Geological time moves slowly. Exploration
time moves a bit faster, but is still relatively slow compared to
that of, say, dot.com.
But as the new century gains momentum, the industry
pace quickens — and that is due primarily to the sudden arrival
of many developing countries onto the global energy stage.
Those changing business conditions in developing
countries, and the obstacles and opportunities they pose for exploration
companies, is the focus of a session at the AAPG Annual Meeting
A DPA session on "Changing Business Conditions in
Developing Countries," will be presented from 8-11:40 a.m. Tuesday,
The lead paper, co-authored by Philip (Pete) Stark
and his colleague, Linda Kinney, is titled "Who Is Doing What and
Where?" and will be presented by Stark. Stark is vice president/industry
relations, of the Denver-based IHS Energy Group, a provider of worldwide
information services and economic consulting.
In his preview comments to AAPG EXPLORER, Stark highlighted
three main — and interrelated — topics:
- The current global business climate.
- World energy trends.
- The need for greater cooperation between energy companies and
The current economic situation for energy, Stark
added, can be summed up as short-term glut but long-range opportunity.
"Assuming the current, continuing, healthy trends,
the growth in oil demand worldwide is projected to be about a 55
percent growth between now and 2020," Stark said. "That means the
current production of 76 million barrels a day will grow up to 115
million, an addition of about 39 million barrels per day."
"That might not be that much per year," he said,
"but it represents a big slug of investments between now and 2020."
That's the long view. In the short term, Stark sees
"weak global economies, slack demand, excess oil and gas productions,
and a tremendous volume of stranded gas reserves.
"This leads to weak and volatile prices," he continued.
"Add to that this period of increased business and political risk,
and we see the likelihood of repeated cycles of excess capacity
and weak demand until world economies rebound."
Stark's second point, global energy trends, flows
from the first.
Those trends include:
Technology, which Stark said is one of the main drivers in
this area — and which, in a sense, has become a double-edged sword.
"Technology is increasing exploration's success globally,
at a fairly significant rate," he said. "Technology is allowing
operators to speed recoveries, so this industry is building capacity
with fewer wells and resources than before."
"Without a significant investment, technology is
causing a significant increase in production capabilities," he added.
"This is tending to add more supply to the market than the market
growth can absorb."
By way of example, Stark recalls recent numbers indicating
that OPEC is adding about one million barrels of production a day
and non-OPEC producers are adding 900,000 barrels per day — in
the face of a shrinking demand.
A shift toward natural gas.
"The trend is not as dominant in the rest of the
world as it is in North America, but the shift is clearly there,"
Stark said. "For about a decade, gas has been showing up as the
predominant energy in reserves around the world."
The shift from inland to offshore investments and drilling.
This is, in fact, a worldwide phenomenon. For instance,
whereas African reserves in the past have been found in the inland
countries such as Angola, Nigeria and the Congo, now there are more
and more discoveries along the continental margin of West Africa,
and there is also exploration on the East Coast of Africa.
"In the Mediterranean there is exploration off the
coast of Spain, as well as off the West Coast of New Zealand," Stark
said. "Explorations are planned extending north from Brazil on the
East Coast of South America, there is more and more offshore activity
in offshore waters of Greenland, and there have been extended discoveries
in less explored basins in Southeast Asia."
There are some exceptions to this trend, of course,
Stark added, such as the locations in Venezuela and Canada, where
there are major reserves and much activity by the major international
companies. But the main interest in the majors is toward deep water.
At the same time, he continued, areas such as Saudi
Arabia and other Middle East countries with land reserves are tending
to minimize risk and focus on those areas where they can optimize
their technology and capital.
While the majors have generally moved toward the water, this
has left a number of niches that independent operators are filling.
"For instance," Stark said, "over the past five years
a large number of independent Latin American and some Canadian and
European operators have essentially taken over most of Latin America's
onshore explorations and production."
Independents are growing in still another way, Stark said.
"We've been seeing a lot of mergers and acquisitions. When that
happens, the new company tends to divest itself of operations that
are not a part of their core. These divestitures are being picked
up by larger and aggressive independents."
"We also see independents initiating geological plays
in new and unproven areas, and, in essence, similar to the history
of other kinds of wildcatters, are going into areas where others
will not," he said.
A central dynamic to all of this is that developing
countries — another way of saying generally impoverished countries
around the world — are suddenly finding themselves if not sitting
on top of some oil wells, having them just off their coast.
"A country like Mauritania, which has very little,
suddenly finds itself in possession of all this potential wealth,"
Stark said. "Developing countries desperately need investment capital."
This leads to Stark's third point: the need for energy
companies and governments to be much more flexible and cooperative
with each other.
Oil is controlled by governments. Energy companies
want the oil, and the governments want the investment.
"But for both sides to be successful, there has to
be a solid fiscal and legal framework to ensure stability for both
sides," Stark said, "and this will also have to encompass a wide
range of economic, social and environmental issues."
Along these lines, Stark points out that countries
are not only governments, but also people, and energy companies
have to learn how to work with the local populations if they are
going to succeed.
"Some companies have gone into high risk areas such
as Sudan and Colombia, worked with the local people, hired them
as workers and supported their communities, and have been successful,"
"The question is, how do you go into volatile environments,
reduce risk and create a win-win situation for everyone involved?"