Production Forecasting: Optimistic and Overconfident – Over and Over Again

Bratvold, Reidar B (University of Stavanger) | Mohus, Erlend (University of Stavanger) | Petutschnig, David (University of Texas at Austin) | Bickel, Eric (University of Texas at Austin)



The oil & gas industry uses production forecasts to make a number of decisions as mundane as whether to change the choke setting on a well, or as significant as whether to develop a field. As these forecasts are being used to develop cashflow predictions and value and decision metrics such as Net Present Value and Internal Rate of Return, their quality is essential for making good decision. Thus, forecasting skills are important for value creation and we should keep track of whether production forecasts are accurate and free from bias.

In this paper we compare probabilistic production forecasts at the time of the development FID with the actual annual production to assess whether the forecasts are biased; i.e., either optimistic, overconfident, or both.

While biases in time and cost estimates in the exploration & production industry are well documented, probabilistic production forecasts have yet to be the focus of a major study. The main reason for this is that production forecasts for exploration & production development projects are not publicly available. Without access to such estimates, the quality of the forecasts cannot be evaluated.

Drawing on the Norwegian Petroleum Directorates (NPD) extensive database, annual production forecasts, given at time of project sanction (FID), for 56 fields in the 1995 – 2017 period, have been compared with actual annual production from the same fields. The NPD guidelines specify that the operators should report the annual mean and P10/90-percentiles for the projected life of the field at the time of the FID; that is, the forecasts should be probabilistic. The actual annual production from the fields was statistically compared with the forecast to investigate if the forecasts were biased and to assess the financial impact of such biases.

This paper presents the results from the first public study of the quality of probabilistic production forecasts. The main conclusions are that production forecasts that are being used at the FID for E&P development projects are both optimistic and overconfident. As production forecasts form the basis for the main investment decision in the life of a field, biased forecasts will lead to poor decisions and to loss of value.