By Amine Bouchentouf
A quiet revolution has begun taking place in the United States that is going to have a profound impact on the global energy landscape for years and decades to come. I call it a quiet revolution because, while many people have heard of this revolution, very few people have actually mapped out the implications or the far-reaching impact it will have in a relatively short period of time on the global energy matrix. I'm talking about the shale oil and shale gas technological revolution.
As I've written in the past, politicians aspiring to higher office in energy-consuming countries always make energy independence one of the pillars of their campaigns. And for good reason: As the common saying goes, voters vote with their checkbooks.
Since one of the biggest items that voters take out of their checkbook every month is energy-related (whether it's gasoline for the car or heating fuel for the house), politicians want to reduce (or at least appear to be reducing) the energy component of voters' checkbooks. It's ironic that, in parts of the United States at least, energy costs for consumers are steadily coming down. But the main driver of these cost reductions is not politicians; rather, it's technology.
I cannot overestimate the impact that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is having on the global energy landscape at a critical time in history. Certainly over the last decade, and especially over the last several years, a confluence of events has tilted the balance of power eastward. China's rapidly growing demand for energy products (from crude oil and natural gas to coal) and the Middle East's growing production capacity, made the relationship between Asian countries and Middle Eastern producers the most dominant one in the global energy landscape.
Enter horizontal drilling. As this technology was perfected and implemented in the hills of the Dakotas, its potential wasn't clearly seized at first. Sure, the original developers displayed real excitement that they would be able to recover additional resources that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to, but even they didn't truly comprehend the global significance and impact this technology would have.
A New Global Energy Matrix
The way I think of this new technological development is like drinking a milkshake. Imagine that every time you drink your favorite milkshake, your straw clogs up and you can only drink half of your beverage. Now, you discover a new straw, and all of a sudden you're able to drink 100% of your milkshake. This new technological development does exactly that -- it allows companies to recover up to 50% (and in some cases, even more) of the previously unrecoverable oil in reserves.
As a result of implementing this technology throughout the country, the United States has now drastically reduced its imported oil. Countries such as Nigeria and Angola, which were prolific exporters to the U.S., all of a sudden are finding themselves with extra product and are looking for customers in other locations. Even more so, the production coming out of the U.S. is so prolific that there are even talks that the U.S. may become a net exporter by 2020. This development has caught the eyes of OPEC, the influence-wielding organization that's responsible for producing and allocating close to two-thirds of the world's daily oil production and that serves as the de facto central bank of the oil markets.
What's worrying to OPEC is not that the U.S. is becoming a large producer (although that is cause for concern); the deep-seated concern is that this technology will be exported and adopted by other countries around the world, which will glut the market with oil and depress prices. To be sure, OPEC still accounts for the majority of oil barrels produced and consumed in global markets on a daily basis. In addition, implementing this technology to aging fields or to newer fields is costly and extremely time-consuming: It can take between three to five years for the technology to be implemented appropriately. That said, this is a real change that will have real impacts in the years to come. Below I highlight some strategies you should consider in helping you benefit from this trend.
The Trend Is Your Friend
This technological trend is here to stay, and companies that implement it successfully within the constraints of environmental protections and with a global footprint certainly stand to benefit. I recommend identifying companies in the services sector that are experts in this technology and that will adopt it for their own benefit as well as third-party service providers.
One company I recommend is Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC). Anadarko is a global E&P company and an early adopter of the technology. It owns wells both in the United States as well as overseas, so you get exposure to assets around the world; since fracking will soon become a global phenomenon, having a company that can operate overseas is crucial.
Another service provider that you should take a look at is Nuverra Environmental Solutions (NES). One of the main challenges of fracturing is disposing of the solid waste and residue that's left after the fracturing operation, which can have a detrimental impact on the environment if not disposed of appropriately. Nuverra provides environmental and cleanup solutions to energy and industrial clients that use fracturing. As the practice becomes more commonplace, companies such as Nuverra should see demand for their services increase.
The new energy landscape is rapidly changing and will offer opportunities for investors who are able to spot trends quickly and capitalize on them.
Disclosure: The author doesn't have any positions in the stocks mentioned.