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BHP Billiton to step up U.S. shale production

MELBOURNE, Australia--BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP.AU) said Wednesday it plans to step up activity in the U.S. oil-and-gas shale fields that activist shareholders are agitating for the resources company to offload.

The move is expected to revive flagging onshore production volumes even as BHP continues to invest in conventional energy operations and exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and other basins while seeking to sell some unwanted U.S. shale acreage.

BHP has been forced to defend its strategy after New York hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. led a series of attacks in recent months, calling for a sweeping overhaul of the world's largest-listed mining company and criticizing the billions of dollars spent on acquisitions and mistimed share buybacks. The push by Elliott and other shareholders has drawn BHP's petroleum division into the spotlight and revived questions about the billions of dollars spent picking on onshore U.S. assets at the height of the natural-gas boom.

BHP on Wednesday forecast a rise in overall production across its operations over the 2018 financial year, as steady growth in iron-ore output and a rebound in commodities including copper offset a further drop in petroleum volumes in the 12 months through June.

The company expects to have up 10 rigs operating in its U.S. shale fields in the coming year, double the number currently drilling for oil and gas after it added two more in the recent quarter, Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie said.

That will see it spending about US$1.2 billion...