My headline is a bit cheesy, but what other words can describe this desperate thrashing around in search of non – existent affordable oil…?
The cumulative blitz on energy exploration and production over the past six years has been $5.4 trillion, yet little has come of it
The epicentre of irrational behaviour across global markets has moved to the fossil fuel complex of oil, gas and coal. This is where investors have been throwing the most good money after bad.
They are likely to be left holding a clutch of worthless projects as renewable technology sweeps in below radar, and the Washington-Beijing axis embraces a greener agenda.
Data from Bank of America show that oil and gas investment in the US has soared to $200bn a year. It has reached 20pc of total US private fixed investment, the same share as home building. This has never happened before in US history, even during the Second World War when oil production was a strategic imperative.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says global investment in fossil fuel supply doubled in real terms to $900bn from 2000 to 2008 as the boom gathered pace. It has since stabilised at a very high plateau, near $950bn last year.
The cumulative blitz on exploration and production over the past six years has been $5.4 trillion, yet little has come of it. Output from conventional fields peaked in 2005. Not a single large project has come on stream at a break-even cost below $80 a barrel for almost three years.
“What is shocking is that upstream costs in the oil industry have risen threefold since 2000 but output is up just 14pc,” said Mark Lewis, from Kepler Cheuvreux. The damage has been masked so far as big oil companies draw down on their cheap legacy reserves.
“They are having too look for oil in the deepwater fields off Africa and Brazil, or in the Arctic, where it is much more difficult. The marginal cost for many shale plays is now $85 to $90 a barrel.”
A report by Carbon Tracker says companies are committing $1.1 trillion over the next decade to projects that require prices above $95 to break even. The Canadian tar sands mostly break even at $80-$100. Some of the Arctic and deepwater projects need $120. Several need $150. Petrobras, Statoil, Total, BP, BG, Exxon, Shell, Chevron and Repsol are together gambling $340bn in these hostile seas.
Martijn Rats, from Morgan Stanley, says the biggest European oil groups (BP, Shell, Total, Statoil and Eni) spent $161bn on operations and dividends last year, but generated $121bn in cash flow. They faces a $40bn deficit even though Brent crude prices were buoyant near $100, due to disruptions in Libya, Iraq and parts of Africa. “Oil development is so expensive that many projects do not make sense,” he said.