Why Oil Prices Must Go Up

It may be difficult to look beyond the current pricing environment for oil, but the depletion of low-cost reserves and the increasing inability to find major new discoveries ensures a future of expensive oil. 

While analyzing the short-term trajectory of oil prices is certainly important, it obscures the fact that over the long-term, oil exploration companies may struggle to bring new sources of supply online. Ed Crooks over at the FT persuasively summarizes the predicament. Crooks says that 2014 is shaping up to be the worst year in the last six decades in terms of new oil discoveries (based on preliminary data).

Worse still, last year marked the fourth year in a row in which new oil discoveries declined, the longest streak of decline since 1950. The industry did not log a single “giant” oil field. In other words, oil companies are finding it more and more difficult to make new oil discoveries as the easy stuff runs out and the harder-to-reach oil becomes tougher to develop. 

The inability to make new discoveries is not due to a lack of effort. Total global investment in oil and gas exploration grew rapidly over the last 15 years. Capital expenditures increased by almost threefold to $700 billion between 2000 and 2013, while output only increased 17 percent (see IEA chart). 

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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