Oil company finding costs reached a 10-year low in 2018

Oil company finding costs reached a 10-year low in 2018

In 2018, a group of the world's largest crude oil and natural gas producers added more hydrocarbons to their resource base than in any year since at least 2009, according to the annual reports of 116 exploration and production (E&P) companies. During 2018, these companies collectively added a net 10.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) to their proved reserves, which totaled 286 billion BOE at the end of the year. Total exploration and development (E&D) costs incurred in 2018 for these companies increased 4% from 2017 levels, but declined 9% from 2017 when calculated as dollars per BOE of proved reserves added. This analysis is based on published financial reports of these 116 companies and does not necessarily represent the financial situation of private companies that do not publish financial reports.

Of the 116 companies, the top 18 held more than 80% of the 286 billion BOE in proved reserves at the end of 2018. Although many of these companies have global operations, some are national oil companies with reserves and operations concentrated in their home countries including Russia, China, and Brazil. Proved reserves change from year to year because of revisions to existing reserves, extensions and discoveries of new resources, purchases and sales of proved reserves, and production. Figure 1 illustrates the 116 companies' combined proved reserves changes during 2018.

Figure 1. Regional proved reserves for 116 exploration and production companies

Organic additions to proved reserves—those added through improved recoveryand extensions and discoveries—are linked directly with expenditures in E&D. Proved reserves acquired through purchases and sales represent transfers of assets between companies (including companies outside this group) but are not reflected in E&D expenditures. Revisions to proved reserves can be highly influenced by changes in crude oil and natural gas prices but less directly influenced by E&D investment.

Of the 21.0 billion BOE in organic proved reserves added in 2018 (that is, before accounting for revisions, net reserves purchased, or how much the companies produced), slightly more than half (10.7 billion BOE) came from the United States, while the Russia, Central Asia, and Asia-Pacific region accounted for 4.0 billion BOE (19%). Canada added 2.1 billion BOE (10%) and Latin America added 1.6 billion BOE (8%). Europe and the Middle East and Africa region each added fewer than 1.0 billion BOE, accounting for about 4% of global organic proved reserves additions each (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Regional organic proved reserves additions for 116 exploration and production companies

Global E&D costs incurred increased for the second consecutive year in 2018, increasing 4% to $319 billion. Of this total, 38% ($122 billion) came from the United States, with the Russia, Central Asia, and Asia Pacific region accounting for 26% ($83 billion) and all other regions accounting for less than 10% each. Changes in nominal year-over-year E&D costs incurred varied across regions, increasing by 33% in Europe, 13% in the United States, and 3% in the Middle East and Africa region. Costs incurred declined by 2% both in the Russia, Central Asia, and Asia Pacific region and Latin America, while spending in Canada was essentially flat compared with 2017 (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Regional exploration and development costs incurred for 116 exploration and production companies

Because significant cost deflation has occurred in the oil and natural gas industry since 2014, nominal costs incurred in different years may not be directly comparable. Finding costs provide an indicator of the expenditures needed to add a barrel of proved reserves. Because of the disparity between the timing of companies' capital expenditures and the formal reporting of changes to their proved reserves, standard practice is to average the results over several years.

Analyzed this way, three-year average costs declined on a per BOE basis in 2016–18 compared with both the 2013–15 and the 2010–12 averages (Figure 4). The three-year average E&D costs incurred per BOE of organic proved reserves additions in 2016–18 were lower than their respective 2013–15 and 2010–12 averages in all regions except Latin America, where the 2016–18 average was slightly higher than its 2010–12 average. On an annual basis, the 2018 E&D costs incurred of $15.20 per additional BOE of proved reserves was the lowest since at least 2009.

Figure 4. Finding costs for 116 exploration and production companies

For further analysis and a list of the companies included in this study, see EIA's annual Financial Review. Later this year, EIA will issue its annual U.S. crude oil and natural gas proved reserves report which focuses exclusively on proved reserves located in the United States, including all U.S. producers (publicly traded and privately owned companies).

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