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B.C. records worst oil and gas land sale totals since 1982

The totals are in: 2015 was the worst year for oil and gas land sales in a generation. The province auctioned off $4.2 million in drilling rights at its Dec. 9 land sale, bringing the 2015 total to $18 million.
sad rig
A rig lies idle in a yard in Dawson Creek.

The totals are in: 2015 was the worst year for oil and gas land sales in a generation.

The province auctioned off $4.2 million in drilling rights at its Dec. 9 land sale, bringing the 2015 total to $18 million.

Land sale totals haven't been that low since 1982—the days of the National Energy Program. Investors bought just $17 million in drilling rights that year. The sale is seen as an indicator of future oil and gas exploration, and land sales typically account for 30 to 70 per cent of the province's oil and gas revenue. 

The December 2014 sale brought in $38 million, capping the year at $382 million.

The collapse in the price of oil, anemic North American natural gas prices and uncertainty around LNG have made for a rough year in the B.C. oilpatch.

Bill Gwozd, an energy analyst with HSB Solomon Associates, said exploration will likely be down for the foreseeable future.

"(Companies have) defocused on the exploration aspect and are taking the existing land and trying to harvest what they've got, instead of going to get something new," he told the Alaska Highway News.  

Well completions in B.C. were down around a quarter this year, Gwozd said.

"Only around seven per cent of those are exploration (wells), the other 93 per cent are development," he said. "Ninety-three per cent of their activity is on land they already had."

In all, the province leased 62,197 hectares for drilling this year, the first time an annual total has dropped below six-digits.

The average price per hectare was in the $300 dollar range, the lowest since 1999 and down from $2,574 per hectare in 2014.

2008 saw record highs in hectares disposed, average prices and overall bonuses—which reached $2.6 billion.

Gwozd said he expected companies to focus on liquids-rich parcels in the Montney Shale. Companies tied to LNG projects will likely continue to drill, he said, but on existing parcels bought by land brokers at previous auctions.

That means 2016 will likely continue to see weak land sales.

"I would suggest 2016 will be the real worst in a lifetime," he said. "This is just the warmup band." 

Parcels are leased for terms of three to five years, depending on location.

Meanwhile, land sales are down around 39.5 per cent in Alberta. In September, the province was on track for the worst land sale revenue seen in two decades.

reporter@dcdn.ca