Does Chevron's New Board Member Signal Some Major Changes?

The board of directors for a company is always an interesting study. Quite frequently we hear stories of boards that are filled with "yes" men who parrot the views of the CEO. But sometimes appointments can really bring something to the table, and Chevron may have done just that with the addition of Jon Huntsman Jr., who will join the board of directors effective Jan. 15. Many people may remember Huntsman's name from the 2012 Republican presidential primaries and as the governor of Utah, but what Chevron probably values are things that most of us don't know about him. Let's take a look at what Huntsman could bring to the table with Chevron.

Ease on down the value chain
If the name Huntsman sounds familiar, that's because he is a son of the founder of chemical company Huntsman , where his brother is the acting CEO and he sits on the board of directors. With the recent surge in natural gas -- and more importantly for the chemical manufacturing industry, ethane -- here in the U.S., several of the integrated majors are looking to increase their presence in chemical manufacturing. Chevron is no exception. Through its partnership with Phillips 66 , the company plans on building a 1.5 million ton per year ethane-cracking facility in the Gulf Coast region. This facility will cost more than $5 billion by the time it is completed and will represent one of Chevron's largest investments in the downstream side of its operations in many years. 

Combine this new facility with incorporating Huntsman on the board and it could signal that the company is looking to take a greater leap into the downstream side of the business. One reason this is happening is because Chevron and other Big Oil companies missed the boat when it came to shale oil and gas, and one of the ways companies can still capture value from this major shift in the American energy landscape is to be in a position to consume all that cheap natural gas. With extremely deep pockets, Big Oil has the ability to finance these major projects much easier than some of the independent oil and gas producers or some of the smaller chemical companies. 

Dealing with the dragon
The other critical element Huntsman can bring to the table is relationships he has in the Asia Pacific market. In his political career he has acted as the U.S. ambassador to both Singapore and China, and there are very few countries out there more valuable to an energy company than China. Also, his presence could not come at a more critical time for Chevron.

For the past couple years, Chevron and PetroChina have been developing a $6.4 billion in a very high risk natural-gas project. The Chuandongbei gas project is both a high-pressure field and contains very high level of hydrogen sulfide. Recently, the two partners have not exactly seen eye to eye and have suspended the expansion phases of the project until this part can get up and running. PetroChina originally estimated the project to be completed in 2010, but it has suffered many delays including a blowout that killed more than 240 people from hydrogen sulfide poisoning.

This is by far and away Chevron's largest project in China, and its success will more than likely be a large determinant on future projects in China. This is important because estimates put China's shale-gas deposits at more than 36 trillion cubic feet, the largest in the world. Also, the major players in China do not have shale gas drilling expertise, so they will need to work with other players. Both Royal Dutch Shell and Hess have both inked major development deals in China, and Chevron will likely be vying for other Chinese projects down the road. Having Jon Huntsman in Chevron's corner could go a long way in navigating the political climate in China.

What a Fool believes
New board appointees can fly under the radar, but when a high-profile addition like this one comes around, investors should be aware of what it could mean for the company. In the case of Chevron, it is very likely this could signal that the company wants to expand its presence in China as well as its downstream footprint. If Chevron were to start developing China's shale gas on top of its already large position in Argentina's shale gas, it could put the company at the forefront of expanding unconventional gas drilling outside the U.S.

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Fool contributor Tyler Crowe has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him at under the handle TMFDirtyBird, on Google +, or on Twitter, @TylerCroweFool. The Motley Fool recommends Chevron. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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