Bank of Scotland N. Sea survey: Industry expects oil to average $55-barrel in 2015: 1 in 3 operators mull move into shale and renewables

Doil rig Aerial view of Clair Platformespite the twin challenges of much-reduced crude oil prices and rising production costs, the North Sea oil and gas industry is resilient and has plans for future investment and growth.

 A survey of a broad cross-section of UK oil & gas companies, carried out for Bank of Scotland’s fourth annual oil and gas report reveals 92% of companies are planning to grow over the next two years.

Of the 101 companies questioned, 73 expect headcount to increase with only nine expecting a reduction.

Two fifths (39%) acknowledged that the fall in oil prices had delayed planned investment in growth but when the estimates of net gains and losses for jobs are summed, a total of just under 8,000 roles are expected to be created over the next two years. This compares to almost 10,000 jobs having been created by the same firms over the past two years.

Asked to identify the single biggest issue, commodity prices emerged as the main concern, however it was only identified as such by fewer than 20% of the executives questioned. 

Executives were also asked for their three biggest challenges – commodity prices came in fifth at 28%, some way behind the overall top challenge which is the increased cost of production, which was listed by 35% of participants.

The number of companies expressing a strong interest in diversifying into onshore shale production has increased by 27% from last year, whilst interest in renewable energy sources has also rocketed, with a 35% increase in firms expressing a strong interest.

Seeking more flexible oil production and reducing exposure to price uncertainties are the main reasons for this spike in interest.  Other key findings include:

  • Industry expectations for the price of Brent crude this time next year averaged $55-barrel.
  • Although tax was named by only 2% of firms as being the single biggest industry concern, it was amongst the biggest three challenges for 21% of the survey. When asked about what actions would stimulate North Sea activity, 36% opted for technology adoption, 33% for investment in skills.  
  • Among the opportunities arising is the increased possibility of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) – a quarter (24%) of firms surveyed hope to merge or acquire compared to only a tenth (9%) with such intentions in last year’s survey. The increased interest in M&A is especially pronounced amongst SMEs.
  • The proportion considering international expansion has increased from 64% in last year’s survey to over 91% this year. North America (35%), Middle East (26%) and South America (25%) are most popular regions for international expansion.

The last 12 months have caused acceleration in field-decommissioning plans, with a strong 38% increase in firms expressing an interest in diversifying into decommissioning related work. The trend is particularly striking among major corporates where half are planning more decommissioning. While this will take fields out of production earlier than expected, it does create work for construction, marine services and other firms.

Stuart White, area director of Commercial Banking, Bank of Scotland, said:  “While it is obvious the North Sea is facing some serious challenges, this research paints a clear picture of a global industry, which having dealt with similar commodity price challenges in the past, is determined to come through fitter and stronger. 

“Firms continue to be concerned by an ageing workforce and a lack of skills, which explains why the industry is determined to get through the current storm without major workforce reductions. North Sea firms are seen as world leading so it is therefore not surprising they are looking at international expansion opportunities where they can enjoy continued growth backed by the strong expertise they have developed here in the UK. 

Our client base mirrors these trends and we have seen a significant increase in our support to the industry in recent years to facilitate international expansion and this is something we expect to continue.”

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