Recently I’ve been conducting video interviews (yeah, I know – a face for print journalism) with industry folks and asking them about their outlook for 2010 and beyond. Most of them are, to use a hopelessly overused cliché, “cautiously optimistic.”

But true optimism can be found in other places – namely, where they plan to spend their money.

A recent Barclays Capital survey indicates that the 2010 global E&P expenditure is expected to increase 11%, to US $439 billion. The results come from the responses of 387 oil and gas companies around the world.

To put this in perspective, the same survey last year saw a 15% decline. Considering the timing of the survey, that’s not surprising – these companies would have been coming out of a bleak 2008 facing an even bleaker 2009. But for that trend to reverse itself in one year seems indicative that optimism rules yet again.

Some of the highlights of the survey:

  • US E&P capital expenditure is expected to rise by 12% to $70 billion, up $8 billion from the previous year. This is led primarily be independents and their continuing investment in shale plays.
  • Canadian E&P capex is expected to increase 23%, up from $19 billion to $23 billion. Part of this is attributed to the strengthening Canadian dollar. Excluding currency issues, the rise is expected to be similar to the US.
  • Capital budgets outside North America are expected to rise by 10% to $337 billion. National oil companies will drive this growth, while the six supermajors will increase international E&P spend by only 1%.

Companies are basing their estimates on an average crude oil price of about $70.16 per barrel compared to a $58/bbl estimate a year ago. The gas price estimate is actually down from a year ago but up from the June 2009 survey, at $5.21 versus $4.68.

Finally, good news for companies that furnish exploration data to the oil companies: About 45% of the respondents anticipate spending more of their capex on exploration.

Cautious or not, this seems to be a good time to be optimistic.