Over the last five years, Americans have enjoyed consistently low oil and gas prices thanks to a massive uptick in the production of oil and gas produced from shale in the U.S. This industry growth has enabled the country to play an increasingly important role in global and domestic energy markets. But how long will these low prices and high productivity levels last? The answer is of great importance for matters like the economy and national security – not to mention the price you pay for gas.
If you look at our current production levels, you might think the good times will last for quite a while. The U.S. is now considered by some to be the world’s “swing producer” of shale oil and gas. In North Dakota’s Williston tight oil basin, crude oil production grew from 98,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 1,174,000 barrels a day in 2015. As a result, the U.S. power sector has drastically increased its reliance on domestically produced natural gas, especially from shale.
A lot of credit for this industry growth is going to technology. Many people say that the technology used to get the resources out of the rock – and the subsequent technology developments – are to thank for the gains we’ve seen in well productivity. But how much can we really link to technology versus the location of the wells?
Looking at this question in a recent study, we found that the oil and gas business is just like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. Where you drill matters, but in the shale business it matters even more.
We looked at data from the Williston Basin during a 42-month period starting in 2012 to quantify the extent to which improvements in well productivity have been associated with technology as opposed to changes in development location. Using five different regression models, we found that the impact on technology on well productivity is greatly over-estimated. In fact, our study showed that the portion of improvement that came from technology is over-estimated by about 50%. This means that a great deal of the time, the operator was just drilling in the right spots.
Producing two-million barrels of crude oil per day, Nigeria has approximately 38 billion barrels of crude oil and 188 trillion standard cubic feet of natural gas in reserve. Despite its abundance of natural and human resources — and its position as the largest crude oil producer in Africa — the country suffers from a persistent fuel shortage, with most Nigerians lacking adequate electricity. Clearly, the current industry model is not working in Nigeria. In the last 7 years, Nigeria has spent N4.7 trillion on petroleum products importation and subsidy payment.
I came to the MIT Sloan Fellows Program to find a solution. I am convinced that Nigeria has the capacity to become a leader in making liquid energy accessible and affordable to Africans. To enable such radical transformation, we need to make major policy, financial and operational changes.
The first step to finding a solution is identifying the cause of the current problems. Three main issues are prevalent in Nigeria: dysfunctional refineries, dependence on imported products and government regulation, and pipeline vandalism and distribution challenges.
The crash in the price of oil — from $108 a barrel in June 2014 to below $27 earlier this year — has rattled the stock market, triggered layoffs across the energy sector, and plunged many oil producing countries into crisis.
Oil has since rebounded significantly from its lows, to above $40 a barrel, but the price plunge since 2014 has put much pressure on oil companies. Reports have pointed to an increase in debt among oil producers, raising the specter of default on bankruptcy and default on debt, withfollow-on effects beyond oil producers.
Looking at the numbers, the mortgage-debt crisis dwarfs what is currently happening in oil. According to a report in the Financial Times, the global oil and gas industry’s debts rose to $3 trillion from $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2014. Compare that to the $10 trillion of housing debt weighing on Americans in 2008.
Opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline warn of its potentially catastrophic consequences. Building it, climate scientist James Hansen says, would mean “game over” for the climate.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman hopes that, if it’s given a green light, “Bill McKibben and his 350.org coalition go crazy.” And he means “chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy.”
Are they all just crying wolf and using Keystone XL as a proxy battle against oil?
I hope so, because the economics behind laying a pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast would make it difficult for the pipeline to have any effect on greenhouse-gas emissions. I trust that if opponents dug a little deeper into the issues and the market for oil, they would agree — at least privately.
Three things would need to be true for Keystone to lead to more emissions. Otherwise, the pipeline could actually reduce them. Read More »
The price of oil has fallen nearly 60% since peaking in June, and lately there’s been a lot of ink and pixels devoted to the question of whether oil prices will plunge even further or whether they will shoot right back up. An even bigger issue is whether prices will stay at these very low levels.
While I doubt oil prices will fall much more — how much further could they reasonably tumble? Perhaps another $20 or so? — history suggests we can expect prices to remain low for the foreseeable future. What’s playing out right now in the oil market is likely the same supply-demand dynamic we’ve seen over and over: several years of extremely high oil prices followed by decades of low prices. The twin oil shocks of the 1970s, for instance, resulted in 20 to 25 years of low prices.
Of course, things are different today — but not that much different. Over the past six or seven years, oil has been relatively expensive, often trading at over $100 a barrel. During that time, both the supply and demand sides of the equation have responded.