Upstream oil and gas: record cash flows and peak uncertainty

Wood Mackenizie 11 oct oil and gasWood Mackenzie’s Global Energy Summit Upstream Focus day has addressed some of the biggest issues facing the industry such as, how will the upstream industry use an incoming US$1tn price windfall? Should Asian governments be doing more to resuscitate declining gas production? And what is the future for exploration in this region?

In previous upcycles the pattern has tended to be the same – higher revenues and cashflow lead to rising upstream spend. But the energy transition has upset the outlook for oil and gas producers, changing the rules of the game for not only international oil companies (IOCs), but also national operators and host governments. 

The energy transition has created unprecedented uncertainty over long-term oil and gas demand, changing stakeholder expectations and company strategies. Creating a business model that is both resilient and sustainable is the challenge.  

Using the Emissions benchmarking tool, Wood Mackenzie estimates that under a US$150/tonne carbon price, the world’s 38 largest IOCs would drop US$465bn in value, or 27% of their total value.  

A temporary windfall, alongside higher global oil and gas prices, also raises important questions for governments across Asia. Falling domestic gas production increases exposure to international LNG markets and pricing. Spot LNG prices in Asia have more than quadrupled over the last few months to over US$30/mmbtu. As security of supply concerns reverberate around the globe, should Asian governments be doing more to resuscitate declining gas production?

This means Asia will continue to be the engine room for rising global LNG demand over the next two decades. While this is great news for LNG producers, it will increase domestic governments’ exposure to global price swings and supply risks. 

The same challenges apply to the current suite of pre-FID gas projects across the region. Many have high levels of CO2 content, challenging economics, long lead-times and often a substantial history of delays and false starts. Other barriers to progress include above ground risks and relatively high government take. 

“The world, and Asia in particular, may not be short of resources,” said Andrew Harwood, research director. “But what it needs is advantaged barrels - low cost, low carbon oil and gas that can be rapidly commercialised. That is why it is crucial we continue to explore in Asia to find more of those advantaged barrels.” 

One of the key questions debated at the upstream summit is the importance of the right fiscal terms. With a dearth of ongoing exploration activity, and a suite of large pre-FID gas projects that are urgently required to enhance domestic supply but are struggling to progress , governments need to rethink how to incentivise new investment, production and decarbonisation.


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