The financial stress sweeping over the U.S. shale sector has led to a sharp contraction in activity.
Oil and gas activity in Texas and parts of New Mexico declined in the third quarter, with the Dallas Fed’s business activity index reporting a reading of -7.4, down from -0.6 in the second quarter. A negative reading signals contraction while a positive reading indicates expansion. Falling deeper into negative territory indicates that shale drillers in the Permian further cut drilling activity over the last three months.
A slowdown in drilling is an even larger problem for oilfield services companies, who provide the equipment, manpower and drilling services that oil companies need. A producer may be able to do more with less, but that “less” falls on the service providers, who have been hit hard. The Dallas Fed said that the business activity in the oilfield services sector fell to -21.8 in the third quarter, down from 6.6 in the second.
Another reading demonstrated the pain for oilfield services. The Dallas Fed’s “equipment utilization index” plunged to -24 from 3, and the figure for the third quarter was the lowest since the oil market’s nadir in 2016.
Problematic for shale drillers is that costs still grew, although at a much slower rate. The “input cost” index stood at 5.6 in the third quarter, an indication of slowing cost increases compared to the 27.1 reading in the second quarter. But the bad news for the industry is that the reading was still in positive territory.
Employment is also weakening. The employment index fell to -8.0 from -2.5, meaning that the Permian likely saw job losses for the second quarter in a row.
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