American oil production averaged 9.42 million barrels per day (mmbpd) in 2015, the highest level this country has seen since 1972. It’s no great secret why we’ve seen this sudden uptick in U.S. crude output—after all, shale has been remaking America’s energy landscape for the better part of a decade.
True, monthly averages have fallen from a peak in April 2015 of more than 9.6 mmbpd down to 8.74 mmbpd in August, the predictable result of producers struggling to cope with bargain crude prices brought on by a global glut.
But now, as petrostates mull a potential production cut later this month, shale producers are looking comfortable once again, and the American oil industry looks set for a resurgence. If and when that happens, it will be driven by the innovative spirit that not only set off the shale boom in the first place, but that also kept it afloat in the bearish oil market these last two and a half years. Horizontal well drilling is one of the best examples of this creative approach to getting more hydrocarbons out of the ground, and according to the EIA, these types of wells are responsible for the most productive projects in the U.S.:
In 2015 nearly 77% of the most prolific U.S. oil wells, or those producing more than 400 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day, were horizontally drilled wells. For about 85,000 moderate rate wells producing in 2015, defined here as more than 15 BOE per day and up to 400 BOE per day, 42% were drilled horizontally. Of the approximately 370,000 lowest-rate, marginal oil wells in 2015, also known as stripper wells, only about 2% were horizontal wells.
Producers have employed horizontal drilling rigs for a few decades, but they only started to perfect them more recently, and they’ve been instrumental to both the shale boom and American energy security. That technology, paired with hydraulic fracturing, is helping to make the U.S. a major oil and natural gas player, and together they’ve changed the American energy paradigm from one characterized by fears of scarcity to one centered on a very different idea: abundance.