The world’s biggest fossil fuel businesses are “in danger of vanishing as oil companies” and must turn their attention to “investments in renewable energy and innovation,” the Globe and Mail’s European bureau chief, Eric Reguly, warns in the February edition of the newspaper’s Report on Business magazine.
With the geology of oil exploration and the economics of oil and gas production working against them, and the UN climate summit representing “a serious step towards a low-carbon future,” fossils “will have to cut back on expensive drilling and get going on renewable energy,” Reguly writes. “Yet their strategy is to keep drilling like mad for oil, apparently in the belief that prices and demand will rebound. A better idea would be to diversify their energy portfolios in recognition that they can’t compete with OPEC’s low-cost producers and that the oil era is coming to an end, even though it could endure for another few decades.”
Citing fossil industry analysts IHS, Reguly notes that Royal Dutch Shell—which famously spent $7 billion to drill a single test well in the Chukchi Sea before abandoning its Arctic exploration program last fall—only managed to replace 26% of the 1.2 billion barrels of oil or equivalent it produced last year. That’s a number that will give investors serious pause.
Overall, “the Big Five Western oil giants—BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Total and Shell—replaced 84% of the amounts they produced,” he writes. “As oil prices fall and exploration and development budgets are crunched, the so-called reserve replacement ratio is bound to keep falling.”
And with oil prices crashing and expected to stay low at least through 2018, “the Big Five oil companies will have enormous trouble competing with the countries—among them Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Russia—that have exclusive access to the world’s cheapest fields. In many Saudi fields, it still costs just a couple of bucks to produce a barrel of oil. In the oil sands, Suncor is forecasting 2016 Canadian-dollar cash operating costs at $27 to $30 a barrel,” Reguly writes.
“Guess who is going to win over the long term? Not the Western oil companies, whose growth is now dependent on spending fortunes on unconventional reserves.”
Reguly looks back to BP’s effort more than a decade ago to rebrand itself as ‘Beyond Petroleum’, and urges the entire industry to follow that lead to survive. “They will argue that they do only one thing well—drill wells—and that the renewable energy game should be left to companies like Tesla, Vestas, Suntech, and General Electric,” he says. “That would be a mistake.”