* Global oil firms to slash spending by 20 pct this year
* Middle East, Russia set to increase investments
* Global budgets to drop by $230 bln from 2014 (Recasts, updates throughout)
By Ron Bousso
LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Oil companies could slash 2016 spending by around 20 percent in the face of a persistent downturn, with North America taking the brunt of the cuts while Middle Eastern and Russian firms are set to raise budgets as their fight for market share continues.
As the industry grapples with its worst downturn in three decades, the crisis that has seen thousands of jobs wiped out and more than $200 billion of projects scrapped last year shows no sign of abating as oil prices flirt with 13-year lows of $30 a barrel, down nearly 70 percent from June 2014.
Global oil and gas companies plan to cut spending on exploration and production by about 15 percent if crude prices trade in the $45-$50 range, but the cuts could be closer to 20 percent if prices hover at $40, Barclays said in its annual survey of 225 companies worldwide.
This year’s spending cuts follow a 23 percent reduction last year. It will be only the second time since the survey started in 1985 that budgets have been pared for two consecutive years; the last time was 1987.
In real terms, capital spending is set to drop from $673 billion in 2014 and an estimated $520 billion in 2015 to $444 billion in 2016, according to the survey.
The average 2016 price for benchmark North Sea Brent crude futures was forecast at $52.52 a barrel, according to a Reuters survey of 20 analysts.
In North America, where the shale oil and gas boom had led to spectacular growth in production since 2008, the 2016 cuts are set to be the most painful at 27 percent, Barclays said.
While spending drops, lower service costs and efficiencies have led to a 20 percent decline in well costs, which could explain why North American shale production has been more resilient than some had expected.
The survey also showed that markets outside North America continue to hold up much better, with international spending set to fall by 11 percent this year.
National oil companies (NOCs), which represent 58 percent of international spending according to Barclays, are to respond differently to the downturn. Latin American, African and Asian NOCs are expected to cut spending by 13.5-18 percent this year.
But Middle Eastern NOCs are set to increase spending by 6 percent in 2016 even though the budgets of the oil-rich states often require much higher oil prices than those seen now.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter which led the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) decision not to cut production despite falling prices, has a fiscal breakeven of $100 a barrel but its NOC Saudi Aramco is set to increase spending this year by 5 percent, Barclays said.
Similarly, spending in Russia and other former Soviet states is expected to increase by 3.6 percent in 2016, according to Barclays. For Russia, the sharp depreciation of the rouble currency helps oil companies that sell in dollars.
Outside North America, spending on offshore projects, which typically take three to five years to develop, is set to decline in 2016 by 20-25 percent to around $72 billion, after falling 16 percent last year.
International oil companies “were already struggling with project costs before the oil price collapsed, but with this downturn already lasting 18 months with no end in sight, exploration budgets have ground to a halt, offshore developments aren’t being sanctioned, and rig contracts are being cancelled for the first time in our memory”, Barclays said.
But with most onshore oil production in the hands of NOCs or independent U.S. companies, international companies such as ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell have little choice but to develop costlier deepwater production.
The dip in oil prices since the start of the year continued to send shockwaves through the industry. BP said on Tuesday it would slash 5 percent of its workforce this year.
Brazil’s state oil firm Petrobras cut its investment plan for the third time in six months.
Additional reporting by Tenzin Pema in Bengaluru; Editing by Dale Hudson and Anupama Dwivedi