When the offshore North Field, the world’s largest non-associated gas field, was discovered in 1972 it was met with acute disappointment in Qatar because they had been really hoping for oil.

In the early 1970s oil was king and gas was nothing more than a by-product. Qatar would not develop the world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export infrastructure for almost 40 years, which gives clear indication of how little respect was afforded to gas back then.

But we are not in the 1970s anymore and the global oil market is evolving in such a revolutionary way that could make the mature, low-yield oil fields of the Middle East completely obsolete by the end of the decade.

The vast majority of the sector’s research and development is now focused on driving innovation in unconventional hydrocarbons and this is what could sound the death knell for some of Qatar’s low-producing oil fields.

Investing in new surface facilities, drilling new wells and rehabilitating ageing infrastructure costs a fortune and with oil prices seemingly content to sit at $50-$60 a barrel it is making investment decisions easy.

There is no decent argument to be had for spending $3bn on an oil field rehabilitation that can only sustain production of 100,000 barrels a day for five years. If anything the probability of oil prices going down is higher than them rising at this point in time.

All it would take is a breakthrough in drilling and fracking technology to witness global oil shale production skyrocket. If this happens oil prices will depress even further and start to make the future of medium-yield oil fields look uncertain.  

There have been no announcements regarding any of Qatar’s upstream oil projects and there could still be investment in maintaining current production levels for as long as possible before bowing to the inevitable and allowing them to slowly deplete.

Qatar Petroleum knows that in uncertain times you concentrate on your core strengths. The fact is that LNG fulfils that criteria for Doha and if there is to be any significant investments anywhere, it should be there.