John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own
U.S. shale producers are falling behind in the Red Queen’s Race as the downturn in drilling means that new oil production is failing offset falling output from existing wells.
The famous race is named after the scene from Lewis Carroll’s novel “Through the Looking-Glass”, in which the Red Queen warns Alice: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast.”
The race is a metaphor for the relationship between increased oil production from newly drilled wells on the one hand and declining output from old wells on the other.
The net result is that the downturn in drilling is threatening to cut output for the first time since the start of the shale revolution.
Other forms of oil production, notably from offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico, will continue to increase in the next few months. But in the shale sector, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has won its battle with U.S. shale producers and forced output growth to a standstill.
By refusing to cut its own output in November and allowing prices to fall sharply, OPEC has attempted to force shale producers to curb their rapidly swelling output.
Production from three of the four largest shale oil plays in the United States will fall next month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says.
April production from the Bakken region is projected to fall by 8,000 barrels per day (bpd) from March. Eagle Ford, meanwhile, is expected to drop by 10,000 bpd and Niobrara by 5,000 bpd, according to the EIA’s “Drilling Productivity Report”, published on Monday.
Only the Permian Basin is expected to achieve continued growth next month, but the projected increase of 21,000 bpd is less than half the 43,000 bpd recorded in December (http://link.reuters.com/qak34w).
Once production from minor plays and gas-producing regions is included, EIA predicts oil output from shale regions will be flat next month.
Drilling is becoming more productive in all areas as producers concentrate on high-yielding acreage and abandon peripheral zones.
Weighted-average new production per well in the four plays is expected to increase almost 10.5 percent from 388 bpd for wells drilled in December to 428 bpd for wells drilled in February.
But the number of new wells drilled across all four fell by 30 percent to 765 over the same period, outstripping any productivity gains.
Wells drilled in December are expected to have added about 423,000 bpd of new oil when they were completed and put into production in February. But wells drilled in February are forecast to add only 328,000 bpd of new oil when they begin production next month.
At the same time, declining output from the stock of legacy wells is expected to worsen from 319,000 bpd in February to 330,000 bpd in April.
December’s wells added a total of 103,000 bpd to net production in February. But February’s new wells will add virtually nothing to net production in April.