• 11 hours Oil Prices Rise After U.S. API Reports Strong Crude Inventory Draw
  • 11 hours Oil Gains Spur Growth In Canada’s Oil Cities
  • 12 hours China To Take 5% Of Rosneft’s Output In New Deal
  • 13 hours UAE Oil Giant Seeks Partnership For Possible IPO
  • 13 hours Planting Trees Could Cut Emissions As Much As Quitting Oil
  • 14 hours VW Fails To Secure Critical Commodity For EVs
  • 15 hours Enbridge Pipeline Expansion Finally Approved
  • 16 hours Iraqi Forces Seize Control Of North Oil Co Fields In Kirkuk
  • 17 hours OPEC Oil Deal Compliance Falls To 86%
  • 1 day U.S. Oil Production To Increase in November As Rig Count Falls
  • 1 day Gazprom Neft Unhappy With OPEC-Russia Production Cut Deal
  • 2 days Disputed Venezuelan Vote Could Lead To More Sanctions, Clashes
  • 2 days EU Urges U.S. Congress To Protect Iran Nuclear Deal
  • 2 days Oil Rig Explosion In Louisiana Leaves 7 Injured, 1 Still Missing
  • 2 days Aramco Says No Plans To Shelve IPO
  • 4 days Trump Passes Iran Nuclear Deal Back to Congress
  • 4 days Texas Shutters More Coal-Fired Plants
  • 5 days Oil Trading Firm Expects Unprecedented U.S. Crude Exports
  • 5 days UK’s FCA Met With Aramco Prior To Proposing Listing Rule Change
  • 5 days Chevron Quits Australian Deepwater Oil Exploration
  • 5 days Europe Braces For End Of Iran Nuclear Deal
  • 5 days Renewable Energy Startup Powering Native American Protest Camp
  • 5 days Husky Energy Set To Restart Pipeline
  • 5 days Russia, Morocco Sign String Of Energy And Military Deals
  • 5 days Norway Looks To Cut Some Of Its Generous Tax Breaks For EVs
  • 6 days China Set To Continue Crude Oil Buying Spree, IEA Says
  • 6 days India Needs Help To Boost Oil Production
  • 6 days Shell Buys One Of Europe’s Largest EV Charging Networks
  • 6 days Oil Throwback: BP Is Bringing Back The Amoco Brand
  • 6 days Libyan Oil Output Covers 25% Of 2017 Budget Needs
  • 6 days District Judge Rules Dakota Access Can Continue Operating
  • 6 days Surprise Oil Inventory Build Shocks Markets
  • 7 days France’s Biggest Listed Bank To Stop Funding Shale, Oil Sands Projects
  • 7 days Syria’s Kurds Aim To Control Oil-Rich Areas
  • 7 days Chinese Teapots Create $5B JV To Compete With State Firms
  • 7 days Oil M&A Deals Set To Rise
  • 7 days South Sudan Tightens Oil Industry Security
  • 7 days Over 1 Million Bpd Remain Offline In Gulf Of Mexico
  • 7 days Turkmenistan To Spend $93-Billion On Oil And Gas Sector
  • 7 days Indian Hydrocarbon Projects Get $300 Billion Boost Over 10 Years
Alt Text

Oil Prices Rise Amid Falling U.S. Rig Count

Oil prices inched higher on…

Alt Text

Corbyn Seeks To Renationalize Britain’s Utilities

Jeremy Corbyn wants to renationalize…

Alt Text

Record U.S. Oil Exports Weigh On Oil Prices

West Texas Intermediate briefly slumped…

Keeping Oil Production From Falling

Keeping Oil Production From Falling

Production flows from a given oil field naturally decline over time, but we keep trying harder and technology keeps improving. Which force is winning the race?

An oil reservoir is a pool of hydrocarbons embedded and trapped under pressure in porous rock. As oil is taken out, the pressure decreases and the annual rate of flow necessarily declines. A recent study of every well drilled in Texas over 1990-2007 by Anderson, Kellogg, and Salant (2014) documents very clearly that production flows from existing wells fall at a very predictable rate that is quite unresponsive to any incentives based on fluctuations in oil prices.

Average monthly production from Texas wells drilled in indicated period as a function of months since well completion 
Average monthly production from Texas wells drilled in indicated period as a function of months since well completion. Source: Anderson, Kellogg, and Salant (2014).

If you want to produce more oil, you have to drill a new well, and in contrast to production from existing wells, drilling effort clearly does respond to price incentives.

Number of new wells drilled in Texas each month (in green) and price of crude oil (black)
Number of new wells drilled in Texas each month (in green) and price of crude oil (black). Source: Anderson, Kellogg, and Salant (2014).

Related Article: Oil Production Numbers Keep Going Down

When a given region is found to be promising, more wells are drilled, and production initially increases. But eventually the force of declining pressure takes over, and we see a broad decline in oil production from a given producing region that additional effort and price incentives can do little to reverse. For example, production from the North Sea and Mexico, which had been quite important in the world total in 2000, have been declining steadily for the last decade despite a huge increase in the price of oil.

Oil production from the North Sea and Mexico, Jan 1973 to March 2014 
Oil production from the North Sea and Mexico, Jan 1973 to March 2014. Top panel: combined field production of Norway and the United Kingdom in thousands of barrels per day, from EIA, Monthly Energy Review, Table 11.1b.Bottom panel: sum of Norway, U.K., and Mexico production as a percent of world total. Reproduced from Hamilton (2014).

It’s also interesting to look at graphs for each of the oil-producing U.S. states. Production from Pennsylvania, where the oil industry began in 1859, peaked in 1891, and in 2013 was at a level only 1/6 of that achieved in 1891. But despite falling production from Pennsylvania after 1891, U.S. production continued to increase, because of the added boost from Ohio (which peaked in 1896) and West Virginia (which peaked in 1900). And so the story continued until 1970, with total U.S. production continuing to increase despite declines from the areas first exploited.

Annual production (in mb/d) from 18 U.S. states that peaked earliest, 1860-2013 
Annual production (in mb/d) from 18 U.S. states that peaked earliest, 1860-2013. Source: Hamilton (2014).

Annual production (in mb/d) from 13 U.S. states with later peak dates, 1860-2013 
Annual production (in mb/d) from 13 U.S. states with later peak dates, 1860-2013. Source: Hamilton (2014).

Related Article: The Peak Oil Crisis: Iraq on the Precipice

Use of horizontal drilling methods in the Bakken and Niobrara shales brought production in North Dakota and Colorado to all-time highs in 2013. Production was also higher in 2013 than in 2005 for 22 of the 31 states graphed above, though 2013 levels were still below the historical peak for all but 3 of these states.

Another perspective on the U.S. trends comes from looking at broader categories of production. The red area in the graph below summarizes field production of conventional crude oil from the lower 48 U.S. states. This peaked in 1970, and today is 5.5 mb/d below the value achieved then. Factors temporarily slowing the trend of declining production were development of offshore oil (in dark blue) and Alaska (in light blue). But the combined contribution of all three of these has nevertheless been falling steadily for the last 20 years.

U.S. field production of crude oil, by source, 1860-2013, in millions of barrels per day 
U.S. field production of crude oil, by source, 1860-2013, in millions of barrels per day. Source: Hamilton (2014).

That downward trend was dramatically reversed over the last few years with the advent of horizontal drilling and fracturing to get oil out of tighter geologic formations, as seen in the green region in the graph above. If success with tight oil formations continues, we may yet see the historical peak production of many of the states above eventually exceeded, and indeed perhaps even for the United States as a whole.

But it’s also worth noting that as we moved through the succession of colors in the graph above we have been turning to increasingly more expensive sources of oil. Today’s frackers would all be put out of business if we were to return to the oil prices of a decade ago.

And even if prices remain high or go higher, eventually that green curve is going to turn around and start falling with the others.

By James Hamilton of Econbrowser




Back to homepage


Leave a comment
  • Lee James on July 21 2014 said:
    So I think a big question is when that green curve is going to slope downward. Anybody? A few months ago, I was seeing estimates from government agencies projecting a downturn slope for oil just after 2020. NG was expected to hang in there somewhat longer.

    Maybe the key question -- and I think the author may agree -- is about the future price per barrel. At what price will unconventional petroleum become unsustainable for consumers?

Leave a comment




Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News