Operators have traditionally grown their resources and reserves through acquisition, exploration and producing more from an already-discovered field. Now, digital technologies are helping operators increase reserves.
Wood Mackenzie research director Andrew Harwood said that since the most recent oil price downturn, the balance in those three key methods is changing. The firm is seeing fewer reserves acquisition, and has noted the scaling back of exploration budgets.
“They’re focused on growing from within,” he said.
And technology-led methods are helping the operators unlock more from existing fields. The majors have managed to unlock 19 billion barrels of conventional and tight oil resource from within their portfolio since the oil price downturn, accounting for a third of all reserves added then, the company said.
Harwood cited Woodside as an example. The operator recently upgraded resources at its Scarborough project by 52% through the application of new seismic techniques and processing.
“Just a 5% increase in recovery from producing assets in Asia could add another 5 billion boe of resource – equivalent to the volume of exploration-led resources added in Asia Pacific over the last three years,” he said.
Seismic is only one of the technologies contributing to reserves increases. Data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are also changing the industry’s understanding of the resource base, according to the company
“Digitalization is one of the buzzwords,” Harwood said.
Some analysis of the mentions of the word “digitalization” appeared in analyst calls and company earnings presentations of the big six showed the three mentions in 2016 and more than a hundred in 2018, Harwood said. As of September 2019, there had been more than 80 uses of the buzzword.
“It’s becoming quite a big focus” to drive internal resources growth, he said. “It’s low risk. They already operate the fields. They’re already producing or planning to produce. They’ve already invested. This is incremental production.”
The technologies can help with reservoir mapping and management, parsing the huge amounts of data collected from exploration drilling and production, managing production flows through reservoirs.
“The amount of data is huge,” Harwood said.
AI can help by allowing operators to test out proposed scenarios for improving recovery from reserves, he added.
While operators have trimmed exploration budgets and gas is valued lower than oil, WoodMac is confident that exploration for gas reserves will grow going forward.
Gas comprises more than half the discovered volumes in the last decade, and the firm expect to see gas demand grow after oil demand peaks.
Companies are already finding other ways to profit from gas production, such as with trading and benefitting from the trading margins, he says.
Other players are looking at the entire gas value chain and seeking to participate more fully from production to distribution to end users and power plants.
He doesn’t expect oil companies to cease the hunt for oil, but for gas to be more often sought after. He said that strategy is particularly well-suited for gas-prone regions like Asia.
“It’s really about exploring close to growing gas markets and close to infrastructure so you can turn around discoveries in a quick fashion. You wouldn’t have to invest, just tap into existing facilities,” Harwood said.