Since taking flight in 2008, the American shale oil revolution has probably been the biggest energy story since the end of World War II. U.S. crude oil production has leaped 160 percent to almost 13 million b/d. Shale has transformed global energy markets and obliterated the long-held notion that U.S. crude production peaked in 1970 at 9.7 million b/d.
In fact, thanks to shale, the U.S. has accounted for almost all new global oil production over the past five years. For 2019 alone, the shale industry added some 1.2 million b/d of crude, enough to even cover new global demand.
The emerging question now is whether or not the U.S. shale oil boom is slowing down. In truth, however, the more poignant question is whether or not the industry is just “growing more slowly.” Indeed, these are fundamentally different questions that too often get conflated. Regardless, already accounting for a rising 80 percent of U.S. crude production, without shale there may be no new U.S. supply.
For sure, rapid shale well decline rates mean more drilling, higher debt, and smaller profits. The question of peaking shale though really lies in West Texas’ Permian basin. The Permian is now one of the largest oilfields in the world and accounts for over 35 percent of U.S. crude production. The Permian though has some 3-4 million b/d of new pipeline capacity coming within the next few years, with numerous additional gas pipelines meaning less flaring and more oil.
Further, if oil prices can stick above $65 or $70, U.S. shale would be given the proverbial “shot in the arm” to better its finances. Such low prices in recent years have already forced the industry to slash costs and greatly increase efficiency. Many producers have sharpened their knife so much that they have breakevens in the $40 range.