by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
How long can the U.S. shale boom keep going?
It’s not a boom as much as a renaissance. We have new technology, horizontal drilling, that has been applied in this country. We’re going to see there’s a lot of these rocks that we’ve identified as source rocks—much like the Bakken and the Eagle Ford and the Barnett and Marcellus—we’ll see these rocks delineated and harvested over the next 50 years. So it’s not a boom that’ll go up and then fall back quickly. It’s going to be here a long time. If you look back to 1973, when the embargo happened, the U.S. was producing about 11 million barrels of crude oil per day, 10.95 to be exact. Today we’re at 9 million barrels of crude oil and about 2.5 million barrels of natural gas liquid, so it brings us right back to where we were in 1973.
In July, Goldman Sachs (GS) estimated that U.S. shale producers need about $85 a barrel to break even. With prices falling below that recently, is there a risk of producing so much oil that it’s no longer worth drilling?
We’re certainly not there yet. Goldman also went on to say that as prices go lower, people use more. So that’s going to happen as well. You’ll see consumption go up. We could expect demand growth here in the U.S. of about 500,000 barrels a day with these lower prices at $85 a barrel.
Given the extra expense of horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing, can you survive in that kind of market?
We’ve estimated where our break-even point is. I don’t like to talk about it a lot because, you know, let’s don’t get panicky, but we’ve got numbers out there about where Continental (CLR) would break even. It varies by operator, but in the Bakken we’ve done the homework before and it’s $50 a barrel. I don’t think we’re close to that, and I don’t think we’re going to be close to that. Certainly at $85 we’re not laying our rigs down. We’re importing a lot of oil here to the U.S. yet, so we’re not oversupplying our market.
Do you think it’s possible to do away with importing foreign crude?
We need trade partners, but we should be able to export our oil, too. We’re exporting 4 million barrels a day of refined products. These are the products that everybody uses—gasoline, diesel, jet fuel—yet we have a ban on crude oil exports. You don’t see any crude-oil-burner jet airplanes flying around. We’re exporting exactly what the consumer uses, [refined oil].
Is there a risk for the industry that Wall Street will decide the returns aren’t there anymore and start withdrawing money?
Markets react. They react at bad times; they react at good times. That’s why they call them the markets. Stocks go up; stocks go down. Bottom was reached in oil price, and it’s quickly recovering.