Oil and gas exploration in 2016 fell to nine-year lows, in terms of both wells drilled and discoveries made.
That’s according to a new report from Westwood Global Energy Group, which also suggests a brighter outlook for the industry can be expected in the coming years as improved exploration efficiencies start to deliver results.
It says last year’s fall in activity was largely a result of the continued low oil price scenario, which has caused companies to reduce exploration programmes and lower their exposure to frontier and emerging play drilling.
The report notes only one commercial frontier success, a modest-sized offshore gas discovery in India.
Overall drilling finding costs increased to $2 (£1.55) per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) in 2016 from $1.6/boe (£1.24) the year before due to discoveries falling in frequency and size.
Oil prospect finding costs averaged $3.1 (£2.4) per barrel (bbl) in 2016, slightly down on the $3.4/bbl (£2.6) recorded in 2015.
Exploration drilling plans for this year currently suggest a count around 10% higher than last year – however, the number of wells drilled in the first quarter of 2017 was down 35% on the same period in 2016.
The 62 high impact wells planned globally this year aim to target 19.5 billion boe, 37% of which is oil.
Dr Keith Myers, President of Westwood Research, said: “If the industry is out of the emergency room in 2017, it is not yet out of hospital. Even if oil prices recover further, explorers will need to focus on finding low cost oil and gas profitable to develop at $40 (£30.1) per barrel or less.
“The industry is emerging leaner and fitter from this latest down-cycle but it must be able to remain disciplined during the bull oil market to come.”
The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) oil output in April stayed unchanged from March at 31.85 million barrels per day (b/d).