Crude Economics
Wall Street Won’t Abandon U.S. Shale

Fracking’s finances got a lift this week as creditors were kinder than expected to shale firms beleaguered by bargain oil prices. An “autumn credit crunch” was predicted for these companies, but, as Reuters reports, something else happened instead:

The biannual process, known in the industry as redetermination, shaved only 4 percent off bank loans to oil and gas companies, according to a Reuters analysis of loan data, surprising experts who had expected deeper cuts because of a protracted oil price rout. […]

Of the 37 U.S. oil and gas producers tracked by Reuters that hold credit lines backed by their reserves, 15 had credit reduced, seven saw an increase and 12 saw no change. Two said they expected to keep their credit unchanged and one said it expected a reduction.

Thanks to the high depletion rate of shale wells (production drops off quickly), shale companies must constantly reinvest in setting up new drilling operations and in exploring new plays. That means they need deep pools of capital, which is why many analysts have been anxiously watching Wall Street for signs of any sort of fracking abandonment. This latest round of adjustments is therefore good news for the industry.

In some ways, it’s a sign that U.S. shale is still capable of surviving in a ~$40 per barrel oil market. As Reuters notes, “The cuts were less steep than many had expected in part because banks were encouraged by producers’ hedges that locked in higher prices, their ability to cut costs during a downturn and increases in production.” It’s this ability to cut prices and otherwise innovate in tough conditions that has already been keeping these companies afloat in a period of low prices, and now it has won them some much needed capital, too.

To the extent that this resilience remains true going forward it should be deeply troubling to the rest of the world’s petrostates. Saudi Arabia has led OPEC down a dangerous road, choosing to wait out American frackers in the hope that cheap prices would necessarily force non-OPEC producers to cut supplies, but shale is proving remarkably adaptable. And while these American companies continue to find financing to keep drilling, petrostates run further and further into the red. Good news for the U.S. shale industry’s financing, that is, can have global significance.

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