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This Week in US Energy … Shale Ups and Downs

As the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes this week that US net natural gas imports fell 14% last year on record production, a report from Bloomberg suggests that the US shale industry is suffering from enormous debt, while revenues continue to disappoint.

On Wednesday, the EIA said total imports in 2013 fell to 1,311 billion cubic feet, the lowest level since 1989, with dry natural gas production rising 1% to 24,282 billion cubic feet. At the same time, however, the debt among shale oil and gas companies has nearly doubled over the last four years, according to Bloomberg.

Revenues have expanded at a miniscule 5.6% during that time period, dangerously outpaced by debt. “Debt hit $163.6 billion in the first quarter, according to company records compiled by Bloomberg on 61 exploration and production companies that target oil and natural gas trapped in deep underground layers of rock. And companies including Forest Oil Corp. (FST),Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (GDP) and Quicksilver Resources Inc. (KWK) racked up interest expense of more than 20 percent.”

Bloomberg’s take on this is that the shale industry is ripe for a shakeout, and as a result, massive investment into liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals might look a bit out of place.

In the meantime, evidence is mounting that the US shale industry is becoming an increasingly polarized one, from state to state. As Oilprice.com’s Daniel Graeber reports this week, two bills working their way through state legislatures show a divided house that skews the EIA’s perception of future natural gas production.  The stories unfolding in Illinois and California, for instance, are wildly different.

While Illinois is trying to skirt new legislative drafts to avoid delays that are bad for business, California is considering applying the brakes to the state’s impressive shale progress.

At the same time, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is coming under greater scrutiny after reports of significant construction defects in the southern leg of the pipeline. The defects include bad welds, dented pipe and damaged pipeline coating. This news has led to some more rigorous journalistic endeavor to drudge up some additional safety requirements for the pipeline’s construction at the bottom of the January environmental impact statement.

One of the new requirements is for pipeline operator TransCanada to hire a third-party contractor chosen by the US federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to monitor and report on construction. Another is a requirement for TransCanada to adopt a quality management program.

So the bigger picture for shale may be an impressive one, but it serves one well to remember that bigger pictures are the compilation of many smaller pictures that don’t necessarily tell the same story.

By. James Stafford of Oilprice.com




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Leave a comment
  • Lee James on May 31 2014 said:
    I've observed that folks just don't seem to be paying attention to the economics of shale oil and gas. Is it because people get all excited about increased production volume, without regard to cost?

    Are people not paying attention because shale resources are an emerging industry, with understandably higher initial cost? And, we fully expect that technology will save the day?

    My take is that there's a significant trend going on with fossil fuels, and especially petroleum. The trend is toward increasingly higher cost. Now, just think of the costs energy consumers would face if had to, in addition, directly pay-as-you-go for social and environmental damage! --So much easier to pay later!

    What's wrong with this picture? Time for a switch!

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