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As U.S. shale drillers suffer, even the bankrupt keep pumping oil

By on 1 Apr 2016 in news, notable posts

A pump jack stands idle in Dewitt County, Texas January 13, 2016.   REUTERS/Anna Driver

(Reuters) A pump jack stands idle in Dewitt County, Texas January 13, 2016. As oil prices nosedived by two-thirds since 2014, a belief took hold in global energy markets that for prices to recover, many U.S. shale producers would first have to falter to allow markets to rebalance.

With U.S. oil prices now trading below $40 a barrel, the corporate casualties are already mounting. More than 50 North American oil and gas producers have entered bankruptcy since early 2015, according to a Reuters review of regulatory filings and other data. While those firms account for only about 1 percent of U.S. output, based on the analysis, that count is expected to rise. Consultant Deloitte says a third of shale producers face bankruptcy risks this year.

But a Reuters analysis has found that bankruptcies are so far having little effect on U.S. oil production, and a tendency among distressed drillers to keep their oil wells gushing belies the notion that deepening financial distress will prompt a sudden output decline or oil price rebound.

Texas-based Magnum Hunter Resources, the second-largest producer among publicly-traded companies that have filed for bankruptcy, is a case in point.

It filed for creditor protection last December, but even as the debt-laden driller scrambled to avoid that outcome, its oil and gas production rose by nearly a third between mid-2014 and late 2015, filings show.

Once in Chapter 11, its CEO Gary Evans said the bankruptcy, which injected new funds to ensure it would stay operational, could help to “position Magnum Hunter as a market leader.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment for this story. However, John Castellano, a restructuring specialist at Alix Partners, said that all of the nearly 3,000 wells in which Magnum Hunter owns stakes have continued operations during its bankruptcy.

Production figures can be hard to track post-bankruptcy, but restructuring specialists say that many bankrupt drillers keep pumping oil at full tilt. Their creditors see that as the best way to recover some of what they are owed. And as many bankrupt firms seek to sell assets, operating wells are valued more than idled ones.

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  1. Conrad Maher says:

    Wells being pumped do not gush nor flow. They produce oil by means of a pump on the end of rods connected from the surface to the pump. There could also be some electrical submersible pumps, but most of the wells produce at too low rates to warrant such expensive completions and operations. Gushing and blowouts are for the movies except for BP operations.

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