The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price war will likely cause the cancellation of more than half of the world’s 2020 licensing rounds, according to energy intelligence firm Rystad Energy.
A Rystad Energy impact analysis estimates that new licensed offshore acreage is likely to fall by about 60 per cent and onshore acreage by 30 per cent when compared with 2019 levels.
“This year was slated to be another remarkable year for exploration with about 45 countries launching at least 52 lease rounds […]. The decline in the expected number of lease rounds compared to last year’s 69 was not a sign of fewer countries offering new licenses, but a result of several countries offering multiple rounds in 2019, including Brazil, Ukraine, India, and the United States”, Rystad said.
In its analysis, Rystad Energy has evaluated the rounds and distributed them in three categories: likely, tentative, and unlikely to take place.
Rystad Energy’s senior upstream analyst, Aatisha Mahajan, said: “The unlikely upcoming lease rounds represent around 54 per cent – a worrisome sign for global exploration.
“A number of factors together make these rounds unlikely to go ahead, including the oil-price drop, a global cut in investments by almost 20 per cent, a lack of skilled manpower due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fiscal regimes that are proving unattractive in the current environment, and a lack of interest among potential participating companies“.
In Europe, “unlikely rounds” are those of the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Romania, and Germany. In South America, rounds in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic may not go ahead, while in Asia rounds in Thailand, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, and the UAE may be put on ice.
New Zealand is “also in doubt”, and in Africa, licensing rounds in Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tanzania, Senegal, Somalia, Liberia, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, South Sudan, and Nigeria may also be put on hold.
According to the intelligence firm, the United States, Suriname, Egypt, Russia, and China make up the list of countries where licensing rounds hang in the balance and are marked as “tentative”. The United States recently concluded its lease round 254 in the Gulf of Mexico with digital technology playing a big role and the sale process was streamed live.
Suriname, turning out to be a hotspot for global exploration with two major discoveries in recent months, might be able to go ahead and conclude a successful round. However, economics will play a role depending on how the future oil price is formulated for the participating companies.
Egypt is a very prospective region and has open-door licensing, under which we might witness the willingness to participate from companies with significant free cash flow. Russia and China both have local players as the common bidders in licensing rounds and might therefore still go ahead with their scheduled rounds.
Licensing rounds that are “likely to go ahead” include countries such as Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago, Norway, India, Lebanon, and Canada. These countries look well on track to continue their lease rounds as scheduled, although the current industry volatility could cause slight delays. India is planning to combine its Open Acreage Licensing Policy with Round 5&6, and these blocks will, Rystad claims, be up for grabs in July.
Canada plans to go ahead with its offshore Labrador region. Trinidad and Tobago is riding on its significant exploration success having discovered around 400 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in 2019 and seems to be better placed with interested parties among the active players in the region combined with a mild outbreak of COVID-19 so far.
Norway intends to proceed with its annual awards in pre-defined areas round of all mature, unlicensed acreage and has proposed adding 36 deepwater Norwegian Sea blocks to the available area.
Eight of the initially expected 52 licensing rounds have already been completed, in Barbados, Canada, the U.S., Gabon, Pakistan, Oman, Australia, and Republic of the Congo.
“We expect to see a large drop in awarded acreage this year compared with 2019. In percentage terms, the drop in offshore acreage could match the nearly 60 per cent decline seen from 2014 to 2015, while awarded onshore acreage could shrink by almost one-third compared with a 16 per cent drop after the previous downturn“, added Mahajan.
Rystad further stated that, as the decline comes from a lower level than it did in 2014, globally awarded acreage would likely fall below 2015 levels this year, while staying above the level seen in 2016. All will depend on global oil and gas companies’ budgets and their appetite to take on new risk and exploration commitments in the current market environment.