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Analysis: High-impact exploration drilling declined by 21% in 2023

The latest analysis from consultancy firm Westwood Global Energy Group reveals that despite favorable oil prices in 2022, high-impact exploration drilling in 2023 declined by 21%. Reasons include energy transition strategies, industry consolidation, rising well costs and reduced activity in former hotspots.

The report also reveals that the commercial success rate is down 7% from the previous year – the lowest since 2018. Fewer giant discoveries (>500 million BOE) have resulted in a year-on-year decline in the average discovery size. The decrease is from nearly 500 million BOE in 2019 to ~220 million BOE in 2023, the smallest since 2014.

At the same time, overall drilling finding costs have increased 6x since 2019 to $1.2/BOE. The commercial success rate in frontier plays returned to the long-term average at <10%.

Findings also highlight a decrease in the number of companies participating in high-impact drilling, down from 99 in 2019 to 68 in 2023. Supermajors and NOCs continue to account for the majority of high-impact well equity, at ~60% between 2019-2023, and lead the way in terms of both discovered resource and commercial success rates.

“The relationship between exploration drilling and the previous year’s oil price has broken,” said Graeme Bagley, Head of Global Exploration and Appraisal at Westwood. “High oil prices previously led to high levels of exploration drilling. The appetite for exploration is still there, but energy transition strategies are having a significant impact on the way the companies choose to replenish their reserves base, with industry consolidation and new technologies also having a part to play.”

Westwood reports that there is still cause for optimism. Recent discoveries in Namibia’s Orange basin demonstrate that there are still significant volumes of hydrocarbons to be found and cycle times are reducing, with oil discoveries achieving first production, on average, a year faster than gas discoveries.

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