On March 9, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) decided to delay release of its monthly Short-Term Energy Outlook. It had to—the world its data depicted had gone to hell.

A sharply different forecast appeared two days later. The price of WTI, which in January was expected to average $64/bbl for the year, would average $43/bbl in 2020, the EIA said. Others would chime in later in the month. Barclays Plc predicted $28/bbl for WTI; Dutch bank ING saw $20/bbl for global benchmark Brent.

The collapse of OPEC+ on March 6 aimed a battering ram at crude oil markets. On March 9, it struck fiercely, tearing away 24.6% of WTI’s price. It struck again on March 16 (10.5%) and again on March 18 (24.4%).

The oil and gas industry has always embraced its roller coaster existence. Boom-and-bust is part of the lore, part of the drama and, for those who can outlast the bust to soar with the boom, part of the fun. But this downcycle is not akin to 2016, 2008, 1991 or 1973. It is fueled by fear of an invisible killer, stoked by a market conflict by foreign antagonists. This time is different, out of control, perhaps harsher, and many E&Ps will be unable to survive.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff go on in the oil market in the past 35, 36 years that I’ve been following it, and I’ve seen a lot of things happen in the global economy, and I’ve never seen anything remotely like this, to the degree of uncertainty like this,” Craig Pirrong, professor of finance at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, told Investor. “That’s what really sets this episode apart from some of the grim episodes that we’ve experienced in the past.”

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