Investors remain skeptical that the OPEC meeting in Vienna on Dec. 6 will be able to turn the tide on oil supply enough to support prices.
A big reason why: the emergence of the U.S. oil industry as one of the world’s most important players. Ballooning shale production—American output has nearly doubled since the start of 2012—has made the U.S. a key supplier and exacerbated worries about a global glut of crude.
“I never thought I would hear these kinds of numbers coming out of the U.S.,” said Bob Yawger, director of the futures division at Mizuho Securities USA. “This is going to force OPEC’s hand.”
This summer, the U.S. surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia as the largest crude-oil producer—a title it hadn’t held since 1973, according to the International Energy Agency. Monthly output in the U.S. was a record 11.65 million barrels a day in September and nearly the same amount in October, according to energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, while Saudi Arabia’s supply was nearly 11 million barrels a day last month and Russian production stood at 11.4 million a day.
“It used to be the world was divided into OPEC and non-OPEC,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit, which projects the U.S. will be a net exporter of petroleum in the early 2020s. “Now it’s the world of the big three.”
If the price of oil drops too far, too fast, that could also hurt U.S. producers, especially in the shale patch. Most shale drillers now maintain they can break even at $50 or lower. But the falling prices have begun to eat into their profitability, and some may be forced to curtail spending next year and reduce ambitious growth plans if prices decline much more.