It was recently announced that new oil finds were the lowest they'd been in six decades.
This could have big ramifications. It takes years, for example, to bring an offshore oil field to production. From the time of discovery, there are many moving parts to bring it all together. It's a hefty investment in time, money, and equipment, a daunting logistics hurdle.
Yet, thanks to the oil crash of late 2014, oil companies have dramatically cutting back on their exploration budgets because the economics of the market right now don't justify it. But that suggests that with demand outrunning supply and the long time it takes to bring a field online, there is a bullish thesis for investors here.
In this clip from the Industry Focus: Energy podcast, Motley Fool analysts Sean O'Reilly and Taylor Muckerman go over the numbers, what they'll mean for the economy in the coming years, and why long-term investors might want to take note.
A transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Jun. 2, 2016.
Sean O'Reilly: A recent piece on Bloomberg noted that oil finds are at a six -- that's right, six -- decade low.
Taylor Muckerman: How many years is that? 60?
O'Reilly: It went back to 1952, the last time the world found this low amount of oil. And it's actually rather large. It was 12.1 billion barrels of oil equivalent, that did include gas.
Muckerman: That did include gas?
Muckerman: Yeah, barrels equivalent of oil. The mix of that was predominantly natural gas.
O'Reilly: Yeah, I'm sure. The article also noted that it definitely lends credence to the idea that we could be long-term undersupplied, because it takes 5-10 years to get all that stuff online. This is not ideal right now.
Muckerman: Yeah. We talk about the quickness that you can bring a shale oil to market, and that's just not the case with the majority of oils in the world, predominantly with the oil they found last year, leaning more heavily toward offshore, which, you're looking at at least seven years to develop, and a much higher cost per barrel that is needed as a hurdle rate to even justify getting those projects.
O'Reilly: That's just it. With all these reserves, but especially for the offshore stuff, once you find it, all your work is still ahead of you.
Muckerman: Absolutely. You have to contract the rig, you have to drill test oils and development oils, and then you have to produce it, you have to coordinate the tankers to distribute it, get the pipelines going. It's a process, which is why seven years is the average.
O'Reilly: Yeah, 5-10, seven. Last show, you mentioned how you thought offshore is going to be increasingly important in the decades ahead. Does this, the fact that we're finding less oil than we have in six decades ... God, what was going on in 1952?
Muckerman: I wasn't here.
O'Reilly: JFK I don't even think was a freshman Congressman. Jeez. Anyway. Does this add to the bull case for oil?
Muckerman: Not going to try to predict prices, but supply, less than demand? You would imagine that prices would go up. Definitely a longer-term play than what people are talking about in investing in oil right now, because everyone is so excited about the prospects of rising prices now. But we could see prices fall again in the near term. But long-term, if you don't have the product, then it could be a five-year chart that looks really great for long-term investors, rather than a one-year chart.
O'Reilly: Final thing in that article that jumped out at me, it noted that exploration spending in 2015 was down 45% from 2013. My reaction was actually: "That's it?"
Muckerman: Especially this year, too. You see the stats this year compared to 2013, it's going to be down even more than that. The crisis has not abated in terms of company upstream spending. That's not just for oil. You see projects with coal export terminals being shelved, you see natural gas pipelines being shelved. Two in particular in the Northeast.
O'Reilly: What was it, Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) a few months ago actually shelved a few pipelines or something like that?
Muckerman: One of them in the Northeast, I believe, was a several billion dollar project. That area is really struggling when it comes to prices for natural gas, when you talk about New York and New England. They're paying, sometimes, close to 50% more than the national average just because the distribution networks aren't there. That's a little bit to do with government and environmental activists coming in and stopping that. Companies want to invest there, they're just finding it difficult, so they're abandoning or postponing a lot of these projects.