WoodMac warns that squeezing supply-chain for cost savings won’t save N. Sea oil operators from jobs and spending cuts

Oil workersIn a new report on the impact of cost deflation on the global upstream oil and gas sector, Wood Mackenzie – the independent market analysts – conclude that while operators are seeking an average cost reduction of 20-30% on projects, supply chain savings through squeezing the service sector will only achieve around 10-15% on average.

In order to ensure projects are economically viable, operators will also need to focus on project optimisation and adopt smarter ways of working with the service sector.

Illustrating the need to reduce costs in the industry, Wood Mackenzie analysts estimate that $1.5 trillion of uncommitted spend on new conventional projects and North American unconventional oil is uneconomic at $50 a barrel.  

James Webb, Upstream Research Manager for Wood Mackenzie, explained: “As the upstream industry responds to the low oil price, investment is down $220 billion in 2015 and 2016 compared with our pre-oil price crash projections.

“In addition to reduced activity onshore North America, a total of 46 projects have been deferred as a result of the oil price fall. We estimate that as much as $1.5 trillion of investment spend destined for new (pre-sanctioned) and US tight oil projects is now out of the money, or in starker terms, uneconomic at a $50 oil price. This spend is very much at risk.”

As the UK’s offshore oil and gas province has become the most expensive in the world in which to operate – and the negative impact to its competitiveness has been compounded by the steep drop in oil price – becoming smarter and more efficient has never been more critical in making the business case for investment in the N. Sea basin.

Obo Idornigie, Principal Upstream Research Analyst, added: “The implications of this level of reduced investment is huge for the industry’s service sector which is of a size to comfortably accommodate an average of 40-50 new projects globally a year. We expect just six new projects to go ahead in 2015 and around ten in 2016.”

“The weak pipeline of new projects is resulting in very competitive bidding from the service sector as E&P companies negotiate hard on pre-sanction projects. We believe that pre-sanction offshore projects could benefit from 10-15% cost reductions through supply chain savings alone. However, the industry needs to strike a balance between near and long term drivers.

“Pushing the service sector too hard now is only likely to shore up problems once more attractive fundamentals return: Increasingly severe job cuts means that the industry is losing skilled resources that will take time to attract back when prices recover.

So how can the industry achieve cost savings of 20-30%?  “Additional measures are needed to manage costs: re-working field development plans, optimising project design and more innovative approaches to project management will all play important parts,” said Webb.

He concluded: “A prolonged period of low oil prices over a number of years is likely needed to bring about profound, structural changes to industry costs. This is unlikely – in our view oil prices will begin to recover from 2017, and there is a real risk that cost inflation pressures then return. Stronger collaboration between operators and service companies will be key in driving efficient practices. 

“The winners therefore are likely to be operators with a strong pipeline of near-term projects close to sanction which are able to take advantage of the trough in costs through 2015-16.”

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