As pipelines out of the largest U.S. oil field reach capacity in the coming months, further depressing West Texas crude prices, smaller producers will have to slow or shut-in production, according to oil executives.
Soaring production in U.S. shale fields has driven output to a record 10.47 million barrels per day (bbl/d) this year and any cutbacks would hurt companies recovering from 2014's crude-price drop.
Oil in Midland, Texas, now sells for about $6 a barrel less than the U.S. benchmark, compared with $1.50 less in January. It was $13 under the U.S. benchmark in May.
Halcón Resources Corp. (NYSE: HK) this week said it would remove a drilling rig in the Permian Basin next month because of "lower near-term realized oil prices in the Midland market," referring to the regional price.
Operators who lack guaranteed space on existing pipelines to the U.S. Gulf Coast would be forced to curtail production if the Midland price falls $10 to $47, said Steven Pruett, CEO of Midland producer Elevation Resources LLC. "People aren't going to be excited about running rigs if they can't move their crude oil," Pruett said.
Pipelines could begin rejecting new crude customers as early as next quarter, said Ryan Smith, director of research at consultancy East Daley Capital.
The Permian now produces about 3.27 million bbl/d. Takeaway capacity reached 3.3 million bbl/d in June, according to Genscape.
Scott Sheffield, chairman of shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (NYSE: PXD), said this week that overall Permian output could flatten in the 12-month period ending September 2019, when proposed pipelines are completed.
"A lot of independents will have to actually shut in production in the Permian to make room for our growth," Sheffield said, referring to Pioneer and other companies with guaranteed pipeline space.
The number of active drilling rigs in the Permian last week fell by four to 476, and another measure of activity—the number of hydraulic fracturing fleets—fell to 190 last week from 192, according to researcher Primary Vision.
"We think the number of completions in the basin does need to come down," said Colin Davies, an analyst at Bernstein.
Discovery Operating, a small oil company in Midland, currently plans to send a drilling rig into the Midland Basin, but if regional oil prices fall below $55 a barrel, the company will put the move on hold, said Jeff Sparks, Discovery's COO.
"If we're in the middle of drilling, we might end up with some uncompleted wells," he said.
PetroRock LLC retained TenOaks Energy Advisors for the sale of certain operated properties in the Cat Canyon oil field in the Santa Maria Basin in California’s Santa Barbara County.
Delta CO2 LLC retained the Oil & Gas Asset Clearinghouse LLC to market for sale its operating working interest in the Northern Shelf of the Permian Basin in Gaines and Yoakum counties, Texas.
Here’s a snapshot of recent energy deals including EQT’s nearly $3 billion expansion in the Marcellus plus over $1 billion worth of transactions announced by Laredo Petroleum and Bonanza Creek’s merger with Extraction Oil & Gas.