The U.S. shale boom is producing record amounts of new oil as demand weakens, pushing prices down toward levels that threaten to reduce future drilling.
Domestic fields will add an unprecedented 1.1 million barrels a day of output this year and an additional 963,000 next year, raising production to the most since 1970, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The Energy Department’s statistical arm forecasts consumption will shrink 0.2 percent to 18.9 million barrels a day this year, the lowest since 2012.
More supply from hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, and less demand, are contributing to the tumble in West Texas Intermediate crude. The U.S. benchmark closed below $90 a barrel on Monday for the first time in 17 months. WTI is down 20 percent since June 20, closing at $85.77 a barrel on Thursday.
“If prices go to $80 or lower, which I think is possible, then we are going to see a reduction in drilling activity,” Ralph Eads, vice chairman and global head of energy investment banking at Jefferies LLC, which advised 38 percent of U.S. energy mergers and acquisitions this year, said in an interview last week. “It will be uncharted territory.”
The EIA cut 2014 and 2015 crude price forecasts this week because of rising production and falling consumption. WTI will average $94.58 next year, down from a September projection of $94.67. The outlook for Brent oil, the benchmark for more than half of the world’s crude, was lowered to $101.67 from $103.
U.S. output reached 8.7 million barrels a day in September, the most since July 1986, the EIA said. U.S. demand is down because Americans are driving less and using more fuel-efficient cars, according to the EIA.
Shale oil is expensive to extract by historical standards and only viable at high-enough prices, Ed Morse, Citigroup Inc.’s head of global commodities research in New York, said in a phone interview last month. Oil from shale formations costs $50 to $100 a barrel to produce, compared with $10 to $25 a barrel for conventional supplies from the Middle East and North Africa, the Paris-based International Energy Agency estimates.
“There is probably something to the notion that if prices fell suddenly to $60 a barrel, the production growth would turn negative,” he said.
Brent crude could drop to $80 a barrel before triggering a slowdown in investment from U.S. shale-oil drillers, Fitch Ratings said in report Wednesday.
As U.S. supply rises and imports decline, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may be heading for a price war, according to Frankfurt-based Commerzbank AG. OPEC’s September output rose to a one-year high of 30.935 million barrels a day.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter, reduced selling prices on Oct. 1, signaling it is prepared to let prices fall rather than cede market share, according to Commerzbank. OPEC accounts for about 42 percent of world supply, according to London-based BP Plc, Europe’s third-largest oil company.