During the last shale oil boom when producers were racing to see who could pump the most the fastest, some experts warned that shale oil had a flaw that would come to haunt these producers: wells were quick to start producing but also quick to deplete. Now, industry data suggests that the depletion is advancing. The Wall Street Journal’s Colin Eaton cited reserve inventory data from the shale patch in a recent analysis that pointed to a stable decline that may be irreversible. Eaton also quoted industry executives as making plans for such an irreversible development.
That fossil fuels are finite is no news. It was one of the main arguments in previous renewable energy pushes before emissions became the number-one priority. Technologically, oil and gas resources can be stretched to near infinity as drilling technology advances further and further. Yet this happens at a cost, and it seems that for the time being, the U.S. shale oil industry is not convinced it’s worth paying that cost.
It is this decline in cheaply available oil that is forcing U.S. shale drillers to stay disciplined, the WSJ’s Eaton wrote, despite rising oil prices: West Texas Intermediate is trading at over $90 per barrel for the first time since 2014.
“You just can’t keep growing 15% to 20% a year,” Pioneer Natural Resources Scott Sheffield told Eaton. “You’ll drill up your inventories. Even the good companies.”
Despite this, Chevron and Exxon are planning a substantial boost in the Permian—the most prolific play in the U.S. shale patch and the focus of much industry attention—amid higher prices.
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