U.S. shale was thought to be the most competitive source of oil out there, and indeed the industry appears to be ramping up production at today’s prices. Shale had adapted to a $50 per barrel market, producers had streamlined operations to make them almost resemble an assembly line, and in a volatile and unpredictable market, the short-cycle nature of shale drilling made it one of the least risky options for drillers.
But in just a few weeks’ time, investors are starting to ask major questions about the viability of shale drilling at such a large scale.
A couple of notable things have occurred in the past month or so. Pioneer Natural Resources, a top Permian producer, raised concerns when it told investors that its Permian shale wells were coming up with a higher natural gas-to-oil ratio than expected, a potentially worrying sign. The company also reported that it had trouble with some of its wells, forcing it to delay some completions.
Separately, Goldman Sachs reported that top investors are souring on U.S. shale E&Ps, with poor performances leading investors to search for ways to “reallocate capital” elsewhere in the energy space. That is big red flag for the shale industry, which is still struggling to consistently post profits despite the highly-touted cost reductions over the past few years.
For consumers, the big benefit to shale is that under current conditions it effectively caps oil at a price which feels great at the pump and feels terrible in Riyadh and Moscow.
For producers, however, things are a little more complicated.