Contrarian investing can often be a good choice when the world is against us, so when, if ever, is the best time to get back in to smaller oil explorers? Well, we can only tell that with hindsight, but we have positive news from a couple our favourites.

Down in the South Atlantic, in the North Falklands basin, the Sea Lion discovery has been generating a lot of excitement. Or, at least, it was doing so before the price of a barrel of Brent Crude dropped to less than $32 — since when when we’ve heard that BP is set to cut 4,000 jobs globally, with 600 to be lost from its North Sea developments.

But for Rockhopper Exploration (LON: RKH), things are looking up with development of its Sea Lion interests progressing well, after the firm told us that “Sea Lion Phase 1a development definition phase is complete and significant improvements have been identified to enhance overall project economics in response to the current lower oil price environment“.

As part of that, estimates of commercially exploitable resources have risen from 160 mmbbls to 220 mmbbls, with likely peak production up to 85,000 barrels per day from 60,000, and the estimated life of the field upped from 15 to 20 years.

Further afield

Meanwhile, over at Solo Oil (LSE: SOLO), part of the Horse Hill consortium that is pinning high hopes on the oil discovery beneath the Weald Basin near Gatwick Airport, we have glad tidings from further afield.

Solo has finalised a sales agreement at the Kiliwani North Development Licence, in which it holds a 6.175% interest with the option of acquiring a further 6.175%. That’s perhaps not a massive prospect for the company, but it realises its first production in Tanzania, and has led chairman Neil Ritson to tell us that “We also look forward to further successes in Tanzania during 2016 with the planned appraisal drilling on the Ntorya discovery in the Ruvuma PSC“.

Rockhopper shares are down 56% to 30.5p over the past 12 months, though the recent Falklands Oil & Gas tie-up has helped stabilise the price.

The Solo price, meanwhile, has dropped 42% in 12 months, but it’s picked up since the middle of December to 0.33p.

Time to buy?

Whether it’s the right time to invest in these high-risk oil explorers is always going to be a tough decision, especially in these days of a glut of the slimy black stuff. But with estimates suggesting that worldwide oil demand is likely to rise significantly in the coming decades, there will be a perfect time to get back on board — and that time will be the time of maximum pessimism.

But for now, it’s pure guesswork, and I wish the best of fortunes to those brave enough to risk their hard-earned on such investments.

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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.