2018 has been a transitional period for the international oil and gas industry.
With the industry enduring a fourth straight year of low oil prices, and with no prospects for a significant increase in sight, participants in the industry have been forced to adapt. Oil companies must continue to be disciplined, allocating scarce capital only to their best prospects, and shelving less promising projects for future years. Some in the industry have already started to worry that by reducing capital expenditures the seeds of a future price shock are being sown.
Oil-producing countries have been in a similar pinch. Having become accustomed to triple-digit oil prices, the ‘new normal’ of US$50 oil has produced a grim budgetary reality. Producing countries that had only recently tightened fiscal terms in response to high oil prices must now considering loosening them again in order to attract investment. In Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, plans are afoot to sell a minority stake in the company to foreign investors in order to raise cash to diversify the country’s economy, a move that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
Yet amid the ongoing turbulence there are opportunities. The necessity for existing companies (many of which are over-leveraged and cash strapped) to offload parts of their portfolios will create opportunities for new, leaner competitors to arise. US shale producers, whom many were prepared to write off in the low oil price environment, have made dramatic improvements in efficiency and learned to calibrate their acreage to different oil price environments, focusing on their richest prospects when prices are low and adding lower-value opportunities as prices escalate. Among the major oil exporting countries, low oil prices have provided the impetus for long-needed structural reforms to diversify their economies beyond the extraction of petroleum.
The international oil and gas industry has always been cyclical. Although the last three years have been eventful, they are by no means the first downturn the industry has faced, nor the last. I have no doubt that the years ahead will continue to present challenges and opportunities for practitioners in this most dynamic of industries.
As always, I would like to thank our contributing authors for their outstanding contributions to this year’s edition of The Oil and Gas Law Review and also the publishers at Law Business Research for their tireless work in bringing this all together.