Global energy giants drastically reduced fossil fuel exploration in 2020: Report

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Last year, top oil and gas companies sharply slowed their search for new fossil fuel resources as lower energy prices due to the coronavirus crisis caused spending cuts, data shows.

Data from Norway-based consultancy Rystad Energy showed that acquisitions of new onshore and offshore exploration licenses for the top five Western energy companies have fallen to the lowest in at least five years.

The number of exploration licensing rounds dropped last year due to COVID-19 while companies including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total also reduced spending, Rystad Energy analyst Palzor Shenga said.

“Acquiring additional leases comes with a cost and it demands some work commitments to be fulfilled. Hence, companies would not want to pile up on additional acreages in their non-core areas of operations,” Mr. Shenga said.

Of the five companies, UK’s British Petroleum (BP) saw by far the largest drop in new acreage acquisition in 2020. Bernard Looney, who became BP’s CEO in February, outlined a strategy to reduce oil output by 40 percent or 1 million barrels per day by 2030. BP has rapidly scaled back its exploration team in recent months.

Exxon, the largest US energy company, acquired the largest acreage in 2020 in the group, with 63 percent in three blocks in Angola, according to Rystad Energy.

Total was second with two large blocks acquired in Angola and Oman.

Acquiring exploration acreage means companies can search for oil and gas. If new resources are discovered in sufficient volumes, the companies need to decide whether to develop them, a costly process that can take years. As a result, the drop in exploration activity could lead to a supply gap in the second half of the decade, analysts said.