Navigating The Collapsing Oil Market

To the list of previously inconceivable events, add Texas oil drillers asking for their regulator to impose production curbs. Pioneer Natural Resources (PXD) and Parsley Energy (PE) filed a request with the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) to hold a hearing on the state’s oil and gas production. It’s over 40 years since they last considered such a move.

The U.S. energy industry has been hit with a 1-2-3 punch – coronavirus demand destruction; collapse of OPEC+ limits on output; Saudi Arabia’s launching a price war while increasing exports.


Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) described a call between nine U.S. senators and the Saudi ambassador complaining about “economic warfare”. The Saudis blame Russia. “The Saudis are hoping to drive out of business American producers, and in particular shale producers, largely in the Permian Basin in Texas and in North Dakota,” Cruz told CNBC. “That behavior is wrong, and I think it is taking advantage of a country that is a friend.”

The petition to the RRC from PXD and PE included recent presentations from two energy consulting firms that paint a dire picture.

IHS Markit is forecasting a drop in global demand for crude oil of 14.2 Million Barrels per Day (MMB/D), and a 7.2 MMB/D drop for the year. This is far more than the drop during the 2008 financial crisis. The combination of collapsing demand and rising supply is filling up available global storage capacity, which is estimated at 1.3-1.6 billion barrels, assuming the excess oil can be moved there. The 1H20 forecast crude surplus of 1.8 billion barrels will use this all up.


Producers around the globe are already shutting in production, which can cause permanent damage to a reservoir depending on its structure. Shale oil production is easily curtailed through sharp decline rates by simply reducing the number of new wells drilled and completed. Once producing, a shale well’s operating costs are very low. Lifting costs (meaning the cost to produce after the well has been drilled) are just $3-5 per barrel. So this type of production is unlikely to be shut-in. New wells drilled will drop sharply, causing U.S. shale output to fall mostly through curtailed drilling of new wells and the normal fast decline rates for existing wells. The breakdown of OPEC+ has made many other producing regions in the world unprofitable.  Even Russia may need to start shutting-in production as spot prices drop below $15 a barrel.

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