Oil companies have a long history of exploration in remote and dangerous places. But in spite of a history of adventurism, they have come to appreciate the benefits of low-risk investments.
As Abu Dhabi's main onshore concession comes up for renewal next year, international oil companies are queuing up for a slice of production rights that will extend well into the future.
It's not difficult to see why the oil majors are working hard to position themselves. The fields operated by the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (Adco) are still full of oil, and the reservoirs are close to the surface. The emirates also represent a safe and stable place for business.
Oil majors have been accused by some commentators of being rather risk-averse. "They spent too much of the last decade locked in risk mitigation," said Tony Hayward, the former head of BP, at a conference in Abu Dhabi last week. If he is right, they should be viewing the emirate with special interest.
For Abu Dhabi is a far cry from operations in countries such as Iraq. While oil companies scrambled to Baghdad to secure rights to produce the supermajor fields in the country's south after the second Iraq war, they are less certain these days.
ExxonMobil and Total, who hold a stake in the current Adco concession, both signed contracts with the Kurdish Regional Government for production in the autonomous north. The political rift between the Kurds and the central government led to Exxon putting its stake in the massive West Qurna-1 field up for sale.
The contracts with Baghdad are not regarded as lucrative in the face of a slower than expected increase in production and continued safety concerns. An additional drawback is that the technical service agreements signed in Iraq do not give the companies ownership of the reserves in the fields. A company's share price is affected by the amount of so-called bookable reserves it holds.
"Companies have to show that they are replacing reserves. It's an accounting thing but its still important," said one analyst.
As international oil companies in the emirate are joint venture partners in the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company's (Adnoc) producing subsidiaries, they can book their share of the reservoir as reserves. Industry insiders doubt whether bookable reserves still have the same effect on investor sentiment today that they did a decade ago. But they can be a valuable tool for small and mid-size companies that need collateral to attract capital for their operations.
As Adnoc looks at prolonging the life of its depleting oilfields, the role of technology is gaining significance, and as a result with greater know-how some smaller players are in the running for the new concession.
Adco's reservoirs could allow oil companies to test and showcase new enhanced oil recovery technologies in the Arabian Gulf, say experts. Abu Dhabi has set the bar high for recovery rates and wants to pump 70 per cent of the oil under ground over time, twice the current global average.