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U.S. Shale Is Doomed No Matter What They Do

U.S. Shale Is Doomed No Matter What They Do

Shale drillers

With financial stress setting in for U.S. shale companies, some are trying to drill their way out of the problem, while others are hoping to boost profitability by cutting costs and implementing spending restraint. Both approaches are riddled with risk.

“Turbulence and desperation are roiling the struggling fracking industry,” Kathy Hipple and Tom Sanzillo wrote in a note for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

They point to the example of EQT, the largest natural gas producer in the United States. A corporate struggle over control of the company reached a conclusion recently, with the Toby and Derek Rice seizing power. The Rice brothers sold their company, Rice Energy, to EQT in 2017. But they launched a bid to take over EQT last year, arguing that the company’s leadership had failed investors. The Rice brothers convinced shareholders that they could steer the company in a better direction promising $500 million in free cash flow within two years.

Their bet hinged on more aggressive drilling while simultaneously reducing costs. Their strategy also depends on “new, unproven, expensive technology, electric frack fleets,” IEEFA argued. “This seems like more of the same – big risky capital expenditures.”

EQT’s former CEO Steve Schlotterbeck recently made headlines when he called fracking an “unmitigated disaster” because it helped crash prices and produce mountains of red ink. “In fact, I’m not aware of another case of a disruptive technological change that has done so much harm to the industry that created the change,” Schlotterbeck said at an industry conference in June. Related: Will The U.S Gas Glut Cap Oil Production?

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is US Shale Cannibalizing Itself?

Is US Shale Cannibalizing Itself?

Shale

U.S. oil production continues to grow, but the shale industry is in the midst of a deceleration as low oil prices and a financial squeeze slow the pace of drilling.

The U.S. added 246,000 bpd of fresh supply in April, the latest month for which data solid is available. That put to rest concerns that the industry was in the midst of contraction, after production fell in January and February (some of which was due to offshore maintenance). Even as the rig count continues to fall, production grinds higher.

The EIA expects output to grow by another 70,000 bpd in July, with the Permian alone adding 55,000 bpd.

But the rate of growth is slowing. In April, production was up 1.6 million barrels per day (mb/d) compared to the same month a year earlier. By any measure, that is a massive increase. But it is down sharply from the nearly 2.1 mb/d year-on-year increase seen in August 2018, which looks set to be the peak in terms of the pace of growth.

U.S. oil production is not in danger of outright decline, not for the foreseeable future. But growth is clearly slowing. The U.S. could add 1.3 mb/d of new supply this year, according to an average of forecasts from multiple analysts, compiled by Reuters. That figure would be down from 1.5 mb/d of additional supply that came online in 2018. Related: Another Beneficiary Of The OPEC Deal Emerges

Financial stress is spreading, and top industry executives in Texas are arguably at their gloomiest in years. Consolidation and bankruptcies could pick up pace in the next few months, a bankruptcy attorney told Reuters.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Shale Pioneer: Fracking Is An “Unmitigated Disaster”

Shale Pioneer: Fracking Is An “Unmitigated Disaster”

Pioneer drilling rig

Fracking has been an “unmitigated disaster” for shale companies themselves, according to a prominent former shale executive.

“The shale gas revolution has frankly been an unmitigated disaster for any buy-and-hold investor in the shale gas industry with very few limited exceptions,” Steve Schlotterbeck, former chief executive of EQT, a shale gas giant, said at a petrochemicals conference in Pittsburgh. “In fact, I’m not aware of another case of a disruptive technological change that has done so much harm to the industry that created the change.”

He did not pull any punches. “While hundreds of billions of dollars of benefits have accrued to hundreds of millions of people, the amount of shareholder value destruction registers in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” he said. “The industry is self-destructive.”

The message is not a new one. The shale industry has been burning through capital for years, posting mountains of red ink. One estimate from the Wall Street Journal found that over the past decade, the top 40 independent U.S. shale companies burned through $200 billion more than they earned. A 2017 estimate from the WSJ found $280 billion in negative cash flow between 2010 and 2017. It’s incredible when you think about it – despite the record levels of oil and gas production, the industry is in the hole by roughly a quarter of a trillion dollars.

The red ink has continued right up to the present, and the most recent downturn in oil prices could lead to more losses in the second quarter.

So, questionable economics is not exactly breaking news when it comes to shale. But the fact that a prominent former shale executive – who presided over one of the largest shale gas companies in the country – called out the industry face-to-face, raised some eyebrows, to say the least.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Two Events That Will Determine Oil Prices

Two Events That Will Determine Oil Prices

offshore rig

Two big events over the next two weeks will determine the trajectory for oil prices in the second half of the year. One of those events will take place in Japan, the other in Austria.

U.S. President Donald Trump will meet Chinese President Xi Jingping on the sidelines of the G-20 conference next week in Osaka, Japan. Nothing less than the health of the global economy hangs in the balance.

Both leaders have powerful forces pulling them in opposite directions. On the one hand, both have a domestic political constituency invested in confrontation, or, at least, in not backing down from a trade fight. Neither wants to lose face. Trump campaigned on taking on China, and at least part of his political base may be disappointed if he comes home short of victory. In Beijing, Xi is also under tremendous pressure. The protests in Hong Kong leave him little room for error, and being seen as backing down to Trump would be highly damaging.

However, both leaders are also under pressure to end the trade war. Trump has a presidential election right around the corner, and farm country has been hit hard by sinking agricultural prices related to tariffs. China’s economy has also been hit hard by American tariffs, so Xi would likely be relieved to reach a compromise.

The stakes are high. The global economy is slowing down. Manufacturing data is weak, the auto market has slumped badly, trade volumes are sharply down globally. If the talks fail and the U.S. and China decide to escalate the pressure – Trump has threatened to hike tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods – a full-blown recession is possible.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change Could Trigger Global Financial Crisis

Climate Change Could Trigger Global Financial Crisis

NYSE

A top U.S. financial regulator is worried that climate change could threaten global financial markets.

Rostin Behnam, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), said that the financial system was at risk from the growing frequency and severity of storms. “The impacts of climate change affect every aspect of the American economy – from production agriculture to commercial manufacturing and the financing of every step in each process,” Behnam said at the meeting of the CFTC’s market risk advisory committee on Wednesday. “As most of the world’s markets and market regulators are taking steps towards assessing and mitigating the current and potential threats of climate change, we in the U.S. must also demand action from all segments of the public and private sectors, including this agency.”

He added: “Our commodity markets and the financial markets that support them will suffer if we do not take action to mitigate the risk of contagion.”

The message is not necessarily a new one, but it is significant since it comes from the CFTC, which is not exactly a hippy enclave. Also of significance is the fact that Behnam was appointed to the CFTC by President Trump, although by law the vacancy that he filled had to be a Democrat.

Behnam will help setup a panel of experts to study the risks to the financial system from climate change.

“If climate change causes more volatile frequent and extreme weather events, you’re going to have a scenario where these large providers of financial products — mortgages, home insurance, pensions — cannot shift risk away from their portfolios,” Benham said in an NYT interview. “It’s abundantly clear that climate change poses financial risk to the stability of the financial system.” Related: OPEC’s Struggle To Avoid $40 Oil

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Escalating Trade War Signals More Pain For Oil

Escalating Trade War Signals More Pain For Oil

Offshore tanker terminal

Trump backed off his proposed trade war with Mexico in the face of intense pressure from business groups and even his own party, but his faith in tariffs remains unbowed. In fact, Trump may have internalized a lesson that presents further risks to the global economy and to oil markets.

“If we didn’t have tariffs, we wouldn’t have made a deal with Mexico,” Trump said on Monday. “We got everything we wanted.”

The proposed 5 percent tariff on Mexico was suspended because Trump said that the Mexican government agreed to a series of demands to tighten up migration through the country. However, press reports suggest that some of the provisions in the deal, such as Mexico agreeing to buy agricultural goods, are a mirage, while others, such as expanding border security, were agreed to months ago.

Leaving those pesky details aside, Trump was triumphant. Indeed, even though the White House saw pushback from business groups and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, in Trump’s mind the whole episode seems to have reaffirmed his strategy.

With the U.S.-China trade war unfinished, the U.S. President feels emboldened to take a hardline on Beijing.

“The China deal’s going to work out,” Trump said in an interview on CNBC. “You know why? Because of tariffs. Because right now China is getting absolutely decimated by companies that are leaving China, going to other countries, including our own, because they don’t want to pay the tariffs.”

Moreover, he says that the tariffs to date have been successful. “We’ve never gotten 10 cents from China. Now we’re getting a lot of money from China, and I think that’s one of the reasons the G.D.P. was so high in the first quarter because of the tariffs that we’re taking in from China,” he told reporters on Monday. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Biggest Losers In The Shale Slowdown

The Biggest Losers In The Shale Slowdown

shale

Schlumberger saw its debt rating downgraded by S&P due to the unfolding slowdown in drilling by U.S. shale companies.

The largest oilfield service company in the world has seen its earnings hit as the shale industry goes through a soft patch. S&P cut Schlumberger’s debt rating to A+, down from AA-. Meanwhile, Halliburton saw its outlook downgraded from “stable” to “negative.”

“Oilfield services companies will no longer be able to generate the high operating margins they did in 2014,” Carin Dehne-Kiley, an analyst at S&P, wrote in a report. “The oilfield services industry has fundamentally changed due to permanent efficiency and productivity gains realized by E&P companies as well as investor sentiment calling for E&P companies to live within cash flow and limit production growth.”

The sharp fall in oil prices late last year, which stretched into the first quarter of 2019, led to a rapid erosion in the U.S. rig count. The oil rig count fell by 5 to 797 for the week ending on May 24. The rebound in oil prices this year has not led to a corresponding bounce back in the rig count.

Shale companies have pulled back, making modest spending cuts amid the soft patch. Moreover, the U.S-China trade war may have killed off yet another rally, with gloom spreadingacross the industry. Another lengthy downturn would likely deepen the modest austerity measures implemented by shale producers, which would further weigh down the oilfield services sector.

Lower drilling activity translates into less interest in the variety of services that Schlumberger offers. A depressed market for equipment, labor and other services means that companies like Schlumberger have less leverage in pricing negotiations with oil producers. Several years on from the massive oil market bust in 2014, Schlumberger has been trying to claw back the steep discounts it was forced to offer to producers. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Undeniable Signs Of A Shale Slowdown

The Undeniable Signs Of A Shale Slowdown

Pump jack

The world’s largest oilfield services company said its earnings were hit in the first quarter because of a slowdown in shale drilling activity.

“First-quarter revenue of $7.9 billion declined 4% sequentially, reflecting the expected reduction in North America land activity and seasonally lower international activity in the Northern Hemisphere,” Schlumberger CEO Paal Kibsgaard said in a statement. Pricing for its services was “soft,” while fracking and other “drilling-related businesses” saw a dip in activity.

The company was unbowed, noting that the weakness in North America is offset by improving conditions globally. “From a macro perspective, we expect the oil market sentiments to steadily improve over the course of 2019,” as the OPEC+ cuts tighten up the market. Also, Kibsgaard said that the “weakening of the international production base” after “four years of underinvestment” will become “increasingly evident,” which should spark an uptick in spending. 

The global E&P sector is “starting to normalize.” In fact, spending could rise by 7 to 8 percent this year around the world.

However, U.S. shale is in a different situation. After spending heavily for years, which successfully ramped up production to record heights, many shale companies are still not performing well financially. As a result, the U.S. shale industry is at somewhat of an inflection point. Kibsgaard said that the sector is “set for lower investments with a likely downward adjustment to the current production growth outlook.”

While the industry is looking up globally, the outlook for U.S. shale is rather downbeat. “[T]he higher cost of capital, lower borrowing capacity, and investors looking for increased returns suggest that future E&P investment levels will likely be dictated by free cash flow,” Kibsgaard said. “We therefore see E&P investments in North America land down 10% in 2019.” 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Shale Is In A Deep State Of Flux

Shale Is In A Deep State Of Flux

Chevron shale

Oil prices are rising to their highest level in months, with WTI having topped $60 per barrel, but the U.S. shale industry is still showing signs of strain.

“This is a cycle in our industry where only the large well-capitalized companies can grow. Small companies without access to capital are stagnant,” one oil executive in Texas said in response to a survey from the Dallas Federal Reserve. “It is a major industry readjustment period.”

The oil majors are scaling up their operations in the Permian basin, with ambitious plans to ratchet up output. ExxonMobil plans on hitting 1 million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2024 from the Permian, and Chevron hopes to reach 900,000 bpd. U.S. shale is more important than ever to their business plans.

But even as the role of shale is critical to the majors, small- and medium-sized E&Ps are struggling. Poor financial returns, loss of interest from investors, pressure to cut spending and return cash to shareholders, and encroachment from the majors are tightening the screws on smaller drillers. The “shrinkage in market capitalization of some companies is breathtaking. These loses translate into a loss of interest in further direct investments in the drilling of new oil and/or natural gas prospects,” another respondent said in the Dallas Fed survey.

A few other concerns seemed to dominate the thinking of Texas oil executives:

  • “Qualified young professionals are avoiding joining the oil and gas industry.”
  • “Pipeline constraints in the Permian Basin continue to cost us up to $20 per barrel and have a significant impact on capital expenditures. This cost changes month by month, making revenue estimation difficult.”
  • “Smaller independents are competing with a different animal that is too expensive to tame. Deep pockets for manufacturing oil and gas have taken over the patch here.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Aramco’s Mythical Ghawar Field Could Be Its Weak Spot

Aramco’s Mythical Ghawar Field Could Be Its Weak Spot

Ghawar oil field

Some of the most secretive, highly-anticipated details about the Saudi oil industry have just been released.

Saudi Aramco is preparing to launch a major bond issuance to purchase the Saudi petrochemical company Sabic, a process that required a detailed prospectus on the company. As part of that review, Aramco released on Monday some closely-guarded state secrets that have been kept under wraps for decades and have been the subject of endless and wild speculation.

With little fanfare, Aramco released some details …and they are somewhat damning. For instance, the Ghawar oil field, which has at times held an almost mythical status both because of its massive size and also because of the complete opaqueness on its inner workings, can’t produce as much as previously thought. Ghawar is the core of Aramco’s oil production, and is of vital national security importance to the Saudi state.

The prospectus says that the Ghawar field can only produce 3.8 million barrels per day (mb/d), not the widely thought 5 mb/d that has floated around for years as a rough estimate. “As Saudi’s largest field, a surprisingly low production capacity figure from Ghawar is the stand-out of the report,” said Virendra Chauhan, head of upstream at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd., according to Bloomberg.

There was little other detail offered on that figure, why it declined, or whether it would continue to decline. But it is a very significant downward revision.

Nevertheless, the Aramco prospectus confirmed some more impressive figures that have also been the subject of speculation. The document says the company can produce 12 mb/d, a rate of output that has been criticized and questioned. With current production at about 10 mb/d, that implies a current 2 mb/d of spare capacity, which is a comfortable buffer that could plug some hypothetical supply gaps. In addition, there is about 500,000 bpd lying dormant in the Neutral Zone on the border with Kuwait.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Oil Prices Spike On Shale Slowdown

Oil Prices Spike On Shale Slowdown

Shale tower

The collapse of oil prices late last year, along with pressure from shareholders, has led to a slowdown in the U.S. shale industry.

The EIA released new monthly data on March 29, which revealed a decline in output of about 90,000 bpd between December and January, evidence that shale drillers slammed on the breaks after oil prices fell off a cliff in the fourth quarter. The 90,000-bpd decline came after a rather meager 35,000-bpd increase the month before, which was the weakest increase in months.

But the U.S. shale industry is facing more headwinds than just a temporary dip in oil prices. Shareholders have run out of patience with unprofitable drilling, and are demanding returns, which is tightening the screws on less competitive companies and forcing spending cutbacks across the board. More worrying for the industry is a growing recognition of the “parent-child” well problem – the unexpected poor performance of subsequent wells drilled in close proximity to the original “parent” well.

These obstacles are beginning to pile up. Schlumberger and Halliburton, the two top oilfield services companies, have predicted that shale drillers will be forced to collectively cut spending by more than 10 percent this year.

The slowdown could put some bullish pressure on the oil market, already suffering from outages in Venezuela, Iran and coordinated cuts from OPEC+. While U.S. inventories rose unexpectedly last week, much of the increase can be chalked up to turmoil in the Houston Ship Channel following a major fire at a petrochemical facility.

Indeed, some analysts see significant stock declines in the next few weeks. “The most visible inventory levels in the world…will fall victim to a potent mix of Venezuelan supply disruptions, a Houston Ship Channel chemical spill, and an uptick in refining runs,” Barclays wrote in a note on March 29. The investment bank sees WTI rising to an average of $65 per barrel this year. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Oil Industry Faces A ‘Crisis Of Confidence’

The Oil Industry Faces A ‘Crisis Of Confidence’

Oil Industry

The oil industry is starting to feel the pressure of climate change.

Oil executives, by and large, have not been swayed to change their business practices despite years of warnings about the climate crisis. However, they are beginning to listen to shareholders who are demanding change, while also seeing policy risks looming just over the horizon.

The annual IHS CERAWeek Conference in Houston is usually a gathering of oil titans who meet to celebrate their business. A backslapping affair, the event doesn’t spend too much time worrying about climate change.

This year is a bit different. There has been palpable anxiety about the future. Shareholders are putting pressure on companies to report their risks and exposures to climate change. At the same time, oil executives are worried that shifting technologies, pushed along by government policy, will threaten future oil sales.

Norway’s Equinor sounded the alarm. Eldar Saetre, CEO of the Norwegian oil company, said that the industry faced a “crisis of confidence,” and that companies were not doing enough to plan for the epochal change that is beginning to unfold. “We need to drive this as an industry, to be part of the solution and not be dragged into a low-carbon future,” Saetre told the Wall Street Journal. Some companies are taking action, but “there is definitely denial within companies and in boardrooms, as well as ignorance and an unwillingness to act.” 

Last week, Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund proposed a divestment from oil exploration companies, an event that may turn out to be a significant moment in history, marking the beginning of a difficult chapter for the oil industry.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Oil Prices To Skyrocket If U.S. Shale Stalls

Oil Prices To Skyrocket If U.S. Shale Stalls

Oil Prices

A collapse of production in Venezuela, aggressive production curtailments from OPEC+, relatively strong demand and an economy humming along – and oil prices are still sharply below the highs seen last year.

To be sure, oil has bounced just about to the highest level since November, and a confluence of bullish forces seem to be pushing prices in an upward direction. But in years past, news that an oil producer like Venezuela suddenly saw production fall from over 1 million barrels per day (mb/d) down to 500,000 or 600,000 bpd overnight would have sent prices skyward. Now crude jumps by a buck or so.

The reason for the relative restraint is that the market has been anticipating U.S. shale production to grow at an unchecked rate. In January, the EIA predicted the U.S. would average 12.1 mb/d of oil production this year. A month later, the agency revised that forecast up by a massive 300,000 bpd to 12.4 mb/d. It was a familiar narrative. U.S. shale continues to exceed prior expectations.

However, the EIA just downgraded its forecast for the first time in six months. The latest Short-Term Energy Outlook sees output averaging 12.3 mb/d. It’s a rather minor downward revision, but the direction is important. 

The series of spending cuts by U.S. shale producers may actually slow down the drilling machine. “This is just the beginning,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc., told Bloomberg. “The reality of the situation is that a lot of these guys are not making money and are having a hard time keeping these production levels up. Any pullback is going to make it harder to keep that upward trajectory of oil production moving higher.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Be Wary Of Unrealistic Shale Growth Expectations

Be Wary Of Unrealistic Shale Growth Expectations

shale drillers

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.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Shale Growth Is Nearing An Inflection Point

Shale Growth Is Nearing An Inflection Point

Pioneer drilling

Drilling activity has plateaued in much of the U.S., with the rig count zig-zagging well below the peak from last November.

The rig count often rises and falls in response to oil prices, but on a several-month lag. It takes some time before oil companies make drilling decisions in response to major price movements. As such, the price meltdown in the fourth quarter of 2018 is still working its way through the system.

But the U.S. shale industry has already begun to tap the brakes. Total U.S. oil rigs are stood at 853 for the week ending on February 22, down from a peak of 888 in November. In particular, the Permian – often held up as the most profitable and prolific shale basin – has seen the rig count decline to a nine-month low.

Production continues to rise, to be sure, but the growth rate could soon flatten out. “We estimate that the y/y change in US oil drilling will, for the first time since 2016, turn negative by late May, should the current trend of gentle declines continue,” Standard Chartered analysts led by Paul Horsnell wrote in a note.

(Click to enlarge)

At the same time, oil prices are rising again, and are up roughly 25 percent since the start of the year. If WTI tops $60, many shale drillers could find themselves feeling confident all over again, and could pour money and rigs back into the field.

That said, multiple drillers have laid out more conservative and restrained drilling programs, facing pressure from shareholders not to overspend. According to Bloomberg and RS Energy Group, U.S. E&Ps have trimmed their spending plans by 4 percent on average, while at the same time they still expect production to grow by 7 percent.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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