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Division of Corporation Finance: Frequently Requested Accounting and Financial Reporting Interpretations and Guidance
Prepared by Accounting Staff Members
in the Division of Corporation Finance
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,
March 31, 2001
3. Definition of Proved Reserves
Over the last several years, the estimation and classification of petroleum reserves has been impacted by the development of new technologies such as 3-D seismic interpretation and reservoir simulation. Computer processor improvements have allowed the increased use of probabilistic methods in proved reserve assessments. These have led to issues of consistency and, therefore, some confusion in the reporting of proved oil and gas reserves by public issuers in their filings with the Commission. This section discusses some issues the Division of Corporation Finance's engineering staff has identified in its review of such filings.
The definitions for proved oil and gas reserves for the SEC are found in Rule 4-10(a) of Regulation S-X of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC definitions are below in bold italics. Under each section we have tried to explain the SEC staff's position regarding some of the more common issues that arise from each portion of the definitions. As most engineers who deal with the classification of reserves have come to realize, it is difficult, if not impossible, to write reserve definitions that easily cover all possible situations. Each case has to be studied as to its own unique issues. This is true with the Society of Petroleum Engineers' and others' reserve definitions as well as the SEC's definitions.
(a) Proved oil and gas reserves are the estimated quantities of crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids which geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions, i.e., prices and costs as of the date the estimate is made. Prices include consideration of changes in existing prices provided by contractual arrangements, but not on escalations based upon future conditions.
The determination of reasonable certainty is generated by supporting geological and engineering data. There must be data available which indicate that assumptions such as decline rates, recovery factors, reservoir limits, recovery mechanisms and volumetric estimates, gas-oil ratios or liquid yield are valid. If the area in question is new to exploration and there is little supporting data for decline rates, recovery factors, reservoir drive mechanisms etc., a conservative approach is appropriate until there is enough supporting data to justify the use of more liberal parameters for the estimation of proved reserves. The concept of reasonable certainty implies that, as more technical data becomes available, a positive, or upward, revision is much more likely than a negative, or downward, revision.
Existing economic and operating conditions are the product prices, operating costs, production methods, recovery techniques, transportation and marketing arrangements, ownership and/or entitlement terms and regulatory requirements that are extant on the effective date of the estimate. An anticipated change in conditions must have reasonable certainty of occurrence; the corresponding investment and operating expense to make that change must be included in the economic feasibility at the appropriate time. These conditions include estimated net abandonment costs to be incurred and duration of current licenses and permits.
If oil and gas prices are so low that production is actually shut-in because of uneconomic conditions, the reserves attributed to the shut-in properties can no longer be classified as proved and must be subtracted from the proved reserve data base as a negative revision. Those volumes may be included as positive revisions to a subsequent year's proved reserves only upon their return to economic status.
(b) Reservoirs are considered proved if economic producibility is supported by either actual production or conclusive formation test. The area of a reservoir considered proved includes that portion delineated by drilling and defined by gas-oil and/or oil-water contacts, if any, and the immediately adjoining portions not yet drilled, but which can be reasonably judged as economically productive on the basis of available geological and engineering data. In the absence of information on fluid contacts, the lowest known structural occurrence of hydrocarbons controls the lower proved limits of the reservoir.
Proved reserves may be attributed to a prospective zone if a conclusive formation test has been performed or if there is production from the zone at economic rates. It is clear to the SEC staff that wireline recovery of small volumes (e.g. 100 cc) or production of a few hundred barrels per day in remote locations is not necessarily conclusive. Analyses of open-hole well logs which imply that an interval is productive are not sufficient for attribution of proved reserves. If there is an indication of economic producibility by either formation test or production, the reserves in the legal and technically justified drainage area around the well projected down to a known fluid contact or the lowest known hydrocarbons, or LKH may be considered to be proved.
In order to attribute proved reserves to legal locations adjacent to such a well (i.e. offsets), there must be conclusive, unambiguous technical data which supports reasonable certainty of production of such volumes and sufficient legal acreage to economically justify the development without going below the shallower of the fluid contact or the LKH. In the absence of a fluid contact, no offsetting reservoir volume below the LKH from a well penetration shall be classified as proved.
Upon obtaining performance history sufficient to reasonably conclude that more reserves will be recovered than those estimated volumetrically down to LKH, positive reserve revisions should be made.
(c) Reserves which can be produced economically through applications of improved recovery techniques (such as fluid injection) are included in the "proved" classification when successful testing by a pilot project, or the operation of an installed program in the reservoir, provides support for the engineering analysis on which the project or program was based.
If an improved recovery technique