“Higher prices and operational improvements are putting the US shale sector on track to achieve positive free cash flow in 2018 for the first time ever,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) wrote in a recent report on energy investment. For years, drilling in the shale patch was like running on a treadmill. The precipitous decline in production from shale – the average shale well produces about 80 percent of its oil in the first two years of operation – meant that companies had to keep drilling new wells just to keep production flat. The cash used from one well was injected back into the ground to produce from a new well. Ultimately, shareholders forgave the lack of profits in the hopes that continuous growth would one day lead to juicy returns. The growth-at-all-costs model convinced Wall Street for a while, and money poured into the sector. Triple-digit oil prices […]