(Reuters) For leading U.S. shale oil producers, $40 is the new $70.
Less than a year ago major shale firms were saying they needed oil above $60 a barrel to produce more; now some say they will settle for far less in deciding whether to crank up output after the worst oil price crash in a generation.
Their latest comments highlight the industry’s remarkable resilience, but also serve as a warning to rivals and traders: a retreat in U.S. oil production that would help ease global oversupply and let prices recover may prove shorter than some may have expected.
Continental Resources Inc ( CLR.N ), led by billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm, is prepared to increase capital spending if U.S. crude CLc1 reaches the low- to mid-$40s range, allowing it to boost 2017 production by more than 10 percent, chief financial official John Hart said last week.
Rival Whiting Petroleum Corp ( WLL.N ), the biggest producer in North Dakota’s Bakken formation, will stop fracking new wells by the end of March, but would “consider completing some of these wells” if oil reached $40 to $45 a barrel, Chairman and CEO Jim Volker told analysts. Less than a year ago, when the company was still in spending mode, Volker said it might deploy more rigs if U.S. crude hit $70.
While the comments were couched with caution, they serve as a reminder of how a dramatic decline in costs and rapid efficiency gains have turned U.S. shale, initially seen by rivals as a marginal, high cost sector, into a major player – and a thorn in the side of big OPEC producers.
Nimble shale drillers are now helping mitigate the nearly 70-percent slide crude price rout by cutting back output, but may also limit any rally by quickly turning up the spigots once prices start recovering from current levels just above $30.
The threat of a shale rebound is “putting a cap on oil prices,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC. “If there’s some […]