Last Friday I wrote about the single rig-drop in the Baker Hughes U.S. rig count, noting that it could be an early harbinger of a second-half 2017 slowing of the somewhat frantic pace of drilling we saw during the year’s first six months. We’ll need to wait to see what happens in the next two weeks to be fairly sure whether or not that is the case.
But here’s the funny part: as they are wont to do, many “experts” in the energy media are already telling their audiences that the trend is already here (which, again, is possible), which means the domestic industry is going to slow rapidly (not likely at all), which in turn means the crude price is about to rise back up above $50 in short order (again, not likely at all), which in turn means that, after a month or two, the U.S. industry will then again begin activating a bunch of additional rigs and drilling a bunch more wells before the end of 2017.
That last part is really, really unlikely, given current circumstances.
First, there was the report on Monday that OPEC’s June production rose significantly, to its highest level of 2017. This indicates that more OPEC member countries are beginning to exceed their agreed-to quotas as time goes on. Given that this has been a consistent OPEC pattern throughout its history, this comes as no surprise.
Second, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, my belief based on discussions with industry contacts, and on 38 years of participating in oil and gas industry corporate budgeting processes, is that, barring a true price collapse into the $30s that lasts for at least a couple of months, the rig count will not fall rapidly, as some are predicting today. Instead, we will most likely see a stagnation or very modest decline in the rig count in coming weeks as companies begin to execute on revised, lower capital budgets for the second half of the year.
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So here we are, right where I expected things to be last December, when I wrote my projections for 2017: U.S. oil and gas drillers have activated almost 300 additional drilling rigs during the year’s first six months, U.S. oil production has soared as a result, offsetting much of the cuts implemented by OPEC and Russia, and the result is that , with the price for WTI hovering in the $44-$45/bbl range.
This very predictable response by the U.S. industry to the higher oil prices at the end of 2016 has effectively slowed the ability of the OPEC/Russia alliance to close the global supply glut, causing commodity traders to lose confidence. Saudi Arabia is responding by significantly reducing its exports to the U.S., in the hopes of creating a few weeks of large storage draws, which they hope will restore investor confidence and cause the price to tick upwards. They may or may not be correct – we’ll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, U.S. rig additions have begun slowing somewhat over the past few weeks – although the week of June 10 – June 16 became the 22nd straight week of rising rig counts – as the industry begins to scale back its drilling plans for the 2nd half of the year in response to the lower price. This again is no surprise to anyone who understands how the U.S. industry works, as I wrote in December:
- But prices may rebound the second half of the year – Of course, a lower oil price will lead many producers to reduce drilling budgets during their mid-year reviews, and rig counts will cease to rise, and possibly even fall off somewhat. With OPEC still at least making some effort to control production levels and global demand still steadily rising, a leveling-off of U.S. production should cause the market to rebound.
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In The Oil Patch – Episode 109: host Kym Bolado and her cohost Alvin Bailey welcome our associate editor of SHALE Oil & Gas Business Magazine and resident politics/energy expert, David Blackmon back onto the show. This week’s show is completely focused on OPEC and the recent agreement they reached to extend the oil production output cut.
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I recently appeared on In the Oil Patch Radio with host Kym Bolado. We spent the hour discussing the tension between OPEC and U.S. Shale producers, and the prospects for an extension of the OPEC/Russia agreement to limit exports for the 2nd half of 2017.
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- More than 200 U.S. energy companies filing for bankruptcy in less than 2 years;
- A commodity price about half of what it was 3 years ago;
- Rig count half of the 2014 level;
- An industry just now beginning recover from large layoffs during 2015 and 2016.
If the current state of the U.S. upstream oil and gas industry is what an industry looks like when it has “won” a war, then let’s not have any more wars, OK?
But that’s exactly what some in the energy-related news media would have you believe: that the U.S. shale industry has succeeded in staring down the OPEC cartel’s effort to put it out of business and emerged victorious. Several readers contacted me and ask me if that was not in fact the bottom line of the piece I posted last Friday, titled “OPEC Still Fundamentally Misunderstands U.S. Oil Industry.”
Well, no, that was not the point, but since some took it that way, I guess a fuller explanation is in order.
The point of that previous piece – one of the main points, anyway – was that the U.S. shale industry had survived fairly intact from an effort to kill it off. Still standing three years after the assault began, the industry is now leaner , more efficient, able to extract much higher volumes of oil from the same formations than it had been, and better equipped to withstand any future shocks, whether naturally occurring or artificially derived.
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A new report from OPEC estimates that crude oil production from non-OPEC nations will increase by 950,000 barrels per day during 2017. This is a dramatic increase from last month’s estimate of a non-OPEC rise of 580,000 during the year.
This new, much higher estimate has raised concerns within the OPEC cartel that its efforts to balance the global supply/demand equation will require it to either extend its current production limitations into 2018, or to agree to even deeper cuts in its member countries’ own production levels. Based on these concerns, the new report urges all non-OPEC nations to limit their own production:
A large part of the excess supply overhang contained in floating storage has been reduced and the improvement in the world economy should help support oil demand. However, continued rebalancing in the oil market by year-end will require the collective efforts of all oil producers to increase market stability, not only for the benefit of the individual countries, but also for the general prosperity of the world economy.
The report singles out U.S. shale producers as the main culprit for the lingering over-supply situation. This is not surprising, given that overall U.S. oil production has risen by a whopping 800,000 bopd since last October, as
This expectation that U.S. producers are somehow going to join together with the national oil companies and controlled markets of OPEC, Russia and other countries to intentionally limit production betrays the same fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the U.S. oil and gas industry that created the global supply glut and resulting price collapse in the first place.
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Some thoughts on the domestic oil and gas situation as we move into May…
More rigs, more jobs, more drilling, but for how much longer…: As I pointed out at the beginning of April, the U.S. oil and gas industry added more than 200 new active drilling rigs during the first quarter of 2017. The pace of new rig activation slowed somewhat during April, but the count continued to rise as a total of 46 new rigs came online during the month. The current U.S. domestic rig count of 870 is more than double the count of 420 at the end of April, 2016.
It will be interesting to see how much longer this upwards trend in the rig count will continue, given the softening oil price. The corporate upstream companies have now implemented their capital plans for the first half of 2017, and are beginning the process of evaluating how those plans should be adjusted for the second half of the year. The rising drilling activity and increasing demand for service companies and their products has predictably resulted in corresponding increases in service costs. One would expect that, combined with a sub-$50 oil price, to result in a leveling off and possibly even a falling rig count for the last two quarters of the year.
But so much of that depends what OPEC does.: The answer to this question, more than any other single factor, will determine where the price of crude goes, and thus where the U.S. rig count and drilling budgets go for the second half of 2017.
The 2017 capital budgets for the majors and the large independent producers who drill the great majority of wells in the U.S. were put into place in anticipation of a crude price at or above $50/bbl. But the price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) has recently fallen below that level due in large part to uncertainty about where OPEC will head beginning July 1.
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President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office is this Saturday, and the debate is raging about what he has or has not accomplished during that short period of time, which in the past has traditionally been a sort of “honeymoon” period for new presidential administrations. It’s highly debatable whether or not this particular President received any sort of honeymoon at all, since such periods in the past have involved semi-favorable coverage from the press and a good deal of cooperation from congress, but that’s another subject for another writer.
My mission here at Forbes.com is to talk about public policy related to energy in general, and oil and natural gas in particular. Focusing strictly on that area of policy, it seems to me that , which, since I’m pretty old, goes back to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Shortly after he took office in 2009, former President Barack Obama famously told the Republican congressional leaders, “Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won.” Those words are as true today as they were then, and those who deal with public policy matters in the oil and gas industry are finding out that the 2016 election mattered in a really big way. You might even say it was “Yuge”.
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