Low oil prices, if sustained, could mark the beginning of a long-term drop in upstream investment. Oil prices reflect supply and demand balances, with increasing prices often suggesting a need for greater supply. Greater supply, in turn, typically requires increased investment in exploration and production (E&P) activities. Lower prices reduce investment activity.

Overlaying annual averages of the domestic first purchase price (in real terms) on oil and gas investment reveals that upstream investment is highly sensitive to changes in oil prices. Given the fall in oil prices that began in mid-2014 and the relationship between oil prices and upstream investment, it is possible that investment levels over the next several years will be significantly lower than the previous 10-year annual average.