Nearly five years since oil prices cratered and forced a shakeup across the energy complex, U.S. producers today have emerged leaner, more technologically savvy and most important, more profitable than at any point since 2014, according to new research.
In its 11th annual review of U.S. reserves and production, Ernst & Young LLP (EY) on Wednesday reported encouraging results overall for the exploration and production (E&P) sector regarding capital expenditures (capex) and revenue.
“It’s clear the oil and gas industry is benefiting from the lessons of the 2014 downturn, a focus on cutting costs while maximizing proved reserves and using technology to streamline the production process,” said EY’s Herb Listen, U.S. oil and gas assurance leader.
“The transformation from 2014 to 2018 is striking, and it highlights the resilience of the sector. Across the board, our study found record numbers, from capital expenditures to production and revenues.”
Using year-end reserve disclosures made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by the top 50 E&Ps with the largest domestic oil and gas reserves, researchers found capex totaled $136.4 billion in 2018 with revenues of $180.9 billion, both the highest since 2014.
Capex in 2018 represented a 16% jump from 2017 and a 55% increase from 2016.
Production volumes also increased last year, while production costs were consistent with 2017 and 2016 levels on a boe basis.
Investments in unproved properties acquisitions decreased by 52% year/year but “growth was observed in all other categories of capital spend: proved properties, exploration and development expenditures,” the consultancy reported.
Proved reserve acquisition costs by themselves doubled from 2017 because of “significant acquisitions,” with five of the 50 E&Ps accounting for 88% of all proved properties acquisitions.
Development costs also increased in 2018, jumping year/year to $80.6 billion from $61.1 billion. The small- to medium-size independents’ development spend remained stable last year, but the large independents’ spent 49% more than in 2017 and the majors’ spend climbed 43%.
However, E&Ps also reported a healthy uptick in revenue, which rose 32% higher year/year to $180.9 billion.
“As a result of higher commodity prices and controlled costs, the companies delivered after-tax earnings of $34.1 billion, the highest since 2014,” according to EY. “These happened in the year when U.S. crude oil production reached a record level of 11 million b/d.”
Extension and reserves were strong on the natural gas side, with 13.5 Tcf of production in 2018, a robust 6% increase (31.8 Tcf) from 2017.
“All told, gas reserve sales again broke a record at 16.3 Tcf, the highest of the study period,” researchers said.
Oil production for the E&Ps analyzed also topped the highest level in the period, surging 11% year/year to 2.7 billion bbl.
“Overall, oil production increased by 23% from 2014 to 2018, with the large independents’ production growing 38%, compared with 26% growth for the integrateds and an 8% decrease for the independents.”
An increase in mergers and acquisitions resulted in 1.9 billion bbl of purchased oil reserves and 2.1 billion bbl of sold oil reserves, again the highest during the survey period. All told, combined oil reserves comprised 32.6 billion bbl, which set a record in the five-year period.
“The industry’s cost-cutting in recent years, including 2018, is inspiring, but there is opportunity to drive even more value,” said EY’s Jeff Williams, global oil and gas advisory leader.
“As oil and gas companies face continued pressure on pricing and their ability to access new assets, digital technologies like intelligent automation, artificial intelligence, the industrial Internet of Things and integrated technology platforms, stand at the ready to help the industry realize transformation and growth across the value chain.”