March 18, 2017

YES: Has OPEC Underestimated U.S. Shale Once Again?

Two and a half months into the supply-cut deal, it looks like OPEC is losing the campaign to prop up oil prices. The drop in prices that began last week saw them retreating to almost exactly the same level as on November 30 – just below $52/barrel for Brent – when the OPEC deal was announced, the International Energy Agency said in its monthly report on Wednesday.

At the same time, reduced breakeven prices in many shale plays and forward locking-in of production is allowing the companies currently drilling in the U.S. to turn in profits even at a price of oil at $40 a barrel.

The U.S. shale patch has not only emerged leaner and more resilient from the downturn, it has also hedged future production with contracts guaranteeing the price of the crude they will be pumping a year or two from now, Bloomberg reports, citing industry executives and analysts.

According to Katherine Richard, chief executive at Warwick Energy Investment Group that holds stakes in more than 5,000 oil and gas wells, many of the U.S. drillers would not see their profits reduced unless the price of oil drops to the $30s or lower.

And:

The drilling spirit is indeed back, and the break even prices in the best shale areas are now below $40. According to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst William Foiles, in the Eagle Ford, for example, drillers in LaSalle County break even at $36 oil price, and at $39 per barrel oil in Gonzales County.

In the Permian (and what’s a shale recovery without the Permian), wellhead breakeven prices in the Permian Midland have dropped from $71/barrel in 2014 to $36/barrel in 2016–a 49-percent decrease–the steepest among the main U.S. shale plays, Rystad Energy said in its Permian Midland review. The average wellhead breakeven price decrease in the main shale plays has been around 46 percent since 2014, Rystad Energy noted.

Saudi oil can’t get cheaper to produce: Poke the sand with a pointy stick, and oil comes up. American shale will never get that cheap, but high-volume fracking at $40 — unheard-of just three years ago — takes away Saudi Arabia’s pricing power.

Have you hugged a fracker today?