The collapse of oil prices late last year, along with pressure from shareholders, has led to a slowdown in the U.S. shale industry.
The EIA released new monthly data on March 29, which revealed a decline in output of about 90,000 bpd between December and January, evidence that shale drillers slammed on the breaks after oil prices fell off a cliff in the fourth quarter. The 90,000-bpd decline came after a rather meager 35,000-bpd increase the month before, which was the weakest increase in months.
But the U.S. shale industry is facing more headwinds than just a temporary dip in oil prices. Shareholders have run out of patience with unprofitable drilling, and are demanding returns, which is tightening the screws on less competitive companies and forcing spending cutbacks across the board. More worrying for the industry is a growing recognition of the “parent-child” well problem – the unexpected poor performance of subsequent wells drilled in close proximity to the original “parent” well.
These obstacles are beginning to pile up. Schlumberger and Halliburton, the two top oilfield services companies, have predicted that shale drillers will be forced to collectively cut spending by more than 10 percent this year.
The slowdown could put some bullish pressure on the oil market, already suffering from outages in Venezuela, Iran and coordinated cuts from OPEC+. While U.S. inventories rose unexpectedly last week, much of the increase can be chalked up to turmoil in the Houston Ship Channel following a major fire at a petrochemical facility.
Indeed, some analysts see significant stock declines in the next few weeks. “The most visible inventory levels in the world…will fall victim to a potent mix of Venezuelan supply disruptions, a Houston Ship Channel chemical spill, and an uptick in refining runs,” Barclays wrote in a note on March 29. The investment bank sees WTI rising to an average of $65 per barrel this year.