CORRECTED-As Big Oil shrinks, boards plot different paths out of crisis
(Corrects paragraph five to show deepwater projects are being deemphasized by some companies, not withdrawn)
* Companies seek to safeguard growth for when market recovers
* U.S. firms abandon deepwater projects for shale oil fields
* Britain's BP bets on Egyptian gas, Shell on major acquisition
By Ron Bousso and Terry Wade
LONDON/HOUSTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) - As oil and gas companies cut ever-deeper into the bone to weather their worst downturn in decades, boards have adopted contrasting strategies to lead them out of the crisis.
Crude prices have tumbled around 70 percent over the past 18 months to around $35 a barrel, leading to five of the world's top oil companies reporting sharp declines in profits in recent days.
Executives at energy firms face a tough balancing act: they must cut spending to stay financially afloat while preserving the production infrastructure and capacity that will allow them to compete and grow when the market recovers.
Companies have opted for differing approaches to secure future growth, often choosing to narrow focus to their areas of expertise and the geographic location of their main assets. Continuación...