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Why oil discoveries are in decline

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Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 10.29.57On 4th of May REP published its seventh annual ‘State of Exploration’ report, which benchmarks the performance of international conventional oil and gas exploration. The report has grown to become one of the definitive global benchmarks in the E&P sector. 

In a world awash with the stuff, new oil discoveries continue to be elusive. Global exploration drilling in 2016 is forecast to be down 73% on 2014 with discovered oil volumes at a decade low, according to Richmond Energy Partners’ annual ‘The State of Exploration’ report.

Dr Keith Myers, Managing Director, comments, “Industry has responded to the downturn by slashing exploration budgets by over 70% on average. Sustained oil prices above $60 per barrel are needed to stimulate exploration.  The geology economic to explore at $40/bbl is actually quite limited”.

The report is based on the analysis of more than 1100 exploration wells and covers a total of $49bn of exploration drilling spend since 2010.

A few highlights from the report:

  • Commercial oil discoveries fell to an 8-year low in 2015 as plays mature and the frontier programme fails to replenish prolific emerging oil plays. $17bn of frontier drilling spend over 5-years generated 16 new commercial plays in 12 different basins at a commercial success rate of 8%.
  • Headline drilling finding costs fell in 2015 due to some large deep water gas discoveries, but oil finding costs reached an 8-year high of $4.3/bbl.
  • Fewer than half of the 40 study group companies replaced production through conventional exploration over 5 years, though 25% made discoveries that transformed their resource bases. This leaves the door open to more M&A activity.
  • $60/bbl is a critical oil price floor to sustain offshore exploration in the long term. Below this level, even allowing for cost reductions, the number of commercial discoveries decreases such that at $40/bbl only 40% of the discoveries potentially commercial at $60/bbl are economically viable. Of the 57 offshore oil plays explored that delivered discoveries in the study period, only 12 delivered discoveries of a size potentially commercial at $40/bbl.
  • Exploration drilling completions in 2016 are expected to be 57% below 2015 levels and down 73% from the 2014 pre oil price crash levels. A diminished frontier campaign continues with 19 wells planned and a continued focus on the Atlantic Margins.

Dr Keith Myers said, “Industry has learned some hard lessons from the downturn – many companies over-committed to drilling wells in order to access acreage. Increased drilling did not lead to more success, and the risks of certain plays were systematically underestimated. Exploration strategy is being reset across the industry and there is a real opportunity to improve performance albeit from a lower activity level.

The transition from financial crisis management, to a growth crisis will be rapid, and those that can maintain investment and upgrade their portfolio through the cycle will be the ones to prosper”.

The report is available to purchase from Richmond Energy Partners [email protected].com. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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