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Will falling oil prices curb America’s shale boom?

 

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This time some of the pain will be taken by the big integrated energy firms, such as Exxon Mobil and Shell. After a decade of throwing shareholders’ cash at prospects in the Arctic and deep tropical waters to little effect, they began cutting budgets in 2013.

Extracts from an article published by The Economist on 6 December 2014

In a bind

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 21.34.15Abundant oil and gas have been extracted from underground rocks by blasting them with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand—“fracking”, in the jargon.

…the firms responsible embody an all-American formula of maverick engineers, bold entrepreneurs and risk-hungry capital markets that no country can match.

Yet now that oil prices have fallen by almost 40% in six months, these firms’ mettle is being tested. Across America shale-shocked executives will spend Christmas overhauling their strategies to cope with life at $70 per barrel, even as investors dump their firms’ shares and bonds.

Oil-price slumps usually lead to cuts in energy firms’ investments. Production eventually falls, helping prices to stabilise. In 1999, after the Asian crisis, global investment in oil and gas production dropped by 20%. A decade later, after the financial crisis, investment fell by 10%, then recovered.

This time some of the pain will be taken by the big integrated energy firms, such as Exxon Mobil and Shell. After a decade of throwing shareholders’ cash at prospects in the Arctic and deep tropical waters to little effect, they began cutting budgets in 2013. Long-term projects equivalent to about 3% of global output have been deferred or cancelled, says Oswald Clint of Sanford C. Bernstein, a research firm. Most “majors” assume an oil price of $80 when making plans, so deeper cuts are likely.

And if and when prices recover, new wells can be brought on stream in weeks, not years. America’s capital markets will roar back into life, forgiving all previous sins. “There is always a new set of investors,” says the boss of a one of the world’s biggest natural-resources firms. He predicts a shale crash—and a rapid rebound.

FULL ARTICLE

SEE ALSO Cheikhs v shale

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