Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
EIA forecasts that U.S crude oil production will average 9.4 million barrels per day (b/d) in the second half of 2017, 340,000 b/d more than in the first half of 2017. Production in 2018 is expected to average 9.9 million b/d, surpassing the previous high of 9.6 million b/d set in 1970, based on projections in EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).
The STEO projects that most of the crude oil production growth in the second half of 2017 will be in the Permian region, which extends across western Texas and southeastern New Mexico and has become one of the more active drilling regions in the United States. Production in the Permian continues to increase, in part, as a result of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil average monthly prices that have remained higher than $45 per barrel since the second half of 2016.
In the STEO, EIA publishes crude oil production projections for Alaska, the Federal Gulf of Mexico, and the aggregated Lower 48 states. However, each month in the STEO, EIA models oil production for certain states and regions within the Lower 48 states. STEO’s projected U.S. production changes for the second half of 2017 are discussed in more geographic detail in the latest This Week in Petroleum, which includes information on production in the Permian, Niobrara, Anadarko, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Alaska, California, and the Gulf of Mexico.
The STEO forecast is based on recent trends in drilling and production and on anticipated future changes, driven largely by the WTI crude oil price. EIA evaluates past production trends on a well-by-well basis for all production documented since 2014 and uses that history to estimate future well performance and production decline rates at the state and regional levels.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Baker Hughes and Bloomberg, L.P.
In the Lower 48 states, rig counts typically follow changes in the WTI price with an approximate four-month lag. Changes in the number of active rigs lead to changes in production volumes within about two months. Consequently, the STEO oil production forecast is based on the observation that changes in production volumes typically occur about six months after a change in the price of crude oil.
The forecast is also influenced by estimates of cash flow and production costs, which vary by region and over time. In addition, the outlook makes assumptions regarding how the inventory of drilled but uncompleted wells responds to price and how that response affects production at the state and regional levels.
All historical production data in the STEO are benchmarked monthly to EIA’s Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production report and to EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly (PSM) estimates at the state level. The October STEO forecast for oil production is benchmarked to the PSM data for July 2017 that was published at the end of September.
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The Permian is in desperate need of pipelines. That much is true. There is so much shale liquids sloshing underneath the Permian formation in Texas and New Mexico, that even though it has already upended global crude market and turned the USA into the world’s largest crude producer, there is still so much of it trapped inland, unable to make the 800km journey to the Gulf Coast that would take them to the big wider world.
The stakes are high. Even though the US is poised to reach some 12 mmb/d of crude oil production next year – more than half of that coming from shale oil formations – it could be producing a lot more. This has already caused the Brent-WTI spread to widen to a constant US$10/b since mid-2018 – when the Permian’s pipeline bottlenecks first became critical – from an average of US$4/b prior to that. It is even more dramatic in the Permian itself, where crude is selling at a US$10-16/b discount to Houston WTI, with trends pointing to the spread going as wide as US$20/b soon. Estimates suggest that a record 3,722 wells were drilled in the Permian this year but never opened because the oil could not be brought to market. This is part of the reason why the US active rig count hasn’t increased as much as would have been expected when crude prices were trending towards US$80/b – there’s no point in drilling if you can’t sell.
Assistance is on the way. Between now and 2020, estimates suggest that some 2.6 mmb/d of pipeline capacity across several projects will come onstream, with an additional 1 mmb/d in the planning stages. Add this to the existing 3.1 mmb/d of takeaway capacity (and 300,000 b/d of local refining) and Permian shale oil output currently dammed away by a wall of fixed capacity could double in size when freed to make it to market.
And more pipelines keep getting announced. In the last two weeks, Jupiter Energy Group announced a 90-day open season seeking binding commitments for a planned 1 mmb/d, 1050km long Jupiter Pipeline – which could connect the Permian to all three of Texas’ deepwater ports, Houston, Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Plains All American is launching its 500,000 b/d Sunrise Pipeline, connecting the Permian to Cushing, Oklahoma. Wolf Midstream has also launched an open season, seeking interest for its 120,000 b/d Red Wolf Crude Connector branch, connecting to its existing terminal and infrastructure in Colorado City.
Current estimates suggest that Permian output numbered around 3.5 mmb/d in October. At maximum capacity, that’s still about 100,000 b/d of shale oil trapped inland. As planned pipelines come online over the next two years, that trickle could turn into a flood. Consider this. Even at the current maxing out of Permian infrastructure, the US is already on the cusp on 12 mmb/d crude production. By 2021, it could go as high as 15 mmb/d – crude prices, permitting, of course.
As recently reported in the WSJ; “For years, the companies behind the U.S. oil-and-gas boom, including Noble Energy Inc. and Whiting Petroleum Corp. have promised shareholders they have thousands of prospective wells they can drill profitably even at $40 a barrel. Some have even said they can generate returns on investment of 30%. But most shale drillers haven’t made much, if any, money at those prices. From 2012 to 2017, the 30 biggest shale producers lost more than $50 billion. Last year, when oil prices averaged about $50 a barrel, the group as a whole was barely in the black, with profits of about $1.7 billion, or roughly 1.3% of revenue, according to FactSet.”
The immense growth experienced in the Permian has consequences for the entire oil supply chain, from refining balances – shale oil is more suitable for lighter ends like gasoline, but the world is heading for a gasoline glut and is more interested in cracking gasoil for the IMO’s strict marine fuels sulphur levels coming up in 2020 – to geopolitics, by diminishing OPEC’s power and particularly Saudi Arabia’s role as a swing producer. For now, the walls keeping a Permian flood in are still standing. In two years, they won’t, with new pipeline infrastructure in place. And so the oil world has two years to prepare for the coming tsunami, but only if crude prices stay on course.
Recent Announced Permian Pipeline Projects
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 3 December 2018 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$52/b
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