Shale boss says U.S. has surpassed peak oil

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Crude production in the United States has already peaked, according to one of the country’s main shale leaders, as producers beaten by the price crash avoid further production growth and seek to become profitable.

Matt Gallagher, managing director of Parsley Energy, one of Texas’ largest independent oil producers, said that the record level of production reached earlier this year would be the highlight.

“I don’t think I’ll see 13m [barrels a day] again in my life, “said Gallagher, 37, to the Financial Times.

“It’s really disheartening because when we drilled our first well in 2009, we saw the wave of energy independence at your fingertips for the United States, and it was very rewarding. . . to be part of it. “

US oil production fell by a quarter in the spring as crude prices plummeted following the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the coronavirus epidemic, prompting several operators, including Parsley, to close wells and reduce planned expenses.

Soaring shale production helped the United States become a net oil exporter in November of last year – a staggering reversal for a country that had imported more than 10 million bpd ten years ago early. Since May, however, this has been reversed and net imports have followed an upward trend.

US oil briefly traded below zero in April, but a recovery to around $ 40 a barrel since then still leaves it below breakeven for many shale producers.

It is “by far” the worst oil crash in recent history, said Gallagher, and will have a lasting impact on the sector. “Our industry is the mobility and comfort industry,” he said – referring to fuel for cars and air travel and for heating and air conditioning – “and mobility is in the process of ‘be drastically redesigned and there will be new innovations in comfort’.

The parsley chef has earned a reputation for being a progressive voice in the Texas petroleum industry. He went on LinkedIn with his thoughts on the murder of George Floyd and recently bought a Ford electric car. In his interview with the FT, he spoke of his admiration for the great European oil masters who recently announced zero net emission targets.

He also called for an end to the flaring in the shale area. Parsley was among the top 20 natural gas flares by volume in Texas, according to a report released this year by the state oil and gas regulator. But Gallagher said he had reduced the practice – a huge source of carbon emissions – to less than 1%.

“From this perspective, sound regulation would likely improve the reputation of the industry over time,” he added, potentially helping to attract environmentally-oriented investors to the sector.

“You want to be behind a company that makes it a priority,” he said.

Line graph in millions of barrels per day showing that US crude oil production soared until this year's oil price crash

Capital markets have largely closed to shale producers over the past year, as investors have fled a sector that has become famous for its growth in global output but unable to pay off its debt.

The shale industry had “not been disciplined,” admitted Gallagher, and was often led by management teams who “presented very little personal risk and had a very unbalanced upward reward.” according to growth. ” But a new capital restriction was “trickling down into the industry”.

Parsley is one of the companies that restarted the wells they shut down during the worst phase of the price drop. But the company has no plans to increase production with new drilling this year or next year.

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According to data provider Enverus, only 223 horizontal platforms – an indicator of shale drilling activity in the United States – were in service on July 9, up from 853 a year ago.

Oil production in the United States would eventually stabilize at around 11 million barrels / day, said Gallagher, as producers focused on maintaining production, not increasing it. This corresponds to current production, according to consulting firm Rystad Energy, but about 15% below this year’s peak.

The petroleum services sector, which does most of the work for oil production companies, would be the hardest hit, said Gallagher. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depended on activity in the shale, he said, “and these activity levels are just going to be considerably lower for a long time.”

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