NEW YORK, May 19 (Reuters) - High oil and gas prices have spurred more exploration, but lack of access to resources, rising costs and a shortage of new workers are slowing oil companies’ output growth, the head of oilfield services giant Schlumberger Ltd (SLB.N) said on Monday.
Exploration spending by the largest oil companies has turned higher in the past couple of years, reversing the trend of spending declines over the previous decade, Schlumberger CEO Andrew Gould told an energy conference, according to the text of his speech provided by the company.
Less than 25 percent of worldwide reserves are open to private investment, he said, because many states are turning over their fields to government-controlled oil companies.
“This does not mean that (production) gains will not occur, but it does mean that they will take longer than if access had been more open,” Gould said.
Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, and its peers have posted sharp revenue and earnings growth in recent years as energy companies increased spending, and Gould has predicted that trend will remain in place into the next decade.
Oil prices in the United States have jumped to record levels near $128 a barrel in recent days, and natural gas has surged to $11 per million British thermal unit.
For the energy producers, rising costs for raw materials such as steel have also help contributed to a 120 percent increase in exploration and production spending between 2004 and 2007, while the number of new wells drilled has risen by only 52 percent, he said.
High energy prices have also prompted governments around the globe to hike taxes and change investment terms to gain a greater share of producers’ profits.
But added to the rising materials cost and the riskier nature of many new fields, “there is a real danger that this will cause underinvestment and simply exacerbate the problems,” he said.
The aging energy workforce also presents a problem for the industry, which must attract a new generation of engineers, geologists and other workers to keep the industry operating.
Much of that need will be to staff offshore rigs, which are becoming more crucial for energy production. Nearly 160 new rigs are under construction around the world, requiring about 30,000 new workers, he said. (Reporting by Matt Daily, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)