Texas Shale Driller Sheffield to Retire From Pioneer Natural

  • Pioneer CEO discovered one of world’s biggest oil deposits
  • ‘Visionary’ executive brought global focus back home to Texas

Pioneer Natural Resources Co. Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield plans to retire from the Texas shale explorer that discovered one of the world’s largest oil bonanzas.

Sheffield, 63, will step down on Dec. 31. Chief Operating Officer Timothy Dove will succeed him as CEO, the Irving, Texas-based company said in a statement on Thursday.

Under Sheffield, Pioneer’s geologists and engineers discovered that multiple layers of shale in the Permian Basin of west Texas and New Mexico held billions more barrels of crude than had been previously known. He led the company’s shift from drilling a far-flung portfolio of domestic and international fields to an almost singular focus on the Permian region, where Pioneer controls rights to 800,000 acres.

“Scott Sheffield has truly been a visionary leader in the energy industry,” Ken Thompson, Pioneer’s lead director, said in the statement. “Despite the challenges facing the energy industry today, Pioneer is in excellent financial shape with great assets and a strong, experienced leadership team in place.”

Sheffield has estimated the Permian shales could hold as much as 75 billion barrels of crude, second only to Saudi Arabia’s enormous Ghawar field. After attending high school in Iran while his father was on assignment for Arco, Sheffield studied engineering at the University of Texas and followed his father into the oil industry.

While leading Pioneer’s predecessor company, Sheffield amassed Permian drilling rights that were being abandoned by major international companies in the 1980s and ’90s. He was also one of the leading voices in the oil lobby that persuaded the U.S. government to lift a four-decade ban on most domestic crude exports last year.

“Tim’s strategic thinking and depth of experience was critical to our efforts to transform the company into a leading developer of U.S. onshore unconventional resources,” Sheffield said in the statement of his anointed successor.

Pioneer shares have risen 30 percent this year, more than wiping out last year’s 16 percent decline. His personal holding of 689,693 Pioneer shares has a value of about $112 million.

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