Global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie has said that 32 potential European oil field developments containing 4.9bn barrels of oil equivalent are waiting for approval on more than $87bn (£55bn) of funding. These could be at risk should oil prices fall below $60 per barrel.
“Major projects and investment in the UK and across Continental and Mediterranean Europe could be at risk if prices stay below $80 per barrel, as over 70pc of the pre-FID [final investment decision] reserves in each region have a break-even in excess of $60 per barrel,” James Webb, lead analyst for Continental and Mediterranean Europe upstream research at Wood Mackenzie, told The Sunday Telegraph.
“Whereas in Norway almost 80pc of reserves require an oil price of less than $60 per barrel to break even,” he said.
Norway’s output is expected to increase by 50,000 barrels per day (bpd) to average almost 1.9m bpd in 2014, despite the recent slump in prices.
Major international oil companies such as BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips are already reviewing capital expenditure levels in the wake of a rout in global crude markets, which has wiped 45pc off the price of a barrel of Brent since June.
The benchmark closed out the week at just above $62 per barrel, close to a new five-and-a-half-year low, after the International Energy Agency slashed its forecast for demand growth next year by 230,000 barrels to 93.3m bpd.
A sharp cutback in spending on new projects by oil majors could also threaten thousands of jobs in the UK’s oil and gas sector offshore and hit hubs such as Aberdeen and Montrose, which serve the North Sea, hard.
BP warned of thousands of potential redundancies last week, as it informed investors of $1bn of cuts it plans to make to adjust its business to the new lower price environment.
“The downward trend in oil prices is a growing source of concern for operators across Europe,” said Mr Webb.
A sharp pull-back in investment is a concern for the North Sea, where the challenging offshore operating environment, high levels of taxation and dwindling reserves have made Britain’s hydrocarbons heartland increasingly uncompetitive when compared with regions opening up elsewhere in the world.
A recent study by industry body Oil & Gas UK suggested that £1 trillion of investment may be required in order to extract all of the remaining 30bn of oil reserves left in the UK Continental Shelf. Oil & Gas UK has also said it was aware of 150 projects offshore in British waters that are seeking investment and final sanction by operators.
These schemes could now be seriously threatened if oil prices continue to trade at the current levels, or fall even further, which some analysts predict.
Pressure is also expected to build on George Osborne to provide more tax relief for drillers in addition to the measure introduced in the Autumn Statement, when it was announced that the charge on profits for oil companies working in the UK Continental Shelf would fall 2pc to 30pc.
North Sea output was expected to recover in the fourth quarter after the start-up of Nexen’s Golden Eagle Area Development, which will pump 70,000 bpd of crude. However, total full-year output for the entire North Sea is expected to decline to 840,000 bpd, its lowest since 1977.
However, some analysts argue that a slowdown in global supply and spending on developing new oil reserves is what is required to rebalance the market. Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, a former president of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), told The Telegraph last week that 2m bpd of crude need to be removed from circulation in order to restore an equilibrium between supply and demand.
Mr al-Attiyah said the cartel, which controls about a third of world supply, should sit down with other producers outside the group such as Russia, Mexico and Norway to share the burden of trimming output.