To date, 2020 has been an extremely challenging period for the oil and gas sector. Demand destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented negative oil prices for the WTI benchmark as global inventories swelled. Despite these challenges, we were able to manage our business effectively, with relatively little operational impact from COVID-19. We successfully adapted our work procedures to ensure operational safety and business continuity in all of our operating regions. As we continue navigating through COVID-19, our first priority is to ensure the continued health and safety of our employees and business continuity.
In Q2 2020, we made several leadership changes in an effort to realign the Company with Vermilion’s long-standing core business principles, which are based on a conservative, long-term focus on balance sheet strength and capital discipline to generate strong returns. The five core principles include: maintaining a strong balance sheet with low leverage; managing a total payout ratio of less than 100%; consistently delivering results that meet or exceed expectations, protecting equity to minimize dilution; and maintaining a strong corporate culture. These principles were implemented when Vermilion started paying a distribution as an energy trust in 2003 and have served the Company well over its history.
Our plans for the rest of this year and next will be guided by our core business principles, focusing on free cash flow generation and debt reduction rather than top-line production growth. In due course, we will review our shareholder return policy to determine the appropriate time to reinstate a dividend and/or buyback shares. We are proud to have delivered over $40 per share in dividends to our shareholders over the past 17 years and we believe returning capital to shareholders is a key component in generating long-term shareholder returns. Although we do not expect the road ahead to be without challenges, we believe our renewed focus on these core business principles will help guide Vermilion through these difficult times and position the Company for long-term value creation.