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Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger

Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.

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The Biggest Oil & Gas Discoveries Of 2019

The world is still making huge oil discoveries. There’s just nothing conventional about them. 

Conventional oil and gas discoveries have fallen by the wayside since the shale boom and the subsequent oil price collapse. In fact, they’ve fallen to their lowest in 70 years. But there are still some amazing discoveries in the mysterious deep. 

All in all, this year has seen new discoveries of nearly 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent, compared to 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent discovered last year. 

But what’s most striking is that new discoveries aren’t even close to keeping pace with the loss of conventional resources. According to Rystad, the current resource replacement ratio for conventional resources is only 16 percent. In other words, only one barrel out of every six consumed is being replaced with new resources. 

So not only has our pace of discovery declined, but discoveries are also in much more challenging geological venues and typically offshore, which means it could take many years just to bring new resources online. 

While Russia technically has chalked up the most oil discoveries in terms of Bboe of recoverable reserves, the year’s not over yet, and the Guyana-Suriname basin is proven a tantalizing prospect. Not only has ExxonMobil made 14 discoveries there, but Tullow has chimed in with two of its own nearby, and Apache is drilling right now in the Suriname side of this basin. 

If Apache strikes, then investors will be looking for a repeat of the dramatic discovery pace right across the maritime border in Guyana. 

But until then, it’s Russia in the number one spot on the discovery chart for 2019, followed by Guyana and Cyprus. 

#1 Russia - 1.5 Bboe in Russian Arctic Waters

So far this year, Russia has discovered nearly 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (Bboe) thanks to the Dinkov and Nyarmeyskoye finds on the Yamal peninsula shelf in the Kara Sea. In natural gas terms, that’s a whopping 17 trillion cubic feet (Tcf). 

But this is gas for Gazprom. When it comes to Arctic oil, Russia’s state-run Rosneft is having a tougher time. 

To get its Arctic projects off the ground, Rosneft will need $40 billion in tax cuts from the government. According to The Moscow Times, Rosneft had secured a deal with Indian financiers to invest in a 15-20-percent stake, but that was only going to happen if Rosneft was granted a $40-billion tax break over the next 30 years. 

The problem for investors is that while Rosneft’s Vostok Oil project reserves are worth around $15 billion, climate change is causing oil and gas infrastructure to sink into the ground, making the project even more costly. 

So, Russia may be leading discoveries so far this year, but extraction is another issue entirely. 

#2 Guyana: More Than 6 Billion Barrels, And Climbing

ExxonMobil just put Guyana on the oil and gas map for the first time. 

It’s not just a big discovery; it’s a huge discovery. In fact, it’s a string of 14 discoveries so far - just from Exxon. Tullow Oil has also announced two discoveries. 

Prior to the last three discoveries listed below, Guyana had already hit 6 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the Stabroek Block. 

Then came these in rapid succession: 

- Discovery No. 14: Tripletail-1, Exxon.

- Discovery No. 15: Jethro-1, Tullow - With partners Total, Eco Atlantic, and Qatar Petroleum, Tullow expects its find  near 100 million barrels from Jethro-1 in Guyana’s Orinduik block, where the well encountered 55 meters of net oil pay in August.

- Discovery No. 16: Joe-1, Tullow - Piggybacking on the success of Jethro-1, Tullow announced in September that it had made its second oil discovery in Guyana. Joe-1 encountered 14 meters of net pay. The find was important for Tullow, who said the find de-risks the west part of the Orinduik Block, were a number of other similar prospects had already been identified.

The potential for Guyana is huge, with some estimating Guyana’s future production at 750,000 within the next five years - which would be essentially one barrel of oil produced for every man, woman, and child - every day. Related: Russia Predicts The Death Of U.S. Shale

What could possibly trip this up? Well, for starters, a maritime border dispute with Venezuela, and some tricky domestic politics that will see an election next spring, right about the time Exxon is expecting first production from it’s Liza Phase 1 project. 

#3 Cyprus: Up to 8 trillion cubic feet of disputed gas

In February, Exxon made the biggest natural gas discovery in two years off the coast of Cyprus. 

Exxon discovered an estimated 5-8 trillion cubic feet, which the European Union is greedily eyeing as a pathway to a new Mediterranean gas hub that will reduce Russian dominance in the region. 

Everyone knew this discovery would be problematic for Turkey. And Erdogan has responded with the promised zeal by provocatively sending its own drillships to Cyprus’ offshore EEZ to start drilling on its own. 

The Turks say that Cypriots have no jurisdiction to explore for natural gas here. The Cypriots disagree, as does the entire Western world. 

Will Turkey win this battle? Not likely, but investors certainly weren’t keen on Italian oil giant Eni’s recent statement that if Turkey sent warships to the area, it would stop drilling wells. 

2019 And Beyond: What Venues to Watch

The top three venues to keep an eye on heading in Q4 and heading into the New Year are Suriname and the Gulf of Mexico. 

When it comes to Suriname, the government - and any savvy investor - is anticipating that the massive finds in next-door Guyana extend across the maritime border. And while so far no one’s managed to strike black gold here, next up is Apache, and it’s drilling in the sweet spot right next to one of Exxon’s, tight up to the border. Drilling results are expected any day. 

In the Gulf of Mexico, Shell - along with Chevron, Equinor, and Repsol - found one of its largest oil discoveries ever in April, in the Perdido Corridor in the US Gulf of Mexico. The exploration well encountered more than 400 feet of net oil pay. Shell has been particularly successful in deepwaters in the Gulf of Mexico and is on track to produce more than 900,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by next year - from oil it has already discovered.

US Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) crude production averaged 1.8 bpd in 2018. That was a new record, and the EIA expects another record this year and next. In fact, production looks set to hit 1.9 million bpd this year, and 2 million bpd in 2020. 

Source: EIA

While exploration has now shifted offshore for any big discoveries, ramping up production takes time, and even with 2 million bpd by 2020, the GOM will still only account for about 15 percent of total US crude production. 

Onshore production is outpacing offshore, but the age of discoveries onshore is over. The future game of discovery is decidedly in deep waters.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 28 2019 said:
    There are two known ways to add to global oil reserves. One is to discover new reserves. The other is to improve the recovery factor (RF) defined as the extractable oil as a percentage of the oil initially in place (OIIP). The global RF average currently ranges from 34%-35%.

    Whilst conventional oil discoveries have fallen to their lowest in 70 years, improving the RF by even 1% to 35%-36% adds almost 51 billion barrels (bb) to existing proven oil reserves of 1729.7 bb without even drilling a single new well.

    Moreover, what determines the conversion of newly discovered oil resources (and for that matter gas resources) into proven reserves and their eventual production is prevailing oil prices t the time and the availability of funds to finance production.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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