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Indies Show Increased Appetite for Exploration

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Oil and natural gas companies are rediscovering their appetites for exploration as they look for ways to add value in the eyes of impatient investors.

Murphy Oil CEO Roger Jenkins told the Goldman Sachs Global Energy and Clean Technology Conference on Thursday that the company plans to drill at least one “really nice well” in the US Gulf of Mexico this year and another one offshore Mexico. The company is also participating in the delayed Exxon Mobil-led Cutthroat wildcat in the Sergipe-Alagoas Basin off Brazil.

Other panelists stressed the potential of exploration to create long-term value for independent companies, especially after years of reduced drilling activity around the globe.

“[Exploration is] where there might be the best opportunity right now to really create some long-term substantial returns, because there’s great opportunity,” said APA CEO John Christmann.

Technological advancements in drilling and development have sped up the time from discovery to first oil, making spinning the bit more attractive to smaller companies, Jenkins said.

“The moving to the left of the time from discovery by smaller companies ... is really our core competitive advantage,” Jenkins said.

Murphy in the Americas

Murphy has begun development drilling for its King’s Quay project in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and plans to install a recently arrived floating production unit later this year, with first oil soon to follow.

That will mark the culmination of one development project just as Murphy takes the first steps on what it hopes will be more to come.

In the US Gulf, Murphy has a well planned near the Hoffe Park field that could be tied back to the existing Delta House hub. Another well in the area, Silverback, which was billed as a potential play-opener, did not pan out, but Murphy says it is using that probe to evaluate other nearby prospects.

Other companies such as Hess and Occidental Petroleum are also planning new exploration this year in the US Gulf after sitting out last year. Deepwater players Kosmos Energy and EnVen have recently awarded new drilling contracts due to start this year in the US Gulf as well.

Further south in Mexican waters, Murphy is moving forward on the long-awaited Tulum exploration well in Block 5. Jenkins implied the well will be drilled at some point this year, part of a drilling campaign that will likely also include an appraisal of the 2019 Cholula discovery.

Murphy is also participating in Exxon's Cutthroat well offshore Brazil, which Murphy says could hold 500 million-1.05 billion gross barrels of oil equivalent. The well was due to spud last month but regulatory data does not show it currently drilling.

APA in Egypt

APA (formerly Apache) is looking at fresh exploration in another part of the world.

The company announced last month that it had finalized terms on a production-sharing contract (PSC) with Cairo that will make its position in Egypt the most attractive investment opportunity in its portfolio.

Christmann said Thursday that APA now plans to restore Egypt as a growth asset for the company.

The PSC took the better part of six months to finalize, but Christmann said APA started adding rigs “in good faith” after a framework agreement was reached in May.

It now has 11 rigs running in the country and plans to have 15 in the field by the end of 2022. It will fund the growth with cash flow from the Egyptian assets, Christmann said.

APA recently shot about 2.5 million acres of new 3-D seismic and plans to drill “a lot of low-risk development wells as well as some exploration wells there.”

“We have good visibility into the inventory, probably the best visibility we’ve ever had, because we now have a handful of years and a lot of running room,” Christmann said.

Topics:
Independent E&Ps, Corporate Strategy , Upstream Technology, Upstream Projects, Exploration, Deepwater, Offshore Oil and Gas, Pre-Salt
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