With the crude price seemingly stuck close to where it is — despite the tensions in the Persian Gulf region which flared up again on Friday — the next round of discussions between the shale producers and their lenders could be difficult. Some mergers may follow.
Yet fans of U.S. oil shouldn’t be disconsolate. The end of the second shale boom will usher in a third: the period of young adulthood. This will bring a range of new skills, but production will grow at a more measured pace.
This third boom will be driven by the international oil majors and will be characterized by a focus on better extraction, rather than rapid output growth. The application of enhanced oil recovery techniques, consolidation of ownership, automation of drilling, and rationalizing of supply chains will increase the volume of oil extracted over the lifetime of a well and reduce costs. But it won’t deliver the same pace of growth as seen recently.
The recovery rate of oil from shale deposits is typically about 5%-10%, but ConocoPhillips has pushed recovery as high as 20% in some parts of the Eagle Ford shale play in Texas, and it could reach 40% under the right circumstances. The upside to the lifetime recovery rate from Eagle Ford would be huge, potentially extending higher production rates for longer.
The third shale boom is coming. Just don’t expect it to look like the first two.
Giants like Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. have plans to expand in the Permian Basin. Unencumbered by the funding problems faced by independent producers, they plan to more than double production by the early 2020s.