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Tom Kool

Tom Kool

Tom majored in International Business at Amsterdam’s Higher School of Economics, he is Oilprice.com's Head of Operations

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30 Years Of Drilling Data Points To A Rebound In U.S. Oil Production

While speculation continues about whether drilling activity in the U.S. oil patch has hit rock bottom yet, some analysts believe that the industry is already on the path to recovery. Reuters analyst John Kemp expects drilling rates to start picking up in September and October, with production beginning to recover in the second quarter of 2021. 

Kemp states that over the last 30 years, changes in futures prices have typically been followed by changes in drilling with an average delay of 4-5 months, while changes in output usually materialized after 9-12 months.

Given the run up in WTI crude prices during the months of May and June, some drillers are now beginning to bring back shut-in production and are already preparing new drilling programs for this fall.

According to data from Rystad Energy, the pace of reactivation of curtailments has accelerated since July, with most operators planning to bring back all shuttered production in September.

Large U.S. shale firms such as EOG Resources and Parsley Energy are not just looking to bring back production from shuttered wells, but are also planning to “accelerate” production in the second half of 2020.

Early indicators for drilling activity, such as the Baker Hughes rig count and Primary Vision’s frac spread (a more direct indicator of hydraulic fracturing fleets in the field), are reflecting a cautious uptick in drilling activity during the last two weeks of August.


According to Kemp, the U.S. rig count is poised to recover during Q3 and Q4 of this year as drillers begin to react to improving prices which have brought a period of relative stability and low volatility to oil markets. 

Related: Two Major Shale Drillers Plan Layoffs

Oil production, however, will continue to plunge during the next couple of months, impacted by the still low drilling rate and the 50-60 percent annual decline rate seen in many shale wells. 

It’s tough to say exactly when production will turn around. $40 WTI might not be enough to fuel the next shale boom, but $50+ oil could entice a large number of companies to expand drilling activity. 

The global crude demand recovery and the course of oil prices in Q3 and Q4 will play a major role in the decision-making process of U.S. drilling firms, and a lot will depend on the cash-flow outlook of individual wells.

While even the EIA remains negative on the prospect of a quick rebound in U.S. production, more positive analysts generally expect the inflection point to be somewhere at the end of Q1 2021.

With both OPEC+ and U.S. producers bringing production back to the market, it remains unclear whether there’s demand for these additional barrels or if a new wave of crude will result in yet another price meltdown.

By Tom Kool of Oilprice.com

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  • Maxander on September 02 2020 said:
    Hahaha, is 30 years of data more important or influential than recent data which shows 30-50% cut down in Capex by US oil majors?
  • rudolf d'Ecofacista on September 03 2020 said:
    So much Bravo Sierra in 1 article.......the decline rate at the moment is 540.000 barrels a month......The average maximum output of US tight oil wells was around 689 bo/d based on data from shaleprofile.com. The number of wells which need to be completed to keep tight oil output from decreasing is 530,000/689=769 wells competed per month.....769 wells or 192 frac spreads are needed to stop the bleeding....what does that mean....well as long as the US tight oil stays below 192 frac sprea we will decline....at 96 frac spreads we will decline...the first month 250.000 barrels a day or 7.5 million barrels a month....the second month production will decline with 15 million barrels a month...the 3th month with 22.5 barrels a month ....the 4 the month with 30 million barrels a month ....the 5 month with 37.5 million barrels a month...etc,etc,etc,etc....only when the frac spreads hit 192 the bleeding will stop.....and it ain't going to be with bank loans....tight oil will have to generate the cash flow from incoming revenue...the time of cheap credit in the form of to cheap credit or reserved-based lending facilities are a thing of the past....Every six months, banks in the RBL would assess the progress the company made on its drilling and exploration program (e.g. capex). And the greater the progress (e.g. more money spent), the more reserves could be derisked. The value of the RBLs was assessed on the proven portion of the reserve book. Banks usually took 65 cents on the dollar to whatever the proved reserve value was. And since banks didn't assess producers on its cash flow or free cash flow generation, but rather the reserves. Companies found out that the more they borrowed and spent on proving the reserves, the more money they could borrow.That is a thing of the past and is why this article is Bravo Sierra because the average break-even is well above 60 dollars a barrel when including all costs and this time around not hedging will allow shale to come back when WTI trades lower than 55 dollars a barrel!
  • Mamdouh Salameh on September 03 2020 said:
    Since US shale oil production accounts for more than 60% of US oil production and since shale oil has been in production for only 12 years, then 30 years of drilling data may not tell us much about a rebound in US oil production.

    In the case of US shale oil production, economics has triumphed over geopolitics. Baker Hughes’ oil rig count tells us that the US shale oil industry is in a far worse shape than many would admit with the prospect of a rebound soon getting further away by the day.

    According to Baker Hughes, US oil rigs have steeply declined from 744 a year ago to 172 now. This means that shale oil production which accounts for more than 60% of total US oil production currently amounts to 1.8 million barrels a day (mbd). Adding a conventional oil production of 4.9 mbd will give a US production of 6.7 mbd meaning that the US oil industry has lost 6.4 mbd so far this year. And yet, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is still telling the world that US production has only declined by 2 mbd from 13 mbd to 11 mbd as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    US oil production will be struggling this year and the following ones to even produce 6-7 mbd.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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