15 April 2008

Super Oil Majors

Conventional economics tells us that commodities move in cycles: when oil is cheap, oil companies scale back on exploration and drilling. When the price of oil goes up, we should expect oil companies to increase their reserves through intensive drilling and exploration. It was not long so long ago that oil was $20/barrel. Today it's about $110/barrel, and yet the Super Oil Majors like Chevron and Exxon have problems replenishing their reserves.

Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company behind Exxon-Mobil, will spend $50 million every day in 2008 to expand oil refineries and find new oil reserves, according to the Los Angeles Times. And while it expects its reserves to increase 5% over the next three years, that won't even offset its 7% decline in 2007, which brought its reserves to its lowest point in more than a decade and continued a four-year slide, according to the Toronto Star. "Like most large oil firms," the Star reports, "Chevron has recently struggled to replace production due to project delays, restricted access to new fields and contracts giving a larger share of reserves to host countries at higher oil prices." Indeed, Exxon said last week that it would spend $30 billion on capital and exploration projects every year between 2008 and 2012, up 43% from its 2007 budget, a figure that dwarfs even the most ambitious plans for federal renewable energy spending. The larger picture may be yet more bleak. Peak oil analysts – those who believe demand for oil is exceeding or will exceed supply – have warned that the cheap, sweet crude is just about all accounted for, leaving only hard-to-reach and expensive deposits, like tar sands and oil shale, to exploit. That means every barrel of oil – and every gallon of gasoline, every food item transported by barge, every piece of plastic manufactured with petroleum – will cost more and more as time passes. And, remember, the recent run-up in oil prices – to nearly $110 a barrel Tuesday – has very little to do with this long-term concern, as supplies now are more than adequate to meet demand. Think it's time to invest seriously in next-generation alternative fuels?