Development capex: long-term spending from Oil Majors?

This data-file tabulates the five ‘Big Oil’ Super-Majors’ development capex from the mid-1990s, in headline terms (billions of dollars) and in per-barrel terms ($/boe of production). Real development capex quadrupled from $6/boe in 1995-2000 to $24/boe in 2010-15, and has since collapsed to $10/boe.


The peer group of Super-Majors comprises ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and TOTAL, which comprise c10% of the world’s oil production and 12% of the world’s gas production. As a good rule of thumb, this group can be thought of as c10% of global production.

Development capex by region: gaining share? The US has always been the most favored destination, attracting c25% of all development capex, both offshore (e.g., Gulf of Mexico) and increasingly for short-cycle shale. However, the share of these companies’ development capex in the US has averaged around 32% in the past three years.

Development capex by region: losing share? Development projects in Africa and Europe have fallen most out of favor. Development capex in Africa peaked at $17bn in 2009, almost 25% of the group’s total development capex, and has since fallen back to $5bn per year, or 8% of the group’s total development capex.

It is somewhat terrifying to consider that the industry needed to spend an average of $15/boe (real terms) on development capex in order to hold its organic production “flattish” (including some large acquisitions in 2014-17, such as Shell buying BG).

Another scary data-point is that this peer group of Super-Majors spent $18/boe (real) on development projects in the decade from 2004-14 (which is 80% more than recent levels of spending) yet its net production declined by 1.5% per year over this timeframe.

Similar data for the Super-Majors’ exploration capex over time is tabulated here.

Under-investment across the entire energy industry may foreshadow a sustained shortage of energy, especially if 50% lower-carbon gas is intended to replace coal as part of the energy transition, per our roadmap to net zero. Hence one cannot help wondering about energy shortages, energy pragmatism and our fears of another up-cycle.

This data-file aggregates the Oil Majors’ development capex, across ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and TOTAL disclosures, apples-to-apples, back to 1995, based on supplementary oil and gas disclosures, in the SEC’s EDGAR archives.

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