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Robert Rapier

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Oil Bankruptcies Are Reaching Worrying Levels

Law firm Haynes and Boone recently released its updated Energy Bankruptcy Reports. These reports cover North American oil and gas producers, oilfield services and midstream bankruptcies from the beginning of 2015 through 2019.

Over the entire five-year period, 208 oil and gas producers have filed for bankruptcy since Haynes and Boone’s Oil Patch Bankruptcy Monitor began tabulating E&P filings, involving approximately $121.7 billion in aggregate debt.

There was an initial wave of more than 100 bankruptcy filings in 2015 and 2016 as the oil price crash pushed some companies to the breaking point. As oil prices recovered somewhat after 2016, the number of filings declined to 24 in 2017 and 28 in 2018.

But the fourth quarter of 2018 saw a steep drop in oil prices, and that decline lingered into 2019. This resulted in a jump in the number of filings in 2019 back up to 42.

Of the 208 bankruptcy filings, Texas led the list with 94. Colorado and Louisiana were far behind Texas with 11 filings each, while New York was in fourth place with 10. Canada overall had 18 oil and gas producer bankruptcy filings.

Haynes and Boone also reported that the oilfield services sector was hit hard, with 196 bankruptcies over the five-year period. The total amount of aggregate debt administered in oilfield services bankruptcies during this period was approximately $66 billion. Texas again led the way with 102 bankruptcies. Related: U.S. Rig Count Drops As Oil Price Slide Accelerates

Midstream wasn’t entirely spared, but the firm reports that there were only 28 midstream companies that have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States since 2015, involving approximately $21.6 billion in cumulative secured and unsecured debt (including debt of related affiliates).

The firm writes that commodity prices will likely remain challenging for producers, noting that “the oil market appears to be resistant to sustained increases in spite of two major geopolitical events in the Middle East – the September 2019 attack on Saudi Aramco’s oil facilities and the heightened tensions following the January 7 drone attack on Iranian Major General Soleimani.”

We can now add the growing coronavirus outbreak as a challenge for oil producers, as that has helped drive down oil prices by 10 percent in the past week. Should that trend continue — and given that natural gas prices are also trading at extremely low values — 2020 will likely be another year of bankruptcies for financially strapped oil and gas producers.

By Robert Rapier

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