U.S. shale drillers are facing a serious problem: Their wells are not producing as much oil and gas as they had anticipated.
When facing shareholder scrutiny, shale drillers have countlessly hyped the litany of technological breakthroughs, efficiency gains and innovative drilling techniques. Indeed, production from U.S. E&Ps has skyrocketed over the past decade, save for interruption during the 2014-2016 bust. But even then, shale executives argued that the downturn made them lean and mean, and that they would use their newfound frugality to ramp up production and profits.
But the hype has slammed into reality on a few fronts. First, after years of bankrolling the shale industry in hopes of juicy profits, Wall Street is starting to lose patience. Some companies turn a profit, but the industry on the whole has been losing money since its inception in the mid-2000s. Executives are once again promising that enormous profits are just around the corner, but you could forgive the skeptics for questioning whether that will turn out to be the case.
A second – and no less damning – development is starting to occur on the operational side of things. Shale companies are finding that the returns on pushing their drilling practices to evermore intense frontiers are beginning to fizzle. For years, drillers increased the length of their laterals, injected more and more sand and water underground, and packed wells closer and closer together. These techniques of intensification promised to produce more oil and gas for less money. Related: The Winners And Losers Of The Latest Commodity Rally
Suddenly, there is evidence that the industry is running into a wall. The Wall Street Journal reported that shale wells placed too close together are starting to report unexpectedly disappointing results. The thinking is that the wells are interfering with each other.
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