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An Oil-Soaked Globe as Production Keeps Climbing and Demand Falls

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A version of this article appears in print on November 14, 2015, on page B1 of the New York edition

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HOUSTON — Such is the state of the oil industry these days that there is sometimes nowhere to put the oil. Off the coast of Texas, a line of roughly 40 tankers has formed, waiting to unload their crude or, in some cases, for a willing buyer to come along. Similar scenes are playing out off the coasts of Singapore and China and in the Persian Gulf.

There is little sign that the logjam will ease, as the price of oil continued its yearlong plunge this week, declining by nearly $10 a barrel.

The renewed collapse in crude prices is helping to again drive down gasoline prices for American drivers, to a national average of $2.19 a gallon for regular gasoline on Friday, according to the AAA motor club. That is 9 cents below the price a month ago and 73 cents below the price a year ago.

The slide in oil companies’ fortunes has been significant because of expanded production in Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, as well as a slowdown in demand growth in China and the expectation by commodity traders that the Iran nuclear deal will introduce large quantities of oil to the glutted market.

The surge in production has led to a global stockpile of three billion barrels of crude, roughly the equivalent of a month of world oil production. The global market has not been this saturated since 2009, when demand for fuel plummeted.

“This massive cushion,” the International Energy Agency, based in Paris, noted in a report on Friday, has produced “an unprecedented buffer against geopolitical shocks or unexpected supply disruptions.”

The report helped to decrease the price of West Texas Intermediate, an American benchmark in oil pricing, by more than a dollar at one point on Friday. It almost reached $40 a barrel, its lowest level since last summer and before that in 2009. Oil prices were above $100 a barrel as recently as the summer of 2014.

The glut has left the tanks in Cushing, Okla., and other domestic supply depots brimming. The Energy Department noted that American crude inventories had grown last week to 487 million barrels and were nearly a third higher than a year ago. It was the seventh weekly increase in a row. Despite the glut, tankers full of African and Middle Eastern oil are still making their way to the Gulf of Mexico, in part because markets in Asia are also oversupplied.

But energy experts say that despite the huge stockpiles, the oil market could easily be shaken by a crisis in the Middle East, like a major terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia or a collapse in Iraq, and prices could soar again.

“The market is myopic,” said Steven Wood, a managing director at Moody’s Corporate Finance Group. “There is no spare capacity in the world. The market isn’t pricing in any risk, geopolitical risk, for oil.”

Still, Moody’s projects that oil prices will rise slowly, to an average for West Texas Intermediate crude of $48 a barrel in 2016 and $55 in 2017. The global Brent benchmark, now just under $44 a barrel, will rise to $53 in 2016 and to $60 in 2017, Moody’s projects.

Behind the low price projections is a sluggish world economy, experts say. The I.E.A. report on Friday suggested that world demand growth for oil would slow in 2016 to 1.2 million barrels a day after reaching a five-year high of 1.8 million barrels a day in 2015.

Low commodity prices and tight financing have forced oil companies in the United States to decommission more than half of their rigs, leading to tens of thousands of layoffs in oil states like Texas, North Dakota and Oklahoma. To keep their leases, and unwilling to pay while drilling rigs already under contract stand idle, many operators are drilling wells without completing them — meaning that as soon as prices begin to revive, they can quickly complete the wells and begin production, thus forcing prices down again.

Investments in new exploration are down about 20 percent this year, and more cuts are expected in 2016.

Many in the industry expect large cash-rich companies like Exxon Mobil to buy small operators with strong shale positions that should be profitable when prices rebound.

Last week, Anadarko Petroleum, in a move to build a giant position in Texas’ shale fields, made a failed bid to buy Apache Corporation. Also, Concho Resources, a major West Texas producer, is reportedly making a quiet bid for Clayton Williams Energy, another Texas oil company.

“If the price is lower for longer, I do see more consolidation next year,” Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, a major Texas producer, said in a recent interview. He added that “2016 is going to be another tough year.”

In a recent report, Citi Research said that the shale operators were “now being financially stress-tested by low prices, exposing shale’s dirty secret: Many shale producers outspend cash flow and thus depend on capital market injections to fund ongoing activity.”

Capital markets are responding by making lending practices tighter and loans more expensive. With many smaller producers borrowing on the high-yield markets, bond yields on energy issues have increased substantially in recent months. There have already been as many as eight company defaults this year.

But not everyone associated with the oil industry is losing these days. As the enormous ships sail in figure eights around the globe, the tanker companies are reaping the rewards, making as much as $70,000 a day, if not more, for their services.

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