Slow recovery expected for land rigs after catastrophic 2020

Ben Wilby

A slow, gradual recovery is expected for the global land rig demand following the Covid-19 induced downturn in 2020. Demand is estimated to return to pre pandemic (2019) levels by 2025, according to new analysis by energy market research and consultancy firm Westwood Global Energy Group.

As drilling activity plummeted across the globe over the course of 2020, operational rigs are estimated to have fallen c.25%, contracting from c.4,570 to c.3,530. Utilisation levels followed suit falling to an estimated c.40%, similar to the downturn levels of 2016.

While a recovery is anticipated year-on-year over the forecast period, it is expected to be gradual and characterised by operator caution as they navigate several important considerations – pace of global demand recovery, the energy transition, and geopolitics.

There will also be significant regional variances to contend with. Countries with E&P landscapes dominated by NOCs are expected to lead recovery.

Slow recovery expected for land rigs after catastrophic 2020

Ben Wilby, Senior Analyst, at Westwood said: “The global market is expected to remain significantly oversupplied throughout the forecast period. China is anticipated to lead rig demand, while strong growth is expected in the GCC. However, both Latin and North America experienced significant demand contractions in 2020, and are not expected to recover to 2019 levels, particularly in North America, over the forecast period.”

Ben continues: “The focus for US onshore operators is profitability and creating shareholder value over production growth.”

However, the analysis also highlights areas of potential upside to Westwood’s Base Case forecast. Momentum in the development of unconventional reserves in China, Argentina and Columbia could result in stronger than forecasted rig demand. Similarly, additional demand could come from the sanctioning of projects that have seen long delays in the past, including large-scale developments in Australia. Sustained levels of higher commodity pricing and demand recovery could also encourage US onshore operators to increase the rig count and drilling of new wells.