Oil prices are up on expectations that OPEC will contribute to a faster balancing in 2017, with up to 1.8 million barrels per day in cuts along with some non-OPEC countries. That has put a floor beneath prices, with fears of another downturn largely dissolved after OPEC's announcement.
But what if U.S. shale comes roaring back and ruins the price rally? Estimates run the gamut on how quickly U.S. shale production can rebound and by what magnitude. Citigroup sees output rebounding by 500,000 barrels per day if oil prices average $60 per barrel. A December 12 report from Macquarie said that oil prices above $60 could spark a 1 million barrel-per-day revival.
U.S. shale is already up about 300,000 barrels per day from a low point in the summer of 2016, at least according to preliminary data. The gains are expected to continue. The industry is producing about as much oil as it was two years ago, with only one-third of the more than 1,700 rigs in 2014. Drillers are producing just as much oil with a lot less effort.
If U.S. shale surges back by 1 mb/d as Macquarie suggests, it would offset most of the cuts from OPEC and non-OPEC countries. Additionally, one would have to assume some degree of non-compliance and/or "cheating" on the cuts from participating countries, plus an expected increase in supply from Libya and Nigeria. Altogether, a rise in oil prices could be self-defeating, leading to prices falling once again later in the year.
Then there are also the implications on oil demand to consider. Higher prices might cut into demand growth, leading to an expansion in consumption at a much slower rate. The IEA already thinks oil demand will grow by 1.3 million barrels per day in 2017, one of the weakest in years. An initial price spike might throw off those figures, causing estimates to end up being more optimistic than reality. Again, a price surge could be self-defeating, causing prices to fall right back down.
Bloomberg conducted a survey of 24 oil analysts, finding expectations averaging $53 per barrel in the first quarter and $56 per barrel in the second quarter. For the full year, the survey calls for oil prices averaging $58 per barrel for 2017.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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