The coming year is likely to be as full of surprises in the field of energy as 2014 was. We just don't know which surprises! I am not predicting that any of the following will happen, and they will be surprises to most people if they do. But, I think there is an outside chance that one or more will occur, and this would move markets and policy debates in unexpected directions.This seems fairly likely to me. I never expected oil prices to crater, but now that they have, it makes a lot of sense that drilling activity might decrease enough that the new production could be less than the decline rate of existing wells. Once production peaks, it will be hard for drillers to make up that gap. 2015 will definitely be an interesting year in the shale plays.
1. U.S. crude oil and natural gas production decline for the first time since 2008 and 2005, respectively. The colossal markdown in world oil prices has belatedly been followed by a slightly smaller, but nevertheless dramatic markdown in U.S. natural gas prices. The drop in prices has already resulted in announcements from U.S. drillers that they will curtail their drilling operations significantly next year.
But drilling that is already contracted for will likely go forward and wells waiting for completion will be completed. It can be costly to pull out of drilling contracts. And failing to complete already successful wells and bring them into production is downright foolish since the costs incurred in drilling the wells including future debt payments remain. In those circumstances, some revenue at lower prices is preferable to no revenue at all.
Having said all that, scaled-down drilling plans, when combined with what's left in drillers' immediate inventory both to drill and complete, may not be enough to overcome the prodigious production decline rates from existing wells in deep shale deposits of oil and gas which have provided almost all the recent growth in U.S. production. The decline rates are 60 to 91 over three years for tight oil plays and 74 to 88 percent over three years for shale natural gas plays.
If low prices continue for a second year, the cheers for "Saudi" America will disappear. It was never to be anyway. What America has left is high-cost oil and natural gas. And, even at high prices both were likely to peak and decline in the next 5 years. Now, low prices may bring peak production rates in the coming year for both U.S. oil and natural gas--peaks that may never be seen again.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Peak Shale Oil Production in 2015?
Kurt Cobb considers potential surprises in the energy industry in the coming year: