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Lack of big new fields alarms Schlumberger

Schlumberger reports lower than expected profits after revenue from its onshore exploration unit dries up in the Middle East.

Oil analysts have pointed gravely to declining numbers of giant oilfields, known as elephants. But the fact that Middle Eastern countries are scaling back their search for new fields of crude is a significant worry for Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services company.

Schlumberger reported earnings for the third quarter of US$1.307 billion on Friday, a 24.4 per cent drop from the corresponding period a year earlier.

The results disappointed analysts, who had hoped for a profit of $1.376bn, while the company's shares fell 0.9 per cent in New York to $67.38 each.

Schlumberger said the drag on earnings was the result of reduced activity at WesternGeco, its geological surveying subsidiary, which was mobilising crews and equipment while gearing up for large contract surveys in the Middle East.

Revenue from the Middle East and Asia fell 3.6 per cent to $2bn, as contracts for onshore surveying dried up. The region, the company's second-biggest source of profit after North America, was the only area in which revenue did not rise.

Crude oil prices have remained above $100 per barrel for much of the year, as the civil war in Libya interrupted its production of oil.

Brent futures fell 10 US cents to $110.78 per contract in trading on the Intercontinental Exchange on Friday.

However, a fall in oil prices has been anticipated. That would be to the detriment of Schlumberger's top line.

Slower revenue growth is affecting many companies in oilfield servicesas deals for onshore exploration slow to a trickle, said Thaddeus Malesa, an independent energy analyst.

"The vast majority of opportunities in the Middle East, if there are any, are offshore," he said. "In Iraq, where you do have significant activity in onshore, much of these are not new fields."

ghunter@thenational.ae

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