It comes now from the US Energy Information Agency, and is headlined by Bloomberg Business, so yes, it’s official. As Bloomberg put it, “US Shale Boom Grinds to a Halt.” Which, actually, is overstating the case by a good bit, there isn’t going to be a “halt.” Nevertheless, as sane people everywhere have been insisting for years, the shale boom is, as it always was going to be, a bust.
This — now official — assessment is in the form of a set of projections by the EIA, which, we should remember, has pretty consistently been overly optimistic in its assessment of the oil business. Remember, they were the folks who estimated that the Monterey Shale in California held 14 billion barrels of recoverable reserves — two-third of America’s total oil wealth — until they ran the numbers again and re-estimated the Monterey at 96% lower.
So they might not be great statisticians, but they are the ones we have, and upon whom the world relies for US oil numbers. And they now say that shale oil production in the US — which for five years has been on a rocket-launch trajectory that should have punched through six million barrels per day by now — will fall to 5.58 million bpd this month and to 5.49 million bpd next month and ever faster thereafter. The trajectory of a rocket when the engine quits.
EIA’s forecasts are based on the number of rigs at work and their estimated productivity. The rig count has been dropping for 26 straight weeks, since shortly after the world price for crude oil cratered late last year. 67% of US rigs have been taken out of service. So it’s a bit of a mystery how production has been maintained this long, especially by firms that went into this crisis deeply in debt and hemorrhaging cash.
One explanation is that the rigs taken down were the least productive and the ones remaining the most fruitful. But that does not explain how insolvent companies continue to sell their product at a loss. I suggested the most likely rationale last week [Oil Money: Too Dumb to Fail]: that whacked-out investors with too much money for their own good were betting that oil will rise again (just like the South) and that all will soon be well. On that flimsy basis they have been shovelling money at some of the worst balance sheets in the history of accounting.
The popular press — including, I am sorry to see, Bloomberg — has been ascribing these events to a complex global game of market-manipulation chess being played by Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC countries. Curses! they say, Foiled again by those crafty devils! Reality check number one: those crafty devils are simply not that smart. Reality check number two: everything that is happening to the shale patch now would have happened if the price of oil had stayed above $100 a barrel. Because our crafty fracking devils aren’t that bright either.
[Rule Number One here at the Daily Impact: when an event can be explained as the result of either conspiracy or stupidity, go with stupidity. If you want to be proved right.]
Remember the talk, just a year ago, of “energy independence?” Of how we were going to be “Number one in the world in oil and gas production?” Of how we would start exporting the stuff and thus bend the rest of the world to our will? All gone now, as the EIA has just confirmed.
Reality is back. The fracking boom will be a bump on the long slide to no oil at all, and as the other, last-ditch sources of the last few drops play out, the industrial world has less and less time to execute a very hard landing, or to do nothing and, as the pilots say, augur in.
And that’s official.