David Fuller's view -
Oil prices have plunged to the lowest level this year as US shale producers boost output at an astonishing pace and crude inventories keep rising, triggering a wave of selling by hedge funds with record speculative positions.
The US surge threatens to neutralise cuts agreed by the OPEC cartel and a Russia-led group of producers last November, potentially delaying a full recovery of the market until 2018 or even later.
Texas light crude fell $48.90 a barrel on Thursday after yet another surprise jump in US stocks. Prices have slid 8pc in three days and have broken through key levels of technical support, dousing enthusiasm for commodities across the board.
America's shale frackers have slashed cost so far that they can now produce large volumes at a break-even price of $35 or lower in the prolific Permian Basin, the twelve-layered 'crown jewel' of West Texas, where land auctions have reached $60,000 an acre in core zones.
Continental's legendary wild-catter Harold Hamm said drilling is coming back so fast, and on such a large scale, that it threatens to overwhelm the global industry. "We are on something of an equal basis today with OPEC. We need to be careful not to overproduce. It has to be done in a measured way or else we’ll kill the market," he said at the CERAWeek energy forum of IHS Markit in Houston.
The US rig count has almost doubled to 756 since touching bottom last May. The productivity per rig has soared as longer lateral drills, "geological steering", and precision "clustering" triple extraction rates in some sweet spots. The decline rate of the wells has dropped from 65pc to 35pc a year since 2013.
“The consequence has now become alarmingly visible. US crude oil production is growing. And it is growing strongly," said Bjarne Schieldrop from SEB.
Raghdaa Hasan from Statoil said US producers have restored almost all the losses of the slump in just four months, lifting production by over 500,000 b/d. "US shale has proved itself really resilient. They are able to pour significant output into the global system," she said at CERAWeek.
The shale rebound has combined with events in the Middle East to seriously rattle the day-to-day oil markets. The Iraq's oil minister, Jabbar Ali Al-Luiebi, stunned traders with predictions at CERAWeek that his country would lift output by almost a million barrels a day (b/d) to 5m in the second half of this year.
Such an expansion would further flood the global market before it has come close to rebalancing. It is matched by similar rhetoric from Libya, which has already doubled output to 700,000 over recent months and is ultimately eyeing 2.2m b/d.
It had been assumed that the Saudis would do whatever it takes to push oil back up to a band of $60 to $70 in order to smooth the way for a $100bn part-privatisation of the state oil giant Aramco next year, the biggest public offering ever. This is no longer so certain.
Patrick Pouyanné, chairman of the French group Total, said OPEC is going to have to bite the bullet and accept much longer cuts. "The fact is, we still have build-ups in U.S. inventories. If OPEC wants to rebalance the market, then they'll have to extend the agreement. It will take a year to 18 months to really have an impact on inventories," he said in Houston.
OPEC’s fragile agreement to cut supplies has fallen apart well before its official review date in June. Short covering and some speculative buying pushed the price of Crude Oil (weekly & daily) temporarily into a range either side of $55 for three months.
However, Russia never delivered its agreed supply cuts. Now everyone in OPEC will increase supplies while prices remain above $40. US shale producers in the Permian Basin, which have never been part of OPEC, are in the strongest position. They can ramp up production very quickly when prices are firm, as we have seen in recent months. Even more importantly, they can reduce output very quickly, when prices are less attractive, while preparing additional wells for the next price rise.
Most oil producers were overly dependent on $100 plus prices which we may never see again. Those with large populations face a rough time, burning through reserves and facing huge declines in their standard of living.
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