Even though there appears to be signs of weakening in the crude oil and natural gas production boom in the U.S., a new report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts continued production increases through 2020.
EIA revised its Short-Term Energy Outlook this week forecasting a 119,000 barrels per day (b/d) increase in oil production in 2020 over 2019. EIA says oil production will increase to 12.3 million b/d this year, which is up from 11 million b/d in 2018.
EIA increased its U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil price forecast by $2 per barrel in November to $56 and by $1 in both December and January to $55 and $54, respectively. The slight increase in crude oil prices also contributed to EIA’s increased production forecast for the first half of 2020 because of EIA’s assumption of a six-month lag between a crude oil price change and a production response.
The Permian Basin of West Texas and East New Mexico continue to lead the way. EIA forecasts Permian production will grow by 915,000 b/d in 2019 and by 809,000 b/d in 2020. EIA based production increases in the Permian Basin on the expansion of pipelines in the area allowing for more crude oil and natural gas to be shipped to consumers and relieving the price reduction because of oversupply.
“These expansions, which helped alleviate transportation bottlenecks and led to increased prices for WTI in Midland, Texas, (the price that producers may expect to receive in the Permian region) relative to prices for WTI-Cushing. The higher relative prices in the Permian region should continue to encourage crude oil production growth in the region,” EIA stated in the report.
EIA forecasts that the Bakken region in North Dakota will have the next largest crude oil production growth in 2019. EIA expects Bakken crude oil production will grow by 152,000 b/d in 2019 and 96,000 b/d in 2020. EIA forecasts that production in the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico will increase by 138,000 b/d in 2019 and 116,000 b/d in 2020.
Although EIA forecasts that overall U.S. crude oil production will continue to increase, EIA expects the growth rate will slow largely because of a decline in oil-directed rigs. According to Baker Hughes, active rig counts fell from 877 oil-directed rigs in the beginning of January 2019 to 674 rigs in mid-November, a 23 percent decline. Rig counts in the Permian region fell 15 percent during this period, from 487 to 408 rigs.
Because EIA expects WTI-Cushing crude oil prices to stay lower than $55 until August 2020, EIA anticipates that drilling rigs will continue to decline as producers cut back on their capital spending, resulting in notable slowing in the growth of domestic crude oil production over the next 14 months.
EIA noted that although U.S. rig counts are declining, improvements in rig efficiency, which allows fewer rigs to drill the same number of wells, partially offsets declining rig counts. In addition, higher initial production from wells (although not necessarily the total estimated ultimate recovery) is offsetting some of the slowdown in rig counts.
Alex Mills is the former President of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.