A new study has cast serious doubt on whether the much-ballyhooed U.S. shale oil and gas revolution has long-term staying power.
The U.S. produced 8.5 million barrels of oil per day in July of this year — 60 percent more than just three years earlier. That is also the highest rate of production in three decades.
Put another way, since 2011, the U.S. has added 3 million barrels per day in additional capacity to global supplies. Had that volume not come online, oil prices would surely be much higher than they currently are.
That has “revolutionized” the energy industry and geopolitics, as scores of energy analysts have claimed. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that U.S. oil production will hit 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, and gradually decline to 7.5 million bpd by 2040.
This would allow the U.S. to be one of the world’s top oil producers for an extended period of time. With such an achievement now at hand, many analysts are predicting an era of American dominance in geopolitics. For example, in an op-ed on Oct. 20, columnist Joe Nocera considered a “world without OPEC,” in which U.S. oil production soon kills off the oil cartel.
Or consider this rather triumphalist piece in Foreign Affairs from earlier this year, where two former National Security Council members who worked under President George W. Bush boasted that the recent surge in oil production “should help put to rest declinist thinking” and “sharpen the instruments of U.S. statecraft.” In the following issue, Ed Morse of Citibank went further. “Despite its doubters and haters, the shale revolution in oil and gas production is here to stay,” he declared.
But a new report throws cold water on the thinking that U.S. shale production will be around for the long haul. The Post Carbon Institute conducted an analysis of the top seven oil and top seven natural gas plays, which together account for 89 percent of current shale oil production and 88 percent of shale gas production.
The report found that both shale oil and shale gas production will peak before 2020. More importantly, the report’s author, David Hughes, says oil production will decline much more quickly than the EIA has predicted.
That’s largely because of high decline rates at shale wells across the country. Unlike conventional wells, which can produce relatively stable rates for a long period of time, shale oil and gas wells experience an initial burst of production in the first few years, followed by a precipitous decline thereafter.
Hughes estimates that the average shale oil well declines at a rate of between 60 and 91 percent over three years. Wells in the Bakken decline by 45 percent per year, which stands in stark contrast to the 5 percent annual decline for an average conventional well.
Or put another way, oil and gas companies will have to keep drilling at a feverish pace just to stand still. This means the industry is on a “drilling treadmill” that will be unsustainable over the long-term.
Predicting what oil production will be in 25 years is difficult, to say the least, but the Post Carbon report projects that oil production from the Bakken and Eagle Ford will be just one-tenth of the level that EIA is forecasting. The EIA predicts that the Bakken and the Eagle Ford will be producing a combined 1 million bpd in 2040. Hughes thinks it will be just a small fraction of that amount – a mere 73,000 bpd.
This is not the first time that David Hughes has taken aim at EIA data. In a December 2013 report, he skewered the high estimates for the potential of the Monterrey Shale in California, calling the EIA’s numbers “simplistic and highly overstated.” Several months later, the EIA was forced to back track on its figures, downgrading the recoverable oil estimates in the Monterrey by 96 percent.
Hughes says the implications of getting it wrong are “profound,” since so many companies are basing very large investments on incorrect projections. He says rosy estimates have cut into investment for renewables, while steering capital towards expensive oil and gas export terminals that should now be called into question.
An article in CleanTechnica points to the possibility of boom towns turning into “ghost towns” if the pace of drilling drops off. If David Hughes and The Post Carbon Institute are correct, there could be quite a few ghost towns popping up in the coming years as the shale revolution begins to fizzle.
Source and Full Report Here
US oil production grew more in 2012 than in any year in the history of the domestic oil industry back to the Civil War
From Saturday’s WSJ:
U.S. oil production grew more in 2012 than in any year in the history of the domestic industry, which began in 1859, and is set to surge even more in 2013. Daily crude output averaged 6.4 million barrels a day last year, up a record 779,000 barrels a day from 2011 and hitting a 15-year high, according to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a trade group. It is the biggest annual jump in production since Edwin Drake drilled the first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pa., two years before the Civil War began (see chart above).
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts 2013 will be an even bigger year, with average daily production expected to jump by 900,000 barrels a day. The surge comes thanks to a relatively recent combination of technologies—horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressures to break apart underground rock formations.
Together, they have unlocked deposits of oil and gas trapped in formations previously thought to be unreachable.
That has meant a resurgence of activity in well-established oil regions, such as West Texas’s Permian basin, as well as huge expansions in areas that had been lightly tapped in the past, such as North Dakota’s Bakken shale region. The Bakken has gone from producing just 125,000 barrels of oil a day five years ago to nearly 750,000 barrels a day today.
The benefits of the surge in domestic energy production include improving employment in some regions and a rebound in U.S.-based manufacturing.
MP: Actually, the API’s estimate of a 779,000 barrel per day (bpd) increase in domestic oil last year is pretty conservative compared to year-end comparisons of EIA data for weekly US oil production. Compared to oil output at the end of 2011 (5.846 million bpd), US oil production increased by 1.139 million bpd last year to almost 7 million bpd during the last week of December 2012. Alternatively, using the EIA’s four-week production averages show an increase of 1.063 million bpd from December of 2011 to December 2012. The reason that the yearend comparison shows a much higher annual increase in US oil production (about 1 million bpd vs. 779,000 bpd) is that domestic oil production accelerated during the second of last year – crude oil output increased 14.6% during the second half of 2012 compared to the 4.2% increase during the first six months.
The record increase in oil output last year reminds us the US oil and gas industry continues to be at the forefront of the otherwise sub-par economic recovery, and without that sector’s strong growth in output and jobs, the economy’s sub-par performance would be even more lackluster. The 1 million bpd increase in domestic oil production last year has delivered a powerful energy-based economic stimulus to the economy, creating thousands of new direct, shovel-ready jobs in oil and gas activities, and igniting many spinoff business and indirect jobs throughout the oil and gas supply chain like the “oil-by-rail shipping boom.” The future of the US economy over the next few years looks a lot brighter because of America’s surging domestic energy production.
- US oil production grew more in 2012 than in any year in the history of the domestic oil industry back to the Civil War (aei-ideas.org)
- Energy facts of the week: oil production highest since 1994, oil imports lowest since 1992, and oil jobs highest since 1988 (aei-ideas.org)
- Eagle Ford Shale helps boost U.S. oil production to 15-year high (transwestern-sa.typepad.com)
- Oil Industry Beats Buffett in Railroad Investments Surge: Energy (bloomberg.com)