Since the 1990s, most countries in SE Asia have been challenged to meet domestic demand using their own petroleum resources. To date, most easy-to-produce resources have been developed, leaving SEA with dwindling reserves and more technically challenged resources in small/marginal and deepwater fields. The average size of discoveries in SEA has decreased to ~35 MMBOE from double or triple that in the 1970s-1990s. Conventionally, small fields (<100 MMBOE reserves) are riddled with operational and economic challenges. The low oil price environment further exacerbates the resulting poor margins. Exploration and production (E&P) companies have been cutting spending and refocussing their portfolios on core areas of advantage.

In these increasingly challenging & uncertain times for the industry, we show how a new approach to small fields could unlock more than twice the NPV of larger conventional fields in SEA for a similar size of capital expenditure (capex).

Capturing this value though, will require a fundamental step change in operating model of operators. The Small Fields approach focuses on margin maximisation, instead of recovery and productivity maximisation. This means (1) targeting easy sweet spots (at the play and reservoir level); (2) establishing a blowdown-style investment baseline; and (3) selectively investing in incremental projects against this baseline.

Players who adopt this strategy will need to be lean, fast & agile, with an organisation and commercial construct that may more closely resemble a technology start-up than an E&P company. This will be a radical shift in mindset for most E&P companies and especially for National Oil Companies (NOC). But for many Asian countries, this may be the only option to maximise the returns and economic benefits from their hydrocarbon resources before it’s too late.

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