The considerable optimism surrounding oil at the end of 2019, when Brent was trading at $68 a barrel has turned sour. The demand shock triggered by the coronavirus and subsequent Saudi-Russian price war, which threatened to substantially expand global supply, caused oil prices to crash. The International Brent price plummeted to levels not seen for over two decades.
The latest rally, which has seen Brent rise to just over $40 per barrel, has provided little relief for Colombian oil producers. That price is below the breakeven price for many Colombian drillers, impacting their profitability and forcing them to curb spending. This has instigated considerable fallout for Colombia’s oil industry and ultimately the economy.
The Latin American nation, the region’s fourth-largest oil producer, bet its economic future on oil with growing investment and production seeing petroleum provide a fifth of fiscal revenues before the 2014 oil price collapse. The latest developments have triggered an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions for Colombia. Oil’s prolonged slump is causing much needed foreign investment in the nation’s oil patch to dry-up, significantly impacting exploration and production.
In January 2020, Colombia’s peak industry body the Colombian Petroleum Association (ACP Spanish acronym) estimated annual oil investment would increase by 23% year over year to just under $5 billion. That was contingent on Brent trading at over $60 per barrel during the year. The latest oil price collapse coupled with the coronavirus pandemic saw considerable belt-tightening among upstream Colombian oil companies. It is estimated that much-needed investment in the oil industry will fall by over $1 billion from the ACP’s original estimate, triggering serious challenges for Colombia’s petro-economy. An especially worrying development is oil companies like Frontera Energy, Colombia’s largest private oil producer, Parex Resources and Gran Tierra Energy have slashed spending. This is in response to the difficult operating environment created by the latest oil price crash which is forcing them to protect balance sheets and cash flow. Related: Chinese Oil Majors Could Form A Powerful Buyers Club
Frontera announced it had reduced its original 2020 capital budget from $245 million to $275 million to plunge between $80 million and $100 million. Consequently, Frontera shuttered roughly 15,000 barrels of daily production causing first quarter 2020 oil output to soften by 6% year over year to a daily average of 63,572 barrels. That will substantially impact Colombia’s oil output and fiscal revenues because Frontera was responsible for around 8% of the Andean nation’s 2019 oil production.
Other private oil companies in Colombia have taken similar measures. Parex slashed its budgeted 2020 capital expenditures by over half and suspended drilling. Gran Tierra, the single largest landholder in the southern Putumayo Basin, pared-down capital spending by almost two thirds, taking 7,000 barrels daily of oil production off-line.