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CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Penn West Petroleum Ltd PWT.TO shares were down as much as 4.7 percent on Tuesday after the company fired four senior executives, including its chief operating officer.
Penn West, one of Western Canada's largest conventional oil producers, said Chief Operating Officer Hilary Foulkes had left the company "effective immediately". Thane Jensen, Penn West senior vice-president operations and engineering; James Burns, vice-president, corporate planning; and Wendy Henkelman, vice-president, treasury, were also let go.
"We released these people," Murray Nunns, the company's chief executive, told Reuters.
Nunns said Penn West had been considering the move for what he called "an extended period" as the company's shares badly lagged those of its peers. While the company has stakes in some of Alberta's biggest conventional oil deposits and had taken steps to lower debt, Nunns said Penn West still has to persuade investors it can meet production and financial targets.
"Frankly we were seeing drift in that direction and it was time to change that as an organization, plain and simple," he said. "I could candy coat it a couple of ways but that is what the Street needs to see from us."
Foulkes had been in charge of Penn West's asset sale program, including the C$1.3 billion ($1.31 billion) sale of noncore properties to undisclosed buyers announced last month.
Indeed Nunns described Foulkes as "wizard in the industry" on a conference call last week for her oversight of the company's property acquisition and divestiture portfolio. Neither she nor the other departing executives could be reached immediately for comment.
Foulkes's departure surprised observers.
"We thought she was a valuable part of the (management) team," said Matt Donohue, an analyst at UBS Securities.
Penn West shares were down 43 Canadian cents at C$11.17 late on Tuesday afternoon on the Toronto Stock Exchange, after earlier dropping as low as C$11.05.
The shares have dropped 38 percent over the past 12 months, while the exchange's main energy index has fallen 8.5 percent over the same period.
Reporting by Scott Haggett. Editing by Andre Grenon; and Peter Galloway