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Pandemic delaying major new oil projects

OPEC, US shale seen meeting shortfall by 2025

NOC exploration budgets in firing line

London — Massive spending cuts by the global oil industry this year are poised to take a heavy toll on medium term crude supply outlook with swathes of project start-ups and new drilling delayed or shelved during the pandemic.

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Global oil and gas operators have cut 2020 capex by a combined $106 billion (-28%), according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, with the spending curbs set to depress oil supply estimates well into the new decade.

The International Energy Agency has already slashed its estimate for non-OPEC production this year by 4.8 million b/d since mid-March, and now sees non-OPEC output shrinking by 3.2 million b/d or 5% on 2019 levels.

Outside OPEC, the expected falls are led by Russia, Canadian oil sands and the US shale sector where activity levels have dropped to record lows and most operators have shut in uneconomic production.

On top of the US shale slump, however, twenty major oil projects have been delayed so far, with at least 390,000 b/d of planned production deferred to 2023, according to Platts Analytics.

"The list of project delays is expected to grow since most operators will wait for higher and sustained oil prices before sanctioning any new developments," Platts Analytics said in a note last week.

Non-OPEC projects that have Brent equivalent breakevens ranging from $40 to $50/b are not expected to be sanctioned for at least another year, it said.

Supply shortfall

As the global economy slowly recovers from the COVID-19 crisis, investment decisions on conventional projects are likely to fall to a 40-year low and US tight oil investments will drop by almost half this year, Rystad Energy estimated earlier this month.

As a result, the spending and activity slump during the downturn will likely remove about 6 million b/d from global production forecasts for 2025, Rystad believes.

With global demand for liquids expected to recover somewhat to reach around 105 million b/d by 2025, Rystad estimates the cuts could cause a supply deficit of around 5 million b/d that year.

"As demand is expected to recover, the core OPEC counties will need to increase their supply significantly or the market will face even higher prices than our base-case forecast," said Rystad's head of upstream research Espen Erlingsen.

The remaining medium-term supply shortfall will most likely be met by US tight oil, Rystad believes, assuming oil prices may move closer to $70/b in 2025 to kick-start shale drilling.

NOC exploration hit

The oil price downturn is also set to delay or shelve exploration drilling, reversing a rebound of global wildcat activity seen in 2019 and potentially lowering resource replacement.

National oil companies alone are estimated to cut exploration budgets by over a quarter on average in 2020, according to Wood Mackenzie.

Citing the upstream plans of 11 top spending NOC explorers, including three Chinese NOCs, Rosneft, Gazprom, Petrobas, Qatar Petroleum, Petrobras, and Pemex, Wood Mac estimates the collective NOC drilling budgets may be reduced by about 26% to around $14 billion this year.

Most NOCs routinely spend "significantly" more of their upstream budgets on exploration than IOCs, with an average of about 17% over the 2015-2019 period, according to Wood Mac. Some NOCs with fewer domestic resources, however, could place more strategic importance on exploration compared to those with resource abundance.

China's CNOOC and Malaysia's Petronas, for example, will likely seek to protect their exploration plans as much as possible, as organic resources contribute between 50% and 70% of their production in the next decade, the consultants said.

"By contrast, Gazprom and Rosneft have long reserve lives and feel less pressure to rush their exploration plans," Wood Mac said.

"Given how important exploration is for the NOCs and their growing share of global new discoveries, these budget cuts are likely short-term measures rather than long-term."