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Crude Economics
Is This the Start of Shale’s Rebound?

Oil prices may today be worth more than $70 per barrel less than they were two years ago, but prices have rebounded from their nadir this spring to more than $49 in recent trading. That’s still a long way from those heady $100+ per barrel days, but it’s enough to make American oil companies start talking of recovery. Reuters reports:

With crude prices now nearly double their February lows near $26 per barrel, new wells in the Permian Basin – North America’s richest source of shale oil – are again becoming profitable and producers are taking baby steps to crank up output again. The number of rigs in the shale oil basin that spreads across more than 50 counties near the border with New Mexico rose by 17 to 146 on May 31 after bottoming in late April, according to data shared with Reuters by Drillinginfo, a consultancy.

The number of drilling permits – a leading indicator of future activity – issued for the Permian region in April, the latest month available, was the highest since October 2015. […]

Keith Moore, president and CEO of West Texas National Bank, a local energy lender, says loan applications are starting to arrive again after a year-long pause. “People were sitting on their projects. It looks like we are on the edge of recovery.”

American shale producers were chiefly responsible for the global oil market’s oversupply that led to the collapse in prices over the past two years from more than $115 per barrel down to just under $50 today. But compared to more conventional types of drilling, fracking is expensive, so just as bargain crude was pinching the coffers of the world’s petrostates, it was also pushing some U.S. shale firms into bankruptcy, and forcing others to idle operations. Many companies in that second group chose to drill but not yet frack wells in anticipation of a price rebound (these drilled but uncompleted wells are colloquially known as DUCs).

Now, as prices edge towards $50 and producers continue to refine processes to make operations profitable at lower and lower price levels, this “fracklog” may be ready to be unleashed on the global market. Certainly if prices climb much higher, American output will climb with it, a relationship that (barring major supply disruptions elsewhere) should set a limit on just how high they can go.

So while OPEC continues to spin its gears as it struggles with this new price equilibrium, here in the U.S. our producers are chomping at the bit to get back in the action—and it seems that they’re now starting to do just that.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Time is on the side of the American Frackers, the technology is still improving at an incredible rate, and their cost per barrel is continuing to fall.

  • Andrew Allison

    Cliff Notes: USA is the swing producer and the price cap is $50.

  • Proud Skeptic

    I couldn’t be happier

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