getting those big, multiyear projects on production, on time and on budget?” Coleman said. “They have an exploration portfolio that a lot of big companies want to buy.”