WoodMac: Global upstream investment down $1 trillion since oil-price slump

Global upstream development spending from 2015 to 2020 has declined 22%, or $740 billion, since fourth-quarter 2014, according to research from Wood Mackenzie Ltd. Including cuts to conventional exploration investment, the figure increases to just more than $1 trillion.

Capital expenditures in 2016-17 will be down 30%, or $370 billion, compared with pre-oil price plunge expectations, notes Malcolm Dickson, WoodMac principal analyst. The firm expects to see further cuts throughout the year as more projects are dropped and companies struggle to break even.

“Virtually every oil-producing country has seen some form of capex cuts,” said Dickson. “The deepest are in the US Lower 48, where forecast capital investment has halved in 2016-17, falling by $125 billion. This is mainly down to a big drop-off in drilling, with the onshore rig count dropping by 53% from 2015 to 2016.”

A large drop off has also occurred in Russia, where investment is down 40% over the next 2 years, but much of that figure is due to the ruble depreciating vs. the dollar. WoodMac says Russia intends to maintain production and continue drilling. In March, the country reached another post-Soviet liquids production record of 10.9 million b/d.

The Middle East has generally been less impacted, as several countries in the region spend to maintain market share. Saudi Arabian investment, for example, will not decline during 2016-17.

Compared with expectations from before the oil-price slump, WoodMac expects 7 billion boe less to be produced from 2016-2020. In the nearer term, as a result of the price drop, it forecasts 3%, or 5 million boe/d, less global production in 2016 and 4%, or 6 million boe/d, less in 2017, with onshore US accounting for 70% of the fall.

Costs not keeping pace

“In the main, discretionary projects have been hardest hit with conventional pre-[final investment decision] greenfield investment alone down $80 billion from 2016 to 2020,” explained Dickson. Spending on deepwater and ultradeepwater projects has been cut nearly 40% in 2016-17. Conventional exploration investment for 2015-20 is $300 billion less than the firm expected in 2014.

Andrew Latham, WoodMac vice-president of exploration research, noted that “costs have not been cut as much and as quickly” as the firm expected despite exploration investment more than halving since 2014, with expected spending at $42 billion/year in 2016-17. “Some deepwater exploration spend has been protected by long rig contracts, but as these unwind we expect sharper cuts than in non-deepwater,” he added.

However, WoodMac notes that cost deflation has played a major role in driving down spend. For example, costs in the US unconventional sector in 2015 fell 25% on average from peak in 2014. The firm's models show 2016 is likely to yield another 10%.

“For now, the select few projects that are progressed will do so because costs have been cut substantially to hit economic hurdle rates,” said Dickson. “But kick-starting the next investment cycle will require more cost deflation and project scope optimization, along with confidence in higher prices and arguably fiscal incentives.”

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