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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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U.S. Oil Production Is Rising Much Faster Than Expected

Oil drilling tower

Shale executives have gone to great lengths to convince investors that they will not drill aggressively now that oil prices have rallied into the $60s. But in a new report released on Tuesday, the EIA essentially said that those assurances are just a lot of hot air.

The EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook predicted that U.S. oil production would top 11 million barrels per day (mb/d) this year. Last month, the agency said that the U.S. wouldn’t hit that threshold until November 2019.

The revision from just a few weeks ago is dramatic. In January the EIA estimated that the U.S. would surpass 10 mb/d at some point in February. But recently published data shows that the U.S. actually hit that milestone last November, and now, the agency says the U.S. actually averaged 10.2 mb/d in January.

On an annual basis, the U.S. produced 9.3 mb/d last year, a figure that is set to jump to 10.6 mb/d for 2018. Things slow down a bit in 2019, with an average of 11.2 mb/d.

What do we make of all of this? Well, the shale industry is clearly drilling at a frenzied pace, with an increasing concentration in the Permian basin. The rig count continues to rise in the Permian, while remaining mostly flat elsewhere. So far, the Permian has shown no signs of slowing down, despite some evidence of bottlenecking and cost inflation. Production continues to rise at a scorching rate. Related: Oil Prices Fall On Rising Crude Inventories

The big question at this point is how rapidly expanding shale production will interact with the pace of inventory builds/declines and the OPEC production limits. Some analysts, including Goldman Sachs and S&P Global Platts, recently raised the prospect of OPEC tightening the oil market too much, allowing inventories to drain well below the five-year average.

The massive upward revision in shale production from the EIA might dampen those concerns. The EIA says that inventories will build by an average of 0.2 mb/d over the course of 2018 and 2019, and the agency predicts Brent will average just $62 per barrel this year.

Meanwhile, global financial turmoil is testing oil prices. WTI and Brent have retreated from recent highs over the last few trading days, dragged down by the global selloff. The enormous build up in bullish bets from hedge funds and other money managers presents a deeper downside risk.

But Goldman Sachs shrugged off the instability, and reiterated its bullish case for commodities for this year. In fact, the selloff increases the odds of more gains in the months ahead, Goldman analysts argue. “Commodities proved to work just as advertised” during the sudden selloff in equities, Jeffrey Currie, the bank’s head of commodities research, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “In fact, you saw base metals and gold trade up as the equity market went down.” Related: The World’s Biggest Oil Benchmark Could Change Forever

“Historically, when you look at commodities they perform very well during rate-hiking cycles,” Currie said. “Oil’s what we called backwardated, where spot prices sit above forward prices, so you buy at a discount and roll up the curve. In other words, it pays you to be long.” The investment bank says there is no reason to abandon the bullish case for commodities for this year. Goldman predicts Brent will top $82 per barrel within six months.

If that is the case, then surely the shale industry will accelerate drilling. After all, the EIA sees the industry adding upwards of 1 mb/d between January and December.

Still, it might be too soon to tell if shale drillers are going to abandon those claims of restraint. Goldman Sachs said in a research note that the most recent spending plans and guidance published by a select few shale drillers does not necessarily point to a drill-at-all-costs mentality. Goldman looked at 8 shale companies that released specifics, and the capex and production estimates from those companies are about equal to consensus estimates. In other words, the recent rally in oil prices has not significantly altered the approach of the shale industry for 2018, at least not yet.

The EIA’s latest prediction, however, assumes the shale industry throws caution to the wind. The U.S. could hit 11 mb/d in 2018, a full year earlier than previously expected.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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  • Disgruntled on February 07 2018 said:
    Again, it's much better to sell less oil for more than more oil for less. And, you preserve your reserves for a later date at a higher price. And you might just pay down some debt. And you might not go bankrupt after all.

    Is anyone in the horizontal industry listening/reading?
  • John Brown on February 07 2018 said:
    US production will hit 11M barrels per day by mid-2018, & why not with WTI over $60 & even bouncing over $65. OPEC/Russia idled millions of BPD to reduce the glut of oil & got WTI over $50 even though there was no reason for it to be over $40. That was the sweet spot. But as usual when that worked everybody got greedy. Played their usual games & got WTI over $65. The industry still thinks we’re in the dark ages. New technology has driven cost down & time to market of new supply down. $65 is now like discovery gold & leads to a gold rush. Let’s see how OPEC/Russia & the industry deal with a flood of new production hitting every day?
  • onlymho on February 08 2018 said:
    production increases could be achieved just by completions of already drilled wells
  • onlymho on February 08 2018 said:
    agree with Disgruntled - all while then exporting while prices are low - need to reevaluate those economics
  • John Brown on February 09 2018 said:
    Goldman folks makes money speculating on increasing oil prices, not declining. If they could actually predict these things they would have predicted the more than 2000 point correction in the stock market we are suddenly seeing, and I didn't hear anything from them about that. Nor have I heard that they shorted the market in a huge way to make tens of billions. They were caught just as flat footed as everyone else.
    When they this silly $82 prediction it was based on the industry pushing WTI into the $60s while their was still a surplus sloshing around, slow growth in U.S. production with U.S. producers saying they'd go slow and restrict their production to help push an fix prices upward without breaking the law and going to prison. Of course when they saw WTI at $65 and Goldman's wild prediction they did the only sensible thing they could. They started producing. U.S. production won't hit 11 million BPD by the end of 2018, it will hit that by mid 2018, and close in on 12 Million by the end or early 2019, and they don't need prices to go to $82 to do that. $65 will work just fine. So very hard to see how Goldman justifies their prediction, but I never count out what a colluding industry can and will do to push up prices even though oil is sloshing around the world, strategic reserves are full, and OPEC/Russia have idled millions of barrels of production that is just sitting there.

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