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- John Donnelly (JPT Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- July 2006
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 12 - 12
- 2006. Society of Petroleum Engineers
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The day ExxonMobil announced a first-quarter profit of U.S. $8.4 billion—eliciting protests from politicians and consumer groups—its stock price dropped. The huge profits disappointed some Wall Street analysts who were expecting even larger cash flows. That underscores big oil’s dilemma: trying to satisfy the short-term interests of the market and the political sphere while meeting the long-term goals of production needed to satisfy the world’s growing appetite for fuel.
As oil prices rise and peak-oil theorists get wider attention, some are calling on the oil industry to pump massive amounts of capital into the system to meet growing demand and to debottleneck supply constraints. The Intl. Energy Agency believes the industry should spend U.S. $7 trillion by 2030 to quench global consumption needs. But while large oil companies are reporting healthy profits this year with oil at $70/bbl, increasing production is proving to be a formidable challenge. Besides the short-term pressures of the financial markets and analysts, there is an increasing shortage of qualified technical labor for upstream projects. In a recent speech at a conference in Washington, DC, Edgard Habib, chief economist for Chevron, said the labor shortage is particularly acute in the services sector, which finds itself “maxed out.”
Access to promising acreage is also becoming a significant hurdle in some regions. In places such as the U.S., politics and public opinion have put many areas out of bounds to investment, such as parts of Alaska and offshore areas on the west, east, and Gulf coasts. Many national governments—eager to get a larger share of the pie now that oil prices have risen sharply, or because of leftward shifts in ideology—are narrowing the opportunities for credible investment by international oil companies (IOCs).
Latin America is a primary example. In the course of just a few months, Venezuela hiked royalties significantly and increased control of upstream investment, including four heavy oil projects involving some of the largest majors; Bolivia nationalized its natural gas business; and Ecuador took control of some of Occidental’s fields after canceling the company’s contracts. In a tight supply/demand environment, such actions that seem to threaten available oil supplies lead to more price volatility, which increases political pressure on oil firms.
Ernst & Young recently studied 10 energy “hot spots” and their investment climates. Five appeared to be favorable places to invest (Norway, Canada, Qatar, India, and the United Arab Emirates); three countries looked promising for investment with caution (China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia), and two (Nigeria and Indonesia) appeared to have challenges that might impede foreign investment significantly. Among the criteria were economic stability and tax policy, government structure, legal and regulatory systems, infrastructure, and the availability of skilled workers.
IOCs walk a tightrope of pleasing the market, returning value to shareholders, and increasing long-term production. The ideal is world-class fields that provide long-term output growth, cheaper lifting costs, and opportunities for enhanced oil recovery. For the record, IOCs have been raising capital and R&D spending and have been investing in large-scale projects with promising opportunities for growth as they record healthy, sometimes even record, profits. ExxonMobil recently bought a stake in the massive Abu Dhabi Upper Zakum field; BP is pushing ahead on major projects in Trinidad, the Gulf of Mexico, and Russia; Chevron and Shell have increased investments in Canadian heavy oil ventures; and several companies have re-entered Libya. The consultancy Cambridge Energy Research Assocs. calculates that as much as 15 million BOPD of global capacity could come on line by 2010.
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