Spending on oil and gas exploration is recovering from the pandemic lows as the energy security push is prompting companies to look for lower-cost barrels with a more disciplined capex approach, which makes the hunt for new advantaged resources more attractive.
While exploration spend will never return to the days of splurges seen before 2014, oil and gas majors are spending more on conventional exploration this year, Wood Mackenzie said in a recent report.
Energy Security and Affordability Boosts Exploration
Oil and gas firms are emboldened by their strong financials thanks to the record profits of 2022 and the renewed ‘social license to operate’ after last year’s energy crisis and energy price shocks.
Security and affordability of energy supply currently trump emissions concerns and the ESG narrative as consumers are still reeling from last year’s crisis, while central banks are still trying to curb runaway inflation, hopefully without sinking economies with the interest rate hikes.
The European supermajors Shell, BP, and TotalEnergies have all said this year they would grow their oil and gas production this decade, focusing on low-cost, low-emission resources. For Shell and BP, the pledges mark a U-turn from previous statements that their respective oil production volumes had already peaked.
“It is critical that the world avoids dismantling the current energy system faster than we are able to build the clean energy system of the future. Oil and gas WILL continue to play a crucial role in the energy system for a long time to come with demand reducing only gradually over time,” Shell’s chief executive, Wael Sawan, said on Shell’s Capital Markets Day in June.
Just this week, TotalEnergies said it aims to grow its oil and gas production by 2-3% per year over the next five years, predominantly from LNG, and noted recent exploration successes in Namibia and Suriname. Related: Oil Moves Higher On EIA Inventory Draw
Discipline in spending, including on exploration, continues to prevail, but majors and national oil companies (NOCs) now have much stronger financial positions than they had only two years ago. This helps boost confidence with the management and could encourage a more bullish approach to exploration, said Julie Wilson, Research Director, Global Exploration, at WoodMac.
“Oil & gas companies largely prefer to keep a low profile when it comes to exploration, and budgets are rarely publicised. However, we know from conversations with leading explorers and recent licensing that the appetite for wildcatting remains strong,” Wilson wrote.
WoodMac sees a “quiet recovery over the next five years, led by Majors and NOCs.”
“Emerging deepwater provinces will attract increasing levels of spend,” the consultancy notes.
Attractive Exploration Economics
The economics for exploration are also attractive and incentivizing more spending, according to WoodMac.
Continued spending discipline, portfolio high-grading, and more efficient development have led to full-cycle returns from exploration consistently above 10% since 2018 and above 20% in 2022.
The growth in exploration spending will begin this year, with expenditures set to increase by 6.8% over 2022 in real terms, with robust economics being a major driver of the rise.
“While spending will increase, it won’t return to anywhere close to past highs and there will likely be a ceiling on the increase,” WoodMac’s Wilson said last month.
“There is a lack of high-quality prospects that would satisfy today’s economic and ESG metrics and a continued focus on capital discipline will keep a lid on overspending.”
Deepwater Frontiers To Drive Exploration
In the medium to long term, deepwater and ultra-deepwater are expected to provide the most growth opportunities, with the Atlantic Margin of Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean regions leading exploration growth.
Namibia in Africa, Greece and Egypt in the Mediterranean, and Suriname in South America have the potential to become the next Guyanas in exploration. Guyana became the latest oil-producing nation in 2019, five years after ExxonMobil and Hess began discovering billions of barrels of oil offshore.
Offshore Market Booming
The offshore market, including exploration and development, is set for an upcycle that will last for years, says Olivier Le Peuch, chief executive at the world’s biggest oilfield services provider, SLB.
“Today, offshore is the fastest growing market globally driven by long-cycle developments, production capacity expansions, the return of exploration and appraisal in brownfields and new frontiers, and the criticality of gas as a long-term fuel for energy security,” Le Peuch said at the J.P. Morgan Energy, Power & Renewables Conference 2023 earlier this year.
SLB expects offshore exploration spending to increase by more than 20% this year, the executive said.
“To conclude, we are in the midst of a distinct cycle with qualities that enhance the long-term outlook for our industry — Breadth, Resilience, and Durability — all reinforced by a pivot to international, offshore, gas, and the return of exploration and appraisal,” Le Peuch added.
According to Westwood Global Energy Group’s latest May 2023 report on the state of exploration, “The industry is likely to keep exploring at current levels at least through to 2030 to sustain production and create portfolio options in the light of uncertain future demand, with short cycle, low cost, low emissions intensity barrels being particularly prized along with gas for European markets.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
- The UK Approves A Controversial $3.8-Billion Oil And Gas Project
- China Set To Raise Fuel Exports Amid Higher Demand And Margins
- Oil Prices Climb As Cushing Oil Stocks Near Historic Lows