Offshore Drilling Market: Recovery by 2020s?

Topics: Drilling Management and Information

The offshore market is poised for growth in the next 4 years, but unconventional production must maintain a steady pace if the industry is to meet the supply levels needed for consistent growth in the price of oil, an analyst said.

At a presentation, “Offshore—Rigged for Return,” hosted by the Houston chapter of the United States Association for Energy Economics (USAEE), Oddmund Fore examined Rystad Energy’s outlook on future offshore oil and gas operations. Fore, a senior analyst in the oilfield services division at Rystad, spoke about the state of the offshore drilling market.

Fore said that, in previous decades, the industry significant overcapacity of oil reserves triggered lengthy cycles of underinvestment on new projects and subsequent economic downturns. Strong oil demand and limited capacity resulted in price increases, high activity, and strong but costly reserves replacement. Fore said the current oil price downturn is similar in nature, with overcapacity and US shale growth triggering the collapse. As such, he said massive underinvestment in recent years should trigger a new growth cycle, with shale production likely to smooth any drastic fluctuations in price.

“We are pretty optimistic for the offshore sphere,” he said. “We have started to see some positive signals that we have already reached the bottom, and with new contracts coming in, we can start to reshape and turn around this industry.”

Though offshore production will help with growing demand, Fore said it would not be enough to meet the supply necessary to sustain oil price growth. He said the industry will need unconventionals to help fill the supply gap, approximately 1.3 million bbl/D of unconventional production each year. Fore referred to this as the “call on shale.”

“The industry needs [unconventionals] if it wants to turn around quickly and provide volumes for rising demand in the short term,” he said.

Reduced costs should also help foster growth in offshore production. Fore said the deepwater cost curve has decreased 15% in the past year, with North America, South America, and Western Europe being the regions with the highest pre-sanction spends. The lower oil price was not the sole reason for these reduced costs: While downsizing and simplification of project scopes played a part, Fore said improved project design—including an added focus on increasing standardization and reducing complexity—and reduced contingencies also led to the drop in deepwater spend, along with other efficiency gains and currency gains. The re-engineering and downsizing of projects, he said, will be important as the industry continues to improve the economic picture of the offshore sector.

Another thing playing a role in cost reduction is the increase in drilling speed. Fore said that a “silent revolution” has been taking place on this front in Norway, where the average meters drilled per active drilling day on exploration and production projects has increased from approximately 80 in 2011 to 176 in 2016. This improvement in drilling speed has also been observed elsewhere. Fore attributed an improvement in speed for presalt wells drilled by Petrobras and GALP in Brazil to a corresponding increase in the natural learning curve as these wells matured. He also pointed to similar improvements in the US Gulf of Mexico, as Chevron has been able to reduce its drilling times by 50% from 2012 to 2015.

“We need shale, but we also need offshore, especially with a deepwater,” Fore said. If you combine [deepwater and offshore shelf] as a whole, you see something that gets bigger and is a very relevant player. It’s important to the whole picture. It takes time to sanction a field, to develop a field, and to get the volumes coming out. It’s not happening overnight.”

Fore’s presentation took place at the Houston branch of the US Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Offshore Drilling Market: Recovery by 2020s?

Stephen Whitfield, Senior Staff Writer

12 June 2017