Don’t panic! Oil price outlook improves as US shale faces headwinds in 2018

Workers hired by US oil and gas company Apache Corp. drill a horizontal well in the Wolfcamp Shale in west Texas Permian Basin near the town of Mertzon. The US shale sector may not proveas much of a threat to Gulf oil producers as previously feared according to energy analysts. (Reuters)
Updated 26 December 2017
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Don’t panic! Oil price outlook improves as US shale faces headwinds in 2018

LONDON: Arab News has been told that 2018 is unlikely to see a massive ramp-up in US shale production that could potentially wreck attempts by Russia, Saudi Arabia and other producers to stabilize oil prices and shrink surplus inventories.
Speaking from Denver, Colorado, senior Wood Mackenzie energy analyst Ryan Duman said there were “headwinds” for the US shale industry which would hold back production next year, reducing the danger that the oil price would head south again.
Duman said: “US shale operators who don’t have rigs or crews under contract are going to have to pay dearly because the oil services industry is overstretched right now.”
That’s because it pared back considerably during the slump — building it up again is going to take time, he said.
There were plenty of wells, but the big question was how quickly can they come on line.
“One of the things we are looking for in 2018 is the rate of completions, whether they start to catch up to the rate of drilling. And then, how fast can the oil get to market.”
He added: “What we need to see is a massive rehiring to make up for the labor that was let go during the bad times, and operators need more equipment, such as pressure pumping and other assets, in order to push forward with hydraulic fracturing — in other words, the completion stage — which comes after the rigs have dug the wells.”
There were also infrastructure challenges in terms of transporting shale oil to refiners, some of which don’t process that type of crude.
Asked if he thought the US could overtake Saudi Arabia to become the world’s second-largest producer after Russia, Duman thought this was years away, “although I am not saying it won’t happen.”
The way he saw it, the obstacles for US shale currently were the following: Not having ample takeaway capacity — that is, pipelines and other equipment, essential to get crude to market; and a dearth of workers, both skilled and unskilled who were laid off three years ago.
Duman said: “We have seen rigs added back quickly this year, but operators can’t get the crude to customers fast enough — which has implications for costs.”
The outlook for 2019 was a different matter, as long as the oil price stayed between $60 and $65 — because at those prices the shale operators were in the money, he said.
“I think 2018 could be about hiring and rebuilding the sector that has been neglected in recent years. After that, a very strong production year in 2019.
One important factor was that technological improvements and efficiencies would gradually make the shale industry more profitable.
Operators today are able to drill and complete wells much faster than before thanks to developments in predictive analytics or big data — all of which propel optimization.
In the Permian Basin (the region of Texas and New Mexico at the center of the shale revolution), Goldman Sachs estimates that wells have become 50 percent more productive over the past two years.
And shale companies have locked in higher oil prices when they occur by turning to hedging contracts. More and more oil companies are using hedges to give them certainty.
“But the other part of it is the sheer learning curve … shale is still in its infancy if you think about how young the industry is compared with Big Oil,” said Duman.
But will huge quantities of US shale be cascading into the market next year?
Duman doesn’t think so — “We have growth rates almost equivalent for 2017 and 2018 at about 850,000-900,000 bpd.”
His overall analysis was echoed by BP CEO Bob Dudley who told the Financial Times that traditional producers such as Saudi Arabia would continue to exert more influence over crude prices.
Dudley said he was less worried these days about the extent to which US shale resources could hold down prices as more was learned about their geology. 
He told the FT: “There are cracks appearing in the model of the Permian being one single, perfect oilfield.”
He warned of emerging technical challenges, and called into question the ability of shale companies to rival conventional producers over the long term. 
Dudley was outspoken on another matter. While acknowledging that oil faced long-term competition from electric vehicles, he claimed the technology had been “hyped” and that environmental problems surrounding the mining and disposal of materials used in lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles had been underestimated.
On the issue of shale, however, the International Energy Agency (IEA) sees things differently to Wood Mackenzie, and — as we’ll see — OPEC as well.
In a report this month, IEA said the recovery in oil prices this year to about $63 per barrel had spurred growth in US tight oil output (which includes crude, condensates and natural gas liquids, which the IEA said would cause global supplies to exceed demand in the first half of 2018.
It added US oil output until 2025 will be the strongest seen by any country in the history of crude markets, making it the “undisputed” leader among global producers. “Technological advances that have enabled production from US shale oilfields to thrive will lead to growth of 8 million barrels a day between 2010 and 2025, surpassing expansion rates enjoyed by any other nation,” said IEA executive director, Fatih Birol.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Birol said the US would become the undisputed global oil and gas leader for decades to come and is expected to account for 80 percent of the increase in global supply over the same period.
US tight oil production will rise to 13 million bpd by 2025, out of total US output of 16.9 million bpd.
“The growth in production is unprecedented, exceeding all historical records, even Saudi Arabia after production from the mega Ghawar field or Soviet gas production from the super Siberian fields,” Birol said.
Moreover, if oil did settle at $60, we should expect a ramp up in US production which would stop inventories coming down, according to Birol. OPEC’s views are different still. At a recent forum in London, secretary general Mohammed Barkindo said the global oil market was tightening at an “accelerating pace,” and he cited a sharp reduction in worldwide inventories as evidence that last year’s agreement by producers to cut supply was having an effect.
He added: “OPEC stocks in September were about 160 million barrels above the five-year average, down from 340 million in January. There has been a massive drainage of oil tanks across all regions, a balanced oil market was fully in sight,” said Barkindo.
OPEC and other producers want to get stocks down to the five year average in order to remove the glut built up when the price was above $100.
Perhaps, the only thing one can say with any degree of certainty about the oil industry is that there is widespread disagreement about almost everything.
It was always thus.


UAE gives 6,800 investors permanent residency under new ‘Golden Card’ system

Updated 9 min 28 sec ago
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UAE gives 6,800 investors permanent residency under new ‘Golden Card’ system

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday it will grant 6,800 foreign investors permanent residency under a new “Golden Card” system after they invested a combined 100 billion dirhams ($27 billion) in the Gulf state.
Typically, foreigners have renewable visas valid for only a few years, often tied to employment, but the government announced plans last year to ease its visa policy.
“We launched a new ‘Golden Card’ system to grant permanent residency to investors and exceptional doctors, engineers, scientists and artists,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the vice president and prime minister of the UAE, said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“The first batch of 6,800 investors with 100 billion dirhams worth of investments will be granted the ‘Golden Card.’“
In May last year the Gulf Arab state announced plans to grant long-term permits to investors, senior scientists and entrepreneurs, in an effort to support its economy and real estate market, which had been hurt by low oil prices, but had not mentioned the Golden Card.
Economic growth has slowed since a slump in oil prices in 2014 and white-collar professionals are seeing stagnant or even falling employment.
“The permanent residency ‘Golden Card’ will be granted to exceptional talents and everyone who positively contributes to the success story of the UAE,” Sheikh Mohammed said his tweet.
Last year, the UAE cabinet also approved providing renewable 10-year visas to foreigners with investments in the UAE of at least 10 million dirhams, if non-real estate assets account for at least 60 percent of the total. Investors can bring spouses and children into the country.
It also approved five-year residency to owners of UAE real estate worth at least 5 million dirhams.