Chevron's Glimpse Of The Future: More Work, Less Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The WSJ has an article on the high cost of developing oil projects on the new frontiers like deepwater offshore Brazil - Chevron Project Offers Glimpse Of Future: More Work, Less Oil.

Chevron Corp. executive Ali Moshiri spent the past seven years scouring the globe for hard-to-get equipment, schmoozing foreign officials and taking billion-dollar risks to fast-track a new oil prospect off the coast of Brazil.

Despite the full-out effort, Mr. Moshiri concedes Chevron's $3 billion Frade (pronounced Frah-jay) project is a mediocre prospect compared with the huge pools of easy-to-get oil the company has tapped in the past. Even if it fulfills its greatest promise, the deep-water oil field will contribute only a trickle to the global river of petroleum. And Frade, whose first well is now being drilled, could still fail to deliver enough oil to make all the effort worthwhile.

But Mr. Moshiri remained dedicated to the project for a simple reason: It's about as good as it gets these days. For oil companies seeking to reverse years of falling production, the consuming and expensive birthing of Frade has become the norm.

Big Western oil companies such as Chevron once had the run of the world's biggest oil fields, known in the industry as elephants. Not anymore. Today, they are locked out of the best prospects by uncooperative governments. "If you're only going after elephants, you'll never hunt," says Mr. Moshiri, sitting in his wood-paneled office in a downtown Houston skyscraper.

What does all the effort buy? Chevron believes it can extract about 270 million barrels out of Frade over the next 18 years. The world guzzles that much every three days.

The global economic slowdown is shrinking demand for crude oil and has caused oil prices to plummet since this summer. Pressure on the global oil industry to find new sources of crude is receding, but the daily struggle of replacing production declines in aging fields is a problem that isn't going away. And cuts to capital budgets to cope with the downturn in prices could hobble the industry's ability to ramp up supply when demand returns. The result could be "a serious supply crunch" in as little as two years, says Paul Horsnell, commodities research head for Barclays Capital.

Companies in oil-rich exporting nations, of course, don't face as bad a squeeze, because they usually get first shot at fields on their home turf. Brazil, for instance, has announced a series of vast offshore discoveries this year, which the government may open to home-grown giant PetrĂ³leo Brasileiro SA or a new national oil operator. But in general, even oil superpowers such as Saudi Arabia have fewer giant fields to tap than in the past, making large increases in output costlier and tougher to achieve.

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