Where did things go so wrong for Exxon?

The short answer is the pandemic, which crushed oil prices and continues to tank the value of nearly every oil company. Chevron’s share price also got a leg up this week as the company sealed a deal to acquire midsized fracking company Noble Energy. NextEra, meanwhile, has been creeping up from behind for years, as it reaps the rewards of being one of the first US power companies, starting two decades ago, to go big on renewables.

But Exxon was vulnerable before the pandemic. The loss of cash flow from oil and gas sales in recent months has hit the company especially hard, because many of its expensive gambles in the last decade went bust, including development in Canada’s high-cost oil sands and a scrapped offshore drilling plan in Russia. Those misadventures have left the company saddled with debt and unable to increase production in line with its peers.

The company has been kept afloat in part by its plastics business, which has proven more pandemic-proof than other sectors. But it could be poised to the miss the boat again: Exxon is postponing investments in liquified natural gas terminals in the US and elsewhere, facilities that could be the last great moneymaker for fossil fuels.

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