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Crude, Gasoline Build Weigh on Oil Prices

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David Messler

David Messler

Mr. Messler is an oilfield veteran, recently retired from a major service company. During his thirty-eight year career he worked on six-continents in field and…

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Shale's Decline Will Make Way For The Next Big Thing in Oil


This week the near term price for crude oil fell to -$37.68 per barrel. This was driven by the expiration of the May futures contract on the 21st of April and holders not wanting to take physical delivery of a 1,000 barrels of the commodity.


The world presently is ‘swimming’ in oil as we all know by now. For an ‘oilie,’ like me, it was just another fairly depressing day watching the industry in which I spent my working life implode. To improve my mood I shifted my thoughts to re-grounding in the overall thesis and direction I saw for oil in the future. Not the far-flung future where the world will run on moonbeams and daffodils, but just a short piece down the road. Perhaps two or three years. Are we still going to need oil and gas?

As discussed, anything related to oil and gas seems to be collapsing on a daily basis. Companies that are in the business of exploring for or producing hydrocarbons have seen their share price decline 50-95% in the space of just a few weeks. Some have filed for bankruptcy. Additionally the collapse of the global travel industry which uses a big chunk of the world’s output of oil, has also dominated the news over the last few months.  What they have in common is that the root cause is the inventory builds and demand destruction from the coronavirus. Will this go on forever? We don’t think so, and now that we can see an end... sort of to this cataclysm down the road a ways, and are convinced there’s a tomorrow ahead for most of us, let now do some thinking ahead as what that may look like.

This year the population of the world will increase by about 80 mm people. In each succeeding year these incremental increases will continue. While Corona virus has turned out to be a train-wreck for the global economy, as we adapt to it, it's not going to affect the upward trajectory of the rise in population by a measurable percentage. Factoid #1.


Just on sheer numerical increase alone this dark period we are passing through is... a blip. A mere snippet of time on the global chronometer. The simple reality is that in order to meet the basic energy demands of a world where the population goes from the current 7.8 bn to ~10 bn thirty years from now, we are going to need more units of energy, not lessFactoid #2.

Growth of the world's middle class has driven energy use dramatically higher over the last decade. People like you and me use a lot of the stuff and most projections (here's one as an example) show this sector of global population increasing by ~40% in the next decade.


It should come as no real shocker, I suppose that growth in the middle class by 40-50%, will lead to a commensurate increase in energy use. The EIA graphic below gives us an idea where this growth will occur. Factoid #3.


What will the role of oil and gas be in 2050? This is a natural question for discussion: will the current commodity collapse continue? Right now it appears to be heading irreversibly down. Perhaps surprisingly, it will be about what it is now on a percentage basis. The next graphic shows the direction of this commodity over the next thirty years. In absolute terms...oil and gas will have to deliver about 30% more BTU equivalents in 2050 than they now do. So let's let that factoid sink in. In spite of all the renewable (solar, wind, biofuels) growth over this time, we will be using more oil and gas in 2050 than we do now. Significantly more. Factoid #4.

Premium: The Oil Sector That Will Suffer The Most


As a result of the growing population and size of the portion that is middle class, energy use will rise dramatically over the next 30 years. And, the portion of that energy supplied by oil and gas will be higher than it is now.

Less of it will be provided from shale going forward, though.

What happens with shale production over the next year?

The heyday of shale has passed, I think that is becoming painfully obvious to all of us. In its most recent report, the EIA is forecasting a drop of ~1.1-mm BOPD in shale by the end of 2021. I think they are wildly optimistic and actual total U.S. production will be under 8 mm BOPD by the end of 2020. 

  • The most recent survey of energy execs in the area served by the Dallas Fed, is fairly pessimistic as regards prices that would keep them in business. This shows that prices would essentially have to triple to keep most shale drillers in business. Nobody is really expecting a recovery of that magnitude in time to be of any help to these folks.

Dallas Fed

  • Shutting in production. Now under discussion from a regulatory aspect. Marginal operators are closing in wells as costs of production exceed selling prices currently.
  • The 60-70% typical decline rate for shale production.
  • Lack of new drilling to provide incremental new production.
  • Lack places to put produced oil, and refined products over the short haul.


Given all of the above we see a decline in shale production to between 5-6 mm BOPD. This is a thirty to forty percent decline from current levels. 

Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), made it plain just how its priorities would stack up in a 30% capex reduction the company announced for 2020.

Premium: 2 Stocks To Consider As Oil Nears $15

“The bulk of the capital spending reduction will take place in the Permian Basin in Texas, reducing the pace of drilling and well completions. Deepwater discoveries offshore Guyana will not be affected and the company will delay the investment decision for the Rovuma liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique that was expected later this year.


Other major players, Chevron (NYSE:CVX), BP (NYSE:BP), Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), and others will adopt similar approaches to shale.

Rystad, an energy consulting firm, has modeled production at several price scenarios that agree fairly closely with what I’ve projected above.


Over the short haul oil production from shale is going to decline. In most logical scenarios, precipitously from current levels. The question before us is, where will the oil and gas we have demonstrated that is and will be needed in the future going to come from?


Deepwater E&P is an area that's been under-capitalized the last few years, as all the money was going into shale development. It was just so cheap and easy to keep ploughing money into shale. Buoyed by near zero interest loans and a supportive stand from OPEC to maintain pricing in the $60-80 band, shale development was the obvious solution to maintaining production.

Deepwater by comparison, even though costs had come down since 2014, required huge outlays of capital that were difficult to justify in the uncertain price scenario that the industry seemed unable to shake.




A couple of takeaways from the graphics above.

The Rystad graphic shows that even while it was difficult, some deepwater E&P has been maintained over the last few years. Additionally, it shows that deepwater sanctions are on the rise. With the current distaste for shale, money will be re-allocated to deepwater. Certainly as compared to oil sands - very high cost/environmentally destructive, shelf work - fewer opportunities.

The second graphic shows that conventional discoveries have been on the decline. This is due in part to the original high of developing them as most conventional plays are now in deepwater. What is clear is that we have been reaping the rewards of investments made 10 or more years ago, and soon these reserves are going to play out. Conventional reservoirs decline at an average rate of ~06% a year. When you see the great deepwater investment cycle peaked in 2012, fourth grade arithmetic suggests these plays are entering the final stage of their life-cycle.


There is surely some recognition in the industry of the need to begin the conventional cycle anew as you can see from the third graphic that investments in deepwater are scheduled to rise.

This year will probably be an all-time low for new project sanctions as the rationale basis for taking an FID is pretty sketchy at the present, thanks to the COVID-19 induced demand decline. 2020 is a lost year. When the ground firms up, I expect a flurry of them.

This notion is buttressed by recent press releases from companies like, Shell (RDS.A, RDS.B), where many projects that had been steam-rolling to final sanction, are being delayed. This directly due to the low oil prices we are experiencing.

Your takeaway

As has been previously discussed, project redesigns and vendor price concessions have lowered most deepwater GoM project breakevens in the low $30s and even below that in some cases. This is significantly cheaper than most shale development. Chevron with a number of projects under FID review is targeting development costs of $16-20.00/bbl in the GoM. This will lead to a new investment cycle in deepwater stock plays in relatively near term.

As the currently burgeoning supplies of oil begin to fade in the latter part of this year, and this accelerates into the next, it will become painfully evident that the world still runs on oil. Due to lack of development of the deepwater resource in the prior decade, we are likely to see spot shortages, as the world economy recovers from the current downturn.

The price will rise as demands for it increase. We see oil comfortably back in the $40’s by years end, and increasing toward $60 in 2021.

The Saudi gamble of 2020 will have paid off.

By David Messler for Oilprice.com 

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on April 24 2020 said:
    Despite the most destructive damage the coronavirus outbreak has inflicted on the global economy, the global oil demand and prices, the future of oil is assured well into the 21st century and far beyond. If anything, the outbreak has proven irrevocably how inseparable oil and the global economy are by demonstrating that destroying one automatically destroys the other and vice versa.

    The global energy scene will be governed in coming years by four major realities. The first is that there will be no post-oil era throughout the 21st century and far beyond. The second is that there will be no peak oil demand either. The third reality is that an imminent global energy transition is an illusion and the fourth reality is that oil and gas will continue to be the core business of the global oil and gas industry well into the future.

    Oil is the driver of the global economy. Without oil, there is no global economy and no civilization as we know it. Only relatively high oil prices can stimulate the global economy and its three major ingredients, namely global investments, the economies of the oil-producing countries and the oil industry. A fair oil price, in my opinion, ranges from $100-$120 a barrel.

    Oil will rise from its most destructive ordeal like the Phoenix and will recoup all its losses and even touch $50-$60 a barrel by the end of this year or early next year.

    It is possible that the coronavirus outbreak has acted as a shock treatment for the US shale oil industry. The industry will emerge leaner with remaining shale producers becoming profit-oriented rather than producing excessively at a loss banking on easy money and the knowledge that US tax payers will eventually bail them out. Still, the industry will be no more in 4-9 years from now.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
  • PaulMcgroary on April 24 2020 said:
    Take a look at Alaska onshore. Two weeks ago this publication highlighted Pantheon Resources finding a billion plus barrels under the pipeline. Others are finding 500m pools to the west.

    Bill Armstrong is looking for a further 5 to 15 billion more east of the pipeline.
    And it’s the US of A onshore!
  • Chris Gott on April 24 2020 said:
    Covid-19 will decimate the African population, it will be like the plague was to Europe in the 13/14th centuries.
    African families are large, they live close together, they are tribal, there are very few hospitals, and their leaders will run to look after themselves leaving the masses to die.
    Once people begin to die nobody from the rest of the world can help them for fear of catching the disease themselves.
    Sad, but it can be compared to the plague, and the plague killed 50% of the population.
  • Michael A on April 24 2020 said:
    The prediction is wrong. Renewables will grow to be dominant far sooner than 2045. To think otherwise is delusional. The fossil fuel industry is facing so many headwinds such as competitiveness, stranded assets, pollution and divestment that it doesn't have a long future. I give it about 10 years of lasting dominance. Pull away the subsidies or better yet give the same subsidies to renewables and fossil fuels are already finished.,
  • BillLandwer on April 24 2020 said:
    Some of the best Exploration personnel yet know how to find major conventional oil and semi-conventional oil reservoirs onshore; These can help filling the approaching gap as shales decline (drastically) utilizing their existing infrastructures. We have ideas!!
  • ROBERT IRONMAN on April 24 2020 said:
    Excellent article, thank you David! Agree with you that the world will have to look to offshore for the big finds needed to meet the growing demand for oil and that demand will continue farther into the future than most projections. However, I would also note that the oil industry will find innovative ways to get a lot more oil out of shale oil reservoirs. Our company has developed new technology that can get 300-500+% more oil out of shale oil reservoirs and we hope to prove it in the field later this year. If implemented broadly it could have an enormous impact on shale oil production and economics. But our industry is very short of reservoir engineers needed to deploy new technology and management is slow to try anything, especially now, if someone else hasn't tried it first.
    Really enjoy your articles, you provide excellent information and a perspective earned by your years of experience. Thank you.
  • Jack Otto on April 24 2020 said:
    I think you totally misread the disruption from electric transportation. People who have electric cars love them. People who are offered a ride in an electric car from their buddy get excited. Very few will ever go back to combustion engine cars once they own electric.
    Europe is going electric for climate and city pollution. China wants to own the EV market for their economy and to pacify complaints of dirty air. Buses ,ferries, heavy equipment , mining equipment; all have many models in use. They have enormous advantages ; no emission, lower maintenance, lower fuel cost [ even today ] , quietness,and durability. Prices are dropping as battery prices drop 12-15 % per year. Even air travel will soon see all electric models for short flights gradually increasing as batteries increase in energy density and safety.
    New popular technology always improve and get cheaper as it scales up, oil depletes and gets more expensive to mine. This disruption will be startling by 2025.
  • Frank Jalics on April 24 2020 said:
    My car doesn't run on moonbeams or daffodils, but it does run on sunbeams, and it's awesome. A Tesla Model 3 AWD. BNEF says prices per kwh for batteries at the pack level will go from $156/kwh in 2019 to $100 in 2023.

    Gas and diesel vehicles pollute at ground level, where people are breathing, and electric ones don't. Wind and solar generation is 2 cents a kwh in some places in the US, so powering the lower maintenence quieter vehicles can be cheap.

    My Tesla does 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. The fastest Tesla will do it in 2.4 seconds.
  • Arch Region on April 24 2020 said:
    What will the role of oil and gas be in 2050?

    Oh common! are there still people out there who believe the illusion that there will be a need for oil past this decade? Why do you think we saw such low prices BEFORE the coronavirus send the prices to subterranean territory?

    The so called price war for market share between the two criminals Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman (criminals because both have killed journalists who wrote unflattering truths about them) was it really a price war? Or is it really a race to extract as much as possible before the entire oil extraction industry goes the way of the coal extraction industry?

    Think about it. EV is a faster more economical and safer alternative to ICE vehicles. With no dirty gasoline cars on the road why would anyone need oil? Electricity? Wind for sometime and solar recently costs less. Why would anyone pay more for an electricity source that harms their kids lungs from air pollution? Heating buildings or running factories? There is nothing that oil can do as well as the less expensive clean renewables. The only question is replacement cost and scale because intermittency has found many solution. Well this is the reason that the supply of oil has an ever diminishing but indispensable role to play for another ten years or so. But it is hard to imagine we will still need much oil beyond 2030, possibly a few years earlier.

    Oil companies still hold a lot of capital. The smart oil money already is jumping ship. ORSTED (formerly DONG), EQUINOR (formerly STATOIL), and increasingly SHELL are leading the way.

    Will the rest follow or will they stay waltzing on the deck of the Titanic until the unforeseeable but very near end?
  • Amir Naser on May 11 2020 said:
    Arch Region , as of today the energy density of gasoline is 100 times more than lithium-Ion battery, that is the best battery out there, 500 times more energy density than other types of batteries, not 2 or 3 times more, 500 !! these are facts, you were talking about Airplanes, so do you think its so easy to replace a 100 thousands horsepower thrust Engine, with an Electric motor that has the same performance, range and its also economical, may be in the next 200 years, unless they stretch the air plane wings 2 miles away " which is ridiculous", you just cant understand how much power these airplanes need in order to stay in the sky.., may be nuclear energy needs to play significant role in the future inevitable energy transition, but with the Data we have right now, the energy transition from fossil fuel wont happen anytime soon.
  • Wolf Horn on May 11 2020 said:
    David, thanks for your article, very interesting. But I do not agree. First of all, your thoughts follow a linear structure. This is the old way of the 19th century. As these days with Corona show, linear is not the way. (...) Your statement " ... we will be using more oil and gas in 2050 than we do now ... " is absolutly ridicolous, as we have to reduce carbon emissions, otherwise we will not fullfill goals like 1.5 degrees ad maximum etc from the Paris Agreement (...) next time we can discuss a little longer, yours from Austria Wolfgang Horn

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