Risks associated with the exploration and production of oil and natural gas
The exploration and production of oil and natural gas requires high levels of capital expenditures and are subject to natural hazards and other uncertainties, including those relating to the physical characteristics of oil and gas fields. A description of the main risks facing the Company’s business in the exploration and production of oil and gas is provided below.
Eni’s oil and natural gas offshore operations are particularly exposed to health, safety, security and environmental risks
Eni has material operations relating to the exploration and production of hydrocarbons located offshore. In 2013, approximately 55% of our total oil and gas production for the year derived from offshore fields, mainly in Egypt, Libya, Norway, Italy, Angola, the Gulf of Mexico, Congo, UK and Nigeria. Offshore operations in the oil and gas industry are inherently riskier than onshore activities. As the Macondo accident occurred in the Gulf of Mexico has shown, the potential impacts of offshore accidents and spills to health, safety, security and the environment can be catastrophic due to the objective difficulties in handling hydrocarbons containment and other factors. Also offshore operations are subject to marine perils, including severe storms and other adverse weather conditions and vessel collisions, as well as interruptions or termination by governmental authorities based on safety, environmental and other considerations. Failure to manage these risks could result in injury or loss of life, damage to property, environmental damage, and could result in regulatory action, legal liability, loss of revenues and damage to our reputation and could have a material adverse effect on our operations or financial condition.
Exploratory drilling efforts may be unsuccessful
Exploration drilling for oil and gas involves numerous risks including the risk of dry holes or failure to find commercial quantities of hydrocarbons. The costs of drilling, completing and operating wells have margins of uncertainty, and drilling operations may be unsuccessful as a result of a variety of factors, including unexpected drilling conditions, pressure or heterogeneities in formations, equipment failures, blowouts and other forms of accidents, and shortages or delays in the delivery of equipment. The Company engages in large exploration drilling activities offshore, particularly in deep and ultra-deep waters, and in remote areas, in environmentally-sensitive locations and other challenging contexts (e.g. the Barents Sea). In these locations we generally experience more challenging and riskier conditions and incur higher exploration costs than onshore.
Failure to discover commercial quantities of oil and natural gas could have an adverse impact on Eni’s future growth prospects, results of operations and liquidity. Because Eni plans to make significant investments in executing high-risk exploration projects, it is likely that Eni will incur significant exploration and dry hole expenses in future years. These high-risk projects generally involve offshore plays located in deep and ultra-deep waters or at deep drilling depths, where operations are more challenging and costly than in other areas. Furthermore, deep and ultra deep water operations may require significant time before commercial production of reserves can commence, increasing both the operational and financial risks associated with these activities. The Company plans to conduct exploration projects offshore West Africa (Angola, Nigeria, Congo, Ghana, Liberia and Gabon), East Africa (Mozambique and Kenya), the South-East Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam and other locations), Australia, the Barents Sea and the Black Sea. In 2012, the Company spent approximately €1.8 billion to conduct exploration projects and it plans to spend approximately €1.4 billion on average in the next four-year plan on exploration activities.
Unsuccessful exploration activities and failure to find additional commercial reserves could reduce future production of oil and natural gas which is highly dependent on the rate of success of exploratory activity.
Development projects bear significant operational risks which may adversely affect actual returns
Eni is executing several development projects to produce and market hydrocarbon reserves. Certain projects target the development of reserves in high-risk areas, particularly offshore and in remote and hostile environments or environmentally sensitive locations. Eni’s future results of operations and liquidity depend heavily on its ability to implement, develop and operate major projects as planned. Key factors that may affect the economics of these projects include:
- the outcome of negotiations with co-venturers, governments and state-owned companies, suppliers, customers or others, including, for example, Eni’s ability to negotiate favourable long term contracts to market gas reserves;
- the development of reliable spot markets that may be necessary to support the development of particular production projects, or commercial arrangements for pipelines and related equipment to transport and market hydrocarbons;
- timely issuance of permits and licenses by government agencies;
- the Company’s relative size compared to its main competitors which may prevent it from participating in large-scale projects or affect its ability to reap benefits associated with economies of scale, for example by obtaining more favourable contractual terms by suppliers of equipment and services;
- the ability to carefully carry out front-end design engineering at any development projects so as to prevent the occurrence of technical inconvenience during the execution phase;
- delays in manufacturing and delivery of critical equipment, or shortages in the availability of such equipment, causing cost overruns and delays;
- risks associated with the use of new technologies and the inability to develop advanced technologies to maximize the recoverability rate of hydrocarbons or gain access to previously inaccessible reservoirs;
- poor performance in project execution on the part of international contractors who are awarded project construction activities generally based on the EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) turn key contractual scheme. We believe this kind of risk may be due to lack of contractual flexibility, poor quality of front end design engineering and commissioning delays;
- changes in operating conditions and cost overruns. In recent years, the industry has been impacted by escalating costs of certain critical productive factors including specialized workforce, procurement costs and costs for leasing third party equipment or purchase services such as drilling rigs as a result of industry-wide cost inflation, bottlenecks and other constraints in the worldwide production capacity available to build critical equipment and facilities and growing complexity and scale of projects, including environmental and safety costs. Furthermore, there has been an evolution in the location of our projects, as Eni has been discovering increasingly important volumes of reserves in remote and harsh locations or environmentally sensitive locations (i.e. the Barents Sea, Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caspian Sea) where Eni is experiencing significantly higher operating costs and environmental, safety and other costs than in other locations. The Company expects that costs in its upstream operations will continue to rise in the foreseeable future;
- the actual performance of the reservoir and natural field decline; and
- the ability and time necessary to build suitable transport infrastructures to export production to final markets.
Poor project execution, inadequate front end engineering, delays in the achievement of critical events and production start up, and differences between scheduled and actual timing, as well as cost overruns may adversely affect the economic returns of our development projects. Failure to successfully deliver major projects could negatively impact results of operations, cash flow and the achievement of short-term targets of production growth. Finally, developing and marketing hydrocarbons reserves typically requires several years after a discovery is made. This is because a development project involves an array of complex and lengthy activities, including appraising a discovery in order to evaluate its commercial potential, sanctioning a development project and building and commissioning related facilities. As a consequence, rates of return for such long-lead-time projects are exposed to the volatility of oil and gas prices and costs which may be substantially different from the prices and costs assumed when the investment decision was actually made, leading to lower rates of return. In addition, projects executed with partners and co-venturers reduce the ability of the Company to manage risks and costs, and Eni could have limited influence over and control of the operations, behaviours and performance of its partners. Furthermore, Eni may not have full operation control of the joint ventures in which it participates and may have exposure to counterparty credit risk and disruption of operation and strategic objectives due to the nature of its relationships.
We have experienced a few delays at a number of development projects located mainly in Algeria, the UK, Angola and Norway. Those delays were attributable to execution issues and delivery of critical equipment reflecting capacity constraints. These events have impacted the timing profile of our planned production growth in the short term.
In case the Company is unable to develop and operate major projects as planned, particularly if the Company fails to accomplish budgeted costs and time schedules, it could incur significant impairment charges associated with reduced future cash flows of those projects on capitalized costs.
Inability to replace oil and natural gas reserves could adversely impact results of operations and financial condition
Eni’s results of operations and financial condition are substantially dependent on its ability to develop and sell oil and natural gas. Unless the Company is able to replace produced oil and natural gas, its reserves will decline. In addition to being a function of production, revisions and new discoveries, the Company’s reserve replacement is also affected by the entitlement mechanism in its Production Sharing Agreements (“PSAs”) and similar contractual schemes. In accordance with such contracts, Eni is entitled to a portion of a field’s reserves, the sale of which is intended to cover expenditures incurred by the Company to develop and operate the field. The higher the reference prices for Brent crude oil used to estimate Eni’s proved reserves, the lower the number of barrels necessary to recover the same amount of expenditures. Future oil and gas production is dependent on the Company’s ability to access new reserves through new discoveries, application of improved techniques, success in development activity, negotiation with Countries and other owners of known reserves and acquisitions. In a number of reserve-rich Countries, national oil companies control a large portion of oil and gas reserves that remain to be developed. To the extent that national oil companies decide to develop those reserves without the participation of international oil companies or if the Company fails to establish partnership with national oil companies, Eni’s ability to access or develop additional reserves will be limited.
An inability to replace produced reserves by finding, acquiring and developing additional reserves could adversely impact future production levels and growth prospects. If Eni is unsuccessful, it may not meet its long-term targets of production growth and reserve replacement, and Eni’s future total proved reserves and production will decline, negatively affecting Eni’s future results of operations and financial condition.
Changes in crude oil and natural gas prices may adversely affect Eni’s results of operations
The exploration and production of oil and gas is a commodity business with a history of price volatility. The single largest variable that affects the Company’s results of operations and financial condition is crude oil prices. Lower crude oil prices have an adverse impact on Eni’s results of operations and cash flows. Eni generally does not hedge exposure of the future expected cash flows of the Group reserves to movements in crude oil price. As a consequence, Eni’s profitability depends heavily on crude oil and natural gas prices. Crude oil and natural gas prices are subject to international supply and demand and other factors that are beyond Eni’s control, including among other things:
- the control on production exerted by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”) member Countries which control a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil and can exercise substantial influence on price levels;
- global geopolitical and economic developments, including sanctions imposed on certain oil-producing Countries on the basis of resolutions of the United Nations or bilateral sanctions or disruptions due to local instability. We believe that crude oil prices were supported in 2013 by a number of interruptions in the output flows that occurred in Countries like Libya, Nigeria and Syria due to local issues driven by political and social instability;
- global and regional dynamics of demand and supply of oil and gas. We believes that global oil demand will grow at a moderate pace in the foreseeable future due to sluggish economic activity in Europe and other macroeconomic uncertainties, and more efficient use of fules and energy in OECD Countries;
- prices and availability of alternative sources of energy. Eni believes that gas demand in Europe has been significantly impacted by a shift to the use of coal in firing power plants due to cost advantages compared to gas, as well as the rising contribution of renewable energies in satisfying energy requirements. Eni expects those trends to continue in the future;
- governmental and intergovernmental regulations, including the implementation of national or international laws or regulations intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which could impact the prices of hydrocarbons; and
- success in developing and applying new technology.
All these factors can affect the global balance between demand and supply for oil and prices of oil.
We estimate that movements in oil prices impact approximately 50% of our current production as the remaining portion which derives from Production Sharing Contracts is practically unaffected by crude oil price movements which instead impact the Company’s volume entitlements (see our disclosure under the paragraph “Inability to replace oil and natural gas reserves could adversely impact results of operations and financial condition” above). In addition, we expect that the Company results of operations from 2014 onwards will reflect our decision late in 2013 to fully exploit the benefits of the natural hedging occurring between our Exploration & Production and Gas & Power segments. As a matter of fact, we estimate that the exposure to changes in crude oil prices of approximately 8-10% of our production is offset by equivalent and contrarian movements of the procurement costs of gas in our long-term supply contracts which index the cost of gas to crude oil prices. In previous reporting periods we entered into commodity derivatives to protect margins on gas sales in our Gas & Power business from exposure to crude oil changes and late in 2013 we discontinued this policy with a view to exploit the natural hedge provided by our equity production of crude oil. See the risk factors “exposure to financial risks” below.
Lower oil and gas prices over prolonged periods may also adversely affect Eni’s results of operations and cash flows by:
(i) reducing rates of return of development projects either planned or being implemented, leading the Company to reschedule, postpone or cancel development projects, or accept a lower rate of return on such projects; (ii) reducing the Group’s liquidity, entailing lower resources to fund expansion projects, further dampening the Company’s ability to grow future production and revenues; and (iii) triggering a review of future recoverability of the Company’s carrying amounts of oil and gas properties, which could lead to the recognition of significant impairment charges.
The Company, like other players in the industry, assesses its oil&gas projects based on long-term scenarios for oil prices, which reflect management’s best assumptions about the underlying fundamentals of global demand and supply. This approach supports the achievement of the expected returns on capital projects through the swings of the oil&gas cycle. For the 2014-2017 period Eni assumed a long-term price of $90 a barrel (real terms 2017). In this context the Company approved a capital expenditure plan amounting to €54 billion, 82% relating to exploration and development of oil and gas reserves, with a decrease of 5% in comparison with previous plan due to a higher degree of capital selection through a different schedule of project phases.
Volatile oil prices represent an uncertainty factor in view of achieving the Company’s operating targets of production growth and reserve replacement due to the relevant amount of Production Sharing Agreements in Eni’s portfolio. Under such contracts, the Company is entitled to receive a portion of the production, the sale of which should cover expenditures incurred and earn the Company a share of profit. Accordingly, the higher the reference prices for crude oil used to determine production and reserve entitlements, the lower the number of barrels to cover the same dollar amounts hence the amounts of booked production and reserves; and vice versa. The Company currently estimates that production entitlements in its PSAs decreases on average by approximately 1,000 bbl/d for a $1 increase in oil prices. The impact of price effects on the Company’s production was immaterial in 2013. This sensitivity analysis relates to the existing Eni portfolio and might vary in the future.
Eni expects that tightening regulation in oil and gas activities following the Macondo accident will lead to rising compliance costs and other restrictions
The production of oil and natural gas is highly regulated and is subject to conditions imposed by governments throughout the world in matters such as the award of exploration and production interests, the imposition of specific drilling and other work obligations, income taxes and taxes on production, environmental protection measures, control over the development and abandonment of fields and installations, and restrictions on production. Following the Macondo accident in the Gulf of Mexico, Eni expects that governments throughout the world will implement stricter regulation on environmental protection, risk prevention and other forms of restrictions to drilling and other well operations. These new regulations and legislation, as well as evolving practices, could increase the cost of compliance and may also require changes to our drilling operations and exploration and development plans and may lead to higher royalties and taxes.
Uncertainties in estimates of oil and natural gas reserves
Several uncertainties are inherent in estimating quantities of proved reserves and in projecting future rates of production and timing of development expenditures. The accuracy of proved reserve estimates depends on a number of factors, assumptions and variables, among which the most important are the following:
- the quality of available geological, technical and economic data and their interpretation and judgment;
- projections regarding future rates of production and costs and timing of development expenditures;
- changes in the prevailing tax rules, other government regulations and contractual conditions;
- results of drilling, testing and the actual production performance of Eni’s reservoirs after the date of the estimates which may drive substantial upward or downward revisions; and changes in oil and natural gas prices which could affect the quantities of Eni’s proved reserves since the estimates of reserves are based on prices and costs existing as of the date when these estimates are made. Lower oil prices or the projections of higher operating and development costs may impair the ability of the Company to economically produce reserves leading to downward reserve revisions.
In particular the reserve estimates are subject to revisions as prices fluctuate due to the cost recovery mechanism under the Company’s PSAs and similar contractual schemes.
Many of these factors, assumptions and variables involved in estimating proved reserves are subject to change over time therefore impacting the estimates of oil and natural gas reserves. Accordingly, the estimated reserves reported as of the end of the period covered by this filing could be significantly different from the quantities of oil and natural gas that will ultimately be recovered. Any downward revision in Eni’s estimated quantities of proved reserves would indicate lower future production volumes, which could adversely impact Eni’s results of operations and financial condition.
Oil and gas activity may be subject to increasingly high levels of income taxes
The oil and gas industry is subject to the payment of royalties and income taxes which tend to be higher than those payable in many other commercial activities. In addition, in recent years, Eni has experienced adverse changes in the tax regimes applicable to oil and gas operations in a number of Countries where the Company conducts its upstream operations. As a result of these trends, management estimates that the tax rate applicable to the Company’s oil and gas operations is materially higher than the Italian statutory tax rate for corporate profit which currently stands at 38%. The tax rate of the Company’s Exploration & Production segment for the fiscal year 2013 was approximately 60%.
Management believes that the marginal tax rate in the oil and gas industry tends to increase in correlation with higher oil prices which could make it more difficult for Eni to translate higher oil prices into increased net profit. However, the Company does not expect that the marginal tax rate will decrease in response to falling oil prices. Adverse changes in the tax rate applicable to the Group profit before income taxes in its oil and gas operations would have a negative impact on Eni’s future results of operations and cash flows.
In the current uncertain financial and economic environment, governments are facing greater pressure on public finances, which may increase their motivation to intervene in the fiscal framework for the oil and gas industry, including the risk of increased taxation, nationalization and expropriations.
Eni’s results depend on its ability to identify and mitigate the above mentioned risks and hazards which are inherent to Eni’s operation.