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An oil pumpjack in Germany operated by ExxonMobil. Photo: Adam Berry/For The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The oil-and-gas industry has halted years of declining investments in exploration and it's paying off in the form of big conventional finds.

Where it stands: The consultancy Rystad Energy said in a note Monday that discoveries this year will total an estimated 9.4 billion barrels of oil-equivalent. It's the biggest year for exploration since 2015, they added. The total is dominated by offshore finds, including Exxon's string of big oil exploration hits off Guyana's coast.

The big picture: Industry spending on oil-and-gas exploration began plunging nearly a half-decade ago, dropping 61% from 2014 levels, but the picture is changing again. Rystad analyst Palzor Shenga said in a statement...

“Global exploration activity and discoveries have halted their year-after-year decline and look set to rise in the next year ... This as an exciting recovery which runs contrary to a decline in global exploration spending from 2014 to 2017."

By the numbers: Analysis from the consultancy Wood Mackenzie — shared with Reuters and confirmed by Axios — shows that upstream spending is slated to grow to $425 billion next year.

  • That's $25 billion above 2016–2017 levels but still far below the $770 billion the industry spent finding new supplies in 2014.
  • "More careful allocation of capital since 2017 has returned exploration to profitability, and 2019 looks set to be another promising year. Hotspots will include Guyana, Brazil, Mexico, US Gulf of Mexico, Cyprus, South Africa and the Barents Sea in Norway," WoodMac said in a note.
  • In addition, WoodMac also sees an increase in final investment decisions on large production projects, including big South American offshore fields, rising next year.

The intrigue: It's not clear whether the industry will bring enough new crude supplies online in coming years to avoid problems down the road as demand grows and mature fields decline.

  • There's a (disputed) view among some analysts that despite the U.S. shale surge, a global supply crunch could surface in the 2020s absent stronger investment in conventional exploration and megaproject approvals.

What they're saying: The IEA's big World Energy Outlook in November warned: "The average level of new conventional crude oil project approvals over the last three years is only half the amount necessary to balance the market out to 2025."

  • IEA fears that the rise in U.S. shale production won't be enough to close the potential gap.

Go deeper

House votes to ban imports from Xinjiang over forced labor concerns

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The House voted 428-1 on Wednesday to pass a bill that would ban all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang unless the U.S. government determines that the products were not made with forced labor.

Why it matters: Both the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as several foreign parliaments, have recognized China's repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.

Mark Meadows sues Pelosi, Jan. 6 committee

Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters after a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Nov. 18, 2020. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and all nine members of the Jan. 6 select committee on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The move comes less than a day after the committee moved to hold Meadows in contempt for refusing to cooperate with its investigation of the Capitol riots.

The four key moments from Instagram's Hill hearing

Adam Mosseri. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Instagram head Adam Mosseri testified before Senate lawmakers Wednesday and was pressed on the app's impacts on young children and teens.

Why it matters: Legislation to protect kids online is one area Congress has shown it's willing to regulate, as Axios previously reported. Wednesday's back-and-forth gave momentum to lawmakers eager to make more rules for social media platforms and how children and teens can use them.