Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs
Comment of the Day

February 27 2014

Commentary by David Fuller

Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs

Here is the opening to this somewhat pessimistic article from Bloomberg:

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The path toward U.S. energy independence, made possible by a boom in shale oil, will be much harder than it seems.

Just a few of the roadblocks: Independent producers will spend $1.50 drilling this year for every dollar they get back.

Shale output drops faster than production from conventional methods. It will take 2,500 new wells a year just to sustain output of 1 million barrels a day in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

Iraq could do the same with 60.

Consider Sanchez Energy Corp. The Houston-based company plans to spend as much as $600 million this year, almost double its estimated 2013 revenue, on the Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas, which along with North Dakota is one of the hotbeds of a drilling frenzy that’s pushed U.S. crude output to the highest in almost 26 years. Its Sante North 1H oil well pumped five times more water than crude, Sanchez Energy said in a Feb.

17 regulatory filing. Shares sank 7 percent.

 “We are beginning to live in a different world where getting more oil takes more energy, more effort and will be more expensive,” said Tad Patzek, chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

Drillers are pushing to maintain the pace of the unprecedented 39 percent gain in U.S. oil production since the end of 2011. Yet achieving U.S. energy self-sufficiency depends on easy credit and oil prices high enough to cover well costs.

Even with crude above $100 a barrel, shale producers are spending money faster than they make it.

David Fuller's view

Here is the full report.

Veteran subscribers will be familiar with most aspects of the technical challenges of fracking.  It is a comparatively young, technologically advanced industry, and the fast depletion rate for each well occurs because the oil and gas is in variable shale rock structures rather than pools. 

Fracking technology is improving but it will obviously never match the efficiency of drilling a conventional well in Saudi Arabia or any other region where conventional supplies are abundant.  However, that is a moot point for countries that wish to reduce their dependence on oil and gas imports.  Shale resources are far more prevalent within countries than commercial pools of underground or accessible offshore oil and gas.  While oil and gas prices are sufficiently high to make fracking in areas of low population density commercial, it makes sense to extract this valuable resource. 

Competitive energy prices will be a key factor in the economic performance, standard of living and long-term prosperity of developed countries.

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