Many oil companies “virtually abandoning” exploration

The hunt for new stores of oil and gas has been dramatically curtailed amid a global crude slump, with exploration budgets at the largest oil companies expected to tumble 50 percent next year from their peak levels in 2013, according to a new analysis.

Investment banking firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., which tracked exploration capital spending at integrated oil companies and major exploration and production companies, forecast that spending on exploration will fall to about $25 billion next year.

Oil companies are spending less in part because service costs have tumbled alongside oil prices, allowing explorers to spend less money to search for new reservoirs. But a vast majority of those spending cuts are related to a pullback in activity, according to the Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. analysis released to investors Monday.

“Many (exploration and production) companies are virtually abandoning exploration altogether, especially in the U.S.,” the analysts wrote.

Recent auctions for oil and gas leases have attracted little interest, the analysts said. In July, Mexico sold leases for two of its 14 offshore blocks on auction, a poor showing as the country attempts to end a 76-year state monopoly on its oil and gas reserves by opening up exploration to private firms. A lease sale for the western Gulf of Mexico in April similarly failed to drum up much interest, attracting only five companies who purchased just 33 leases, the smallest such sale for the region in more than 30 years. Bid value had fallen 80 percent in a single year, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. analysts wrote.

As oil companies pull back from exploration, they are poised to produce less oil in the coming years. Big Oil companies closely tracked by the investment banking firm are finding less than half the 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent per day that they currently produce, a trend that should help reduce the tidal wave of crude flooding the market and keeping prices depressed.

Related: Oil companies face difficulties replacing reserves

“There is not enough existing discovered resource and U.S. shale to sustainably grow production over the next decade, and it takes five years in the best case, and generally closer to 10 years to take a major conventional discovery into production,” the analysts wrote.

Domestic benchmark oil, which has been trading below $50 a barrel since July, was down 81 cents to $48.82 Monday morning on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The sharp reduction in exploration spending spells good news for exploration and production companies with good portfolios, including those with acreage in the oil-rich Permian Basin but seismic companies, drillers and other service providers that rely on exploration work should brace for more tough times, the analysts wrote.

SHOW MORE