Tag Archives: oil production

Why U.S. Oil Production Remains High While Prices Tank – Bakken Update

Summary

  • US production remains high due to high-grading, well design, cost efficiencies, and lower oil service contracts.
  • High-grading from marginal to core areas can increase per well production from 200% to 500% depending on area, which means one core well can equate to several marginal producers.
  • Shorter stages, increased proppant and frac fluids increase production and flatten the depletion curve.
  • EOG’s work in Antelope field provides a framework for other operators to increase production while completing fewer wells.
  • Few operators are currently developing Mega-fracs, this provides significant upside to US shale production as others start producing more resource per foot.
by Michael Filloon, Split Rock Private Trading and Wealth Management

US Oil production remains at volumes seen when WTI was at $100/bbl. Many analysts believed operators couldn’t survive, but $60/bbl may be good enough for operators to drill economic wells. Oil prices have decreased significantly, and the US Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USO) with it. Many were wrong about US production, and the belief $60/bbl oil would decrease US production. Although completions have been deferred, high-grading and mega-fracs have made up for fewer producing wells. When calculating US production going forward, it is important to account for the number of new completions. If more wells are completed, the higher the influx of production should be. We are finding the quality of geology and well design have a greater effect on total production than originally thought.

(click to enlarge)

(Source: Shaletrader.com)

There are several factors influencing US production. Operators have moved existing rigs to core areas. This decreases its ability getting acreage held by production. In the Bakken, rigs have moved near the Nesson Anticline.

In the Eagle Ford, Karnes seems to be the area of interest. Midland County in the Permian has also been attractive. Operators have decided to complete wells with better geology. When an operator completes wells in core acreage versus marginal leasehold, we see increased production per location. This is just part of the reason US production remains high.

The average investor does not understand the significance. Most think wells have like production, but areas are much different. When oil was at a $100/bbl, it allowed operators to get acreage held by production, although payback times were not as good. Marginal acreage was more attractive, even at lower IRRs. Operators have a significant investment in acreage, and do not want to lose it. Because of this, many would operate in the red expecting future rewards. Just because E&Ps lose money, does not mean the business isn’t economic. It is the way business is done in the short term as oil is an income stream. Wells produce for 35 to 40 years, and once well costs are paid back there are steady revenues. Changes in oil prices have changed this, as now operators will have to focus on better acreage.

Re-fracs are starting to influence production. Although most operators have not begun programs, interest is high. Re-fracs may not be a game changer, but could be an excellent way to increase production at a lower cost. This is not as significant with well designs of today, but older designs left a significant amount of resource. More importantly, when operators began, it was drilling the best acreage. Archaic well designs could leave some stages completely untouched. Current seismic can now identify this, and provide for a better re-frac. We expect to see some very good results in 2016. In conjunction with high-grading, well design continues to be the main reason production has maintained. Changes to well design have been significant, and the resulting production increases much better than anticipated.

No operator is better than EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) at well design. From the Bakken, to the Eagle Ford and Permian it continues to outperform the competition.

The following map courtesy of ShaleMapsPro.com does a good job of illustrating EOG’s exposure in the Eagle Ford.

EagleFord.SeekingAlpha

(Source: Shalemapspro.com)

EOG’s focusing of frac jobs closer to the well bore has provided for much better source rock stimulation (fraccing). Since more fractures are created, there is a greater void in the shale. This means more producing rock has contact with the well. EOG continues to push more sand and fluids in the attempt to recover more resource per foot. To evaluate production, it must be broken into days over 6 to 12 months. To evaluate well design, locations must be close to one another and by the same operator. This consistency allows us to see advantages to well design changes. Lastly, we compare marginal acreage it is no longer working to the high-grading program. This is how operators are spending less and producing more.

EOG is working in the Antelope field of northeast McKenzie County. This is Bakken core acreage and considered excellent in both the middle Bakken and upper Three Forks.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

The center of the above map is the location of both its Riverview and Hawkeye wells. These six wells are located in two adjacent sections. The pad is just west of New Town in North Dakota. Riverview 100-3031H was completed in 6/12. It is an upper Three Forks well. 39 stages were used on an approximate 9000 foot lateral. 5.7 million pounds of sand were used with 85000 barrels of fluids.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Date Oil (BBL) Gas ((NYSEMKT:MCF)) BOE
6/1/2012 4,384.00 3,972.00 3972
7/1/2012 27,133.00 15,337.00 15337
8/1/2012 24,465.00 17,223.00 17223
9/1/2012 21,457.00 9,190.00 9190
10/1/2012 18,040.00 12,601.00 12601
11/1/2012 19,924.00 13,366.00 13366
12/1/2012 28,134.00 22,259.00 22259
1/1/2013 15,382.00 12,661.00 12661
2/1/2013 3,429.00 2,451.00 2451
3/1/2013 15,242.00 22,774.00 22774
4/1/2013 15,761.00 8,479.00 8479
5/1/2013 13,786.00 18,372.00 18372
6/1/2013 14,485.00 18,555.00 18555
7/1/2013 15,668.00 27,250.00 27250
8/1/2013 12,084.00 23,876.00 23876
9/1/2013 13,841.00 46,815.00 46815
10/1/2013 11,388.00 45,800.00 45800
11/1/2013 2,711.00 10,533.00 10533
12/1/2013 0 0 0
1/1/2014 5,953.00 35 35
2/1/2014 11,368.00 20,851.00 20851
3/1/2014 8,784.00 11,179.00 11179
4/1/2014 5,607.00 8,479.00 8479
5/1/2014 4,727.00 5,663.00 5663
6/1/2014 8,359.00 12,726.00 12726
7/1/2014 8,799.00 22,957.00 22957
8/1/2014 7,958.00 31,621.00 31621
9/1/2014 7,218.00 44,318.00 44318
10/1/2014 3,778.00 14,058.00 14058
11/1/2014 3,701.00 9,951.00 9951
12/1/2014 6,612.00 18,435.00 18435
1/1/2015 6,181.00 24,142.00 24142
2/1/2015 3,517.00 10,722.00 10722
3/1/2015 5,218.00 24,175.00 24175
4/1/2015 4,275.00 24,233.00 24233

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Riverview 100-3031H was a progressive well design for 2012. It produced well. To date it has produced 379 thousand bbls of crude and 615 thousand Mcf of natural gas. This equates to $24 million in revenues. Over the first 360 days (using the true number of production days) it produced 240,036 bbls of crude. The month of December 2013, this well was shut in for the completion of an adjacent well. There was a return to production but no significant jump in production from pressure generated by the new locations. This well declined 42% over 12 months. This is much lower than estimates shown through other well models. The next year we see a 35% decline. 10 months later we see an additional decline of approximately 55%. The decline curve of a well is very specific to geology and well design. Keep in mind averages are just that, and do not provide specific data. These averages should not be used to evaluation acreage and operator as there are wide average swings. Also, averages are generally over a long time frame. Production in the Bakken began in 2004 (first horizontal well completed). Wells in 2004 produce nothing like wells today. Updated averages based on year (IP 360) are more useful. Riverview 100-3031H was part of a two well pad. A middle Bakken well was also completed.

Riverview 4-3031H began producing a month after Riverview 100-3031H. It was a 38 stage 9000 foot lateral. 4.3 million lbs of sand were used and 69000 bbls of fluids.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

The Riverview and Hawkeye wells analyzed in this article were drilled in a southern fashion.

Date Oil Gas BOE
7/1/2012 20,529.00 12,537.00 12537
8/1/2012 16,553.00 16,903.00 16903
9/1/2012 17,096.00 10,148.00 10148
10/1/2012 23,197.00 17,914.00 17914
11/1/2012 20,122.00 14,402.00 14402
12/1/2012 27,340.00 33,217.00 33217
1/1/2013 16,044.00 24,394.00 24394
2/1/2013 4,267.00 4,946.00 4946
3/1/2013 27,516.00 26,219.00 26219
4/1/2013 20,792.00 7,940.00 7940
5/1/2013 17,516.00 35,948.00 35948
6/1/2013 15,457.00 50,500.00 50500
7/1/2013 13,480.00 50,807.00 50807
8/1/2013 11,254.00 42,300.00 42300
9/1/2013 9,319.00 40,341.00 40341
10/1/2013 8,559.00 33,116.00 33116
11/1/2013 2,190.00 40 40
12/1/2013 0 0 0
1/1/2014 1,124.00 11 11
2/1/2014 5,271.00 81 81
3/1/2014 8,931.00 9,827.00 9827
4/1/2014 5,469.00 7,940.00 7940
5/1/2014 4,807.00 5,748.00 5748
6/1/2014 8,522.00 13,819.00 13819
7/1/2014 7,982.00 17,983.00 17983
8/1/2014 7,169.00 26,755.00 26755
9/1/2014 5,750.00 22,586.00 22586
10/1/2014 1,349.00 3,194.00 3194
11/1/2014 6,495.00 15,947.00 15947
12/1/2014 6,442.00 18,806.00 18806
1/1/2015 5,840.00 22,126.00 22126
2/1/2015 4,171.00 18,682.00 18682
3/1/2015 4,221.00 18,539.00 18539
4/1/2015 3,878.00 19,725.00 19725

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Riverview 4-3031H has produced 361 thousand bbls of crude and 657 thousand Mcf of natural gas. It under produced Riverview 100-3031H, but this is consistent with well design. 360 day production totaled 237,735 bbls of oil. We do not know if the Three Forks is a better pay zone than the middle Bakken as the well design was not consistent. Most operators have reported better results from the middle Bakken. The Three Forks well used one more stage (less feet per stage should mean better fracturing). It also used significantly more sand and fluids. Either way both wells were good results. Riverview 4-3031H only declined approximately 36% in a comparison of the first month to month 12. This was 7% better than 100-3031H. It declined another 41% in year two on a month to month comparison. This was 6% greater. 56% was seen when compared to adjusted production for 5/15. The Three Forks well declines slower in later production than 4-3031H. This may be due to well design. The well with more stages, proppant and fluids continues to out produce the Bakken well. It is possible the source rock is better. There are many other variables to look at, but this data provides why EOG continues to push ahead with more complex locations.

In September of 2012, EOG drilled its next well in this area. Hawkeye 100-2501H is a 13700 foot lateral targeting the upper Three Forks. It is a 47 stage frac. 14 million pounds of sand were used with 158000 bbls of fluids.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Of the three pads, this well is located in the center. It was an interesting design, given the length of the lateral.

Date Oil Gas BOE
9/1/2012 21,959.00 444 444
10/1/2012 54,927.00 155 155
11/1/2012 47,557.00 57,300.00 57300
12/1/2012 55,367.00 92,144.00 92144
1/1/2013 33,396.00 55,877.00 55877
2/1/2013 22,100.00 32,810.00 32810
3/1/2013 36,631.00 57,544.00 57544
4/1/2013 29,075.00 32,696.00 32696
5/1/2013 22,210.00 33,351.00 33351
6/1/2013 17,544.00 25,794.00 25794
7/1/2013 15,872.00 23,600.00 23600
8/1/2013 19,647.00 28,746.00 28746
9/1/2013 15,486.00 22,352.00 22352
10/1/2013 21,325.00 31,678.00 31678
11/1/2013 6,418.00 9,214.00 9214
12/1/2013 0 0 0
1/1/2014 0 0 0
2/1/2014 0 0 0
3/1/2014 29,699.00 23,822.00 23822
4/1/2014 39,782.00 32,696.00 32696
5/1/2014 35,267.00 61,543.00 61543
6/1/2014 27,554.00 49,551.00 49551
7/1/2014 7,229.00 12,565.00 12565
8/1/2014 31,155.00 98,086.00 98086
9/1/2014 12,617.00 32,742.00 32742
10/1/2014 2 4 4
11/1/2014 7,769.00 15,996.00 15996
12/1/2014 15,487.00 49,147.00 49147
1/1/2015 4,427.00 9,918.00 9918
2/1/2015 9,344.00 20,654.00 20654
3/1/2015 8,459.00 25,171.00 25171
4/1/2015 7,235.00 24,752.00 24752

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Hawkeye 100-2501H had some excellent early production numbers. From that perspective, it is one of the best wells to date in the Bakken. It has already produced 655,000 bbls of crude and 960,000 Mcf of natural gas. It has revenues in excess of $42 million to date. This includes roughly four non-producing or unproductive months. Crude production over the first 360 days was 389,835 bbls. Over the first 12 months, this well produced crude revenues in excess of $23 million. Decline rates were higher, as the first full month of production declined 65% over the first year. This isn’t important as early production rates were some of the highest seen in North Dakota. It is important to note, decline rates are emphasized but higher pressured wells may deplete faster depending on choke and how quickly production is propelled up and out of the wellbore. Any well that produces very well initially will have higher decline rates, but this does not lessen the value of the well. This specific well is depleting faster, but no one is complaining about payback times well under a year. Decline rates decrease significantly in year two at 11%. This well saw a marked increase in production when adjacent wells were turned to sales. The additional pressure associated with well communication increased production from 20,000 bbls/month to 35,000 bbls/month on average. This occurred over a 6 month period.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

Hawkeye 102-2501H was the fourth completion. This 14,000 foot 62 stage lateral targeted the upper Three Forks. It used 14.5 million pounds of sand and 164,000 bbls of fluids.

Date Oil Gas BOE
1/1/2013 18,486.00 41 41
2/1/2013 27,120.00 8,705.00 8705
3/1/2013 39,702.00 15,748.00 15748
4/1/2013 17,714.00 30,501.00 30501
5/1/2013 41,368.00 57,489.00 57489
6/1/2013 26,602.00 34,399.00 34399
7/1/2013 0 0 0
8/1/2013 133 0 0
9/1/2013 0 0 0
10/1/2013 0 0 0
11/1/2013 0 0 0
12/1/2013 0 0 0
1/1/2014 5,163.00 6,403.00 6403
2/1/2014 41,917.00 74,353.00 74353
3/1/2014 36,439.00 18,111.00 18111
4/1/2014 19,477.00 30,501.00 30501
5/1/2014 26,388.00 43,071.00 43071
6/1/2014 27,480.00 49,456.00 49456
7/1/2014 14,529.00 33,072.00 33072
8/1/2014 24,542.00 62,753.00 62753
9/1/2014 17,613.00 53,460.00 53460
10/1/2014 17,451.00 66,544.00 66544
11/1/2014 9,634.00 33,366.00 33366
12/1/2014 16,338.00 76,547.00 76547
1/1/2015 11,450.00 65,277.00 65277
2/1/2015 8,971.00 50,919.00 50919
3/1/2015 3,177.00 14,820.00 14820
4/1/2015 6,495.00 13,616.00 13616

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

It has produced 458,000 bbls of crude and 839,000 Mcf to date. This equates to roughly $30 million over well life. 360 day production was 394,673 bbls of crude. Production was interesting as initial production was outstanding. The big production numbers were hindered as many of the early months had missed production days. We don’t know if there were production problems, but do know the well was shut when adjacent wells were turned to sales. Production was over 1000 bbls/d over the first six months. It was shut in for another six months. After this production jumped, but this is misleading. Given the fewer days of production per month, there wasn’t much of an increase when the new wells were turned to sales. The decline over the first year on a monthly basis is 20%. The second year is much greater at 80%. We have seen recent production decrease significantly, and is something to watch. Lower decline rates initially are more important. This is because production rates are higher. It equates to greater total production.

Hawkeye 01-2501H was completed in January of 2013.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

It is a 64 stage, 15000 foot lateral targeting the middle Bakken. This well used 172,000 bbls of fluids and 15 million pounds of sand.

Date Oil Gas BOE
1/1/2013 18,792.00 43 43
2/1/2013 30,211.00 13,879.00 13879
3/1/2013 42,037.00 17,648.00 17648
4/1/2013 17,433.00 36,881.00 36881
5/1/2013 38,754.00 63,501.00 63501
6/1/2013 28,602.00 48,817.00 48817
7/1/2013 0 0 0
8/1/2013 134 1 1
9/1/2013 0 0 0
10/1/2013 0 0 0
11/1/2013 0 0 0
12/1/2013 0 0 0
1/1/2014 6,311.00 7,186.00 7186
2/1/2014 43,713.00 74,099.00 74099
3/1/2014 39,156.00 18,492.00 18492
4/1/2014 23,408.00 36,881.00 36881
5/1/2014 21,681.00 33,498.00 33498
6/1/2014 28,502.00 51,543.00 51543
7/1/2014 18,795.00 45,017.00 45017
8/1/2014 25,512.00 58,837.00 58837
9/1/2014 20,522.00 60,662.00 60662
10/1/2014 19,137.00 68,576.00 68576
11/1/2014 12,093.00 37,043.00 37043
12/1/2014 16,587.00 45,980.00 45980
1/1/2015 14,246.00 62,819.00 62819
2/1/2015 9,220.00 35,931.00 35931
3/1/2015 3,617.00 6,634.00 6634
4/1/2015 13,702.00 42,551.00 42551

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

It has produced 492,170 bbls of crude and 866,520 Mcf of natural gas. 360 day production was 412,072 bbls of oil.

(click to enlarge)
(Source: Welldatabase.com)

This is an excellent well, but the location of focus is Hawkeye 02-2501H. It was completed last in this group. This well provides the link between changes in well design to production improvements.

Date Oil Gas BOE
12/1/2013 3,022.00 6,533.00 6533
1/1/2014 37,385.00 75,940.00 75940
2/1/2014 30,066.00 58,949.00 58949
3/1/2014 22,876.00 50,690.00 50690
4/1/2014 26,703.00 43,926.00 43926
5/1/2014 31,987.00 55,124.00 55124
6/1/2014 27,777.00 47,166.00 47166
7/1/2014 31,500.00 50,279.00 50279
8/1/2014 51,709.00 99,583.00 99583
9/1/2014 43,292.00 98,069.00 98069
10/1/2014 40,143.00 98,927.00 98927
11/1/2014 24,064.00 50,495.00 50495
12/1/2014 31,488.00 99,684.00 99684
1/1/2015 27,087.00 94,621.00 94621
2/1/2015 22,207.00 94,490.00 94490
3/1/2015 22,590.00 125,634.00 125634
4/1/2015 17,707.00 94,910.00 94910

(Source: Welldatabase.com)

The production numbers are significant. In less than a year and a half, it has produced 490,000 bbls of crude and 1.25 Bcf of natural gas. Revenues to date are $33.2 million. Its 360 day crude production was 427,663 bbls. The production is impressive but the decline curve is more important. This Hawkeye well has a steady production rate with only a slight decline. This is where the analysts may be getting it wrong, as decline curves change significantly by area and well design. What EOG has done is not only increased production significantly, but also flattened the curve. Initial production is interesting as we don’t see peak production until nine months. This means our best month is August of 2014, and not the first full month. When we analyze the production after one full year of production, there is no drop off.

This 12800 foot 69 stage lateral is a very good middle Bakken design. EOG decided to pull back some of the lateral length. There are several possible reasons for this. We think it is possible EOG has discovered it was having difficulty in getting proppant to the toe of the well. But this is why operators test the length. More importantly, the increase in stages in conjunction with a shorter lateral provides for shorter stages. This means the operator will probably do a better job of stimulating the source rock. This well also used massive volumes of fluids and sand. 460,000 bbls of fluids were used with over 27 million lbs of proppant. I don’t normally break down the types of sand, as it can be trivial to some but in this case I have as the design seems somewhat unique. This well used approximately 16 million lbs of 100 mesh sand, 7 million lbs of 30/70 and 4 million 40/70. The large volumes of mesh sand are interesting. It would seem EOG is trying to push the finest sand deep into the fractures to maintain deeper shale production.

Well Date Lateral Ft. Stages Proppant Lbs. Fluids Bbls. 12 mo. Oil Production Bbls. Production/Ft.
Riverview 100-3031H 6/12 9,000 39 5.7M 85,000 240,036 26.67
Riverview 4-3031H 7/12 9,000 38 4.3M 69,000 237,735 26.42
Hawkeye 100-2501H 9/12 13,700 47 14M 158,000 389,835 28.46
Hawkeye 102-2501H 1/13 14,000 62 14.5M 164,000 394,673 28.19
Hawkeye 01-2501H 1/13 15,000 64 15M 172,000 412,072 27.47
Hawkeye 02-2501H 12/13 12,800 69 27M 460,000 427,663 33.41

I completed the above table for several reasons. The first was to show well design’s effect on one year total production. We used 360 days as a base. We didn’t use 12 months as that will skew data, as some wells don’t produce every day of every month. Wells are shut in for service or more importantly when new production from adjacent locations are turned to sales. So these are a specific number of days and not estimates. We also broke down production per foot of lateral. This may be more important than any other factor. Production per well is important, but lateral length is a key as it shows how well the source rock was stimulated. In reality, production per foot matters more at longer lateral lengths. Many operators don’t like to do laterals longer than 10,000 feet, as production per foot decreases sharply. When looking at well production data, it is obvious that production per foot suffers as the toe of the lateral gets farther from the vertical.

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  • U.S. 12 Month Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USL)
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All six wells had fantastic results. The first two Riverview wells are still considered sand heavy fracs and produced almost a quarter of a million barrels of oil. This does not include natural gas in the estimates, but EURs for these wells are approximately 1200 MBo. We don’t put much emphasis on EURs other than an indicator of how good production is in comparison. Since locations will produce from 35 to 40 years, we are more inclined to emphasize one year production. Although the Hawkeye wells drilled on 9/12 and 1/13 didn’t show a large uptick in production per foot, it is still quite impressive considering the lateral length. Overall production uplift was exceptional, and these wells produce decent payback times at current oil price realizations.

There is no doubt this area has superior geology. It is definitely a core area, but may not be as good as Parshall field. Because of this, we know other areas would not produce as well, but still it provides a decent comparison for the upside to well design. Geology is still key and this is probably why EOG recently drilled a 15 well pad in the same general area. These wells are still in confidential status, so we do not know the outcome. Given the results in this area, these wells could be very interesting. The most important reason to focus on these Mega-Fracs is repeatability. If EOG can do this, so can other operators. Our expectations are many operators will be able to complete wells this good within the next 12 to 24 months. If this occurs we could see production maintained at much lower prices and fewer completions.

Energy Companies Face “Come-To-Jesus” Point As Bankruptcies Loom

Last week, amid a renewed bout of crude carnage, Morgan Stanley made a rather disconcerting call on oil. 

“On current trajectory, this downturn could become worse than 1986: An additional +1.5 mb/d [of OPEC supply] is roughly one year of oil demand growth. If sustained, this could delay the rebalancing of oil markets by a year as well. The forward curve has started to price this in: as the chart shows, the forward curve currently points towards a recovery in prices that is far worse than in 1986. This means the industrial downturn could also be worse. In that case, there would be little in analysable history that could be a guide to this cycle,” the bank wrote, presaging even tougher times ahead for the O&G space.

If Morgan Stanley is correct, we’re likely to see tremendous pressure on the sector’s highly indebted names, many of whom have been kept afloat thus far by easy access to capital markets courtesy of ZIRP.

With a rate hike cycle on the horizon, with hedges set to roll off, and with investors less willing to throw good money after bad on secondaries and new HY issuance, banks are likely to rein in credit lines in October when the next assessment is due. At that point, it will be game over in the absence of a sharp recovery in crude prices. 

https://s15-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=http%3A%2F%2Fts1.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DJN.ZLR3KYf8IWnQf4RM8n3EFg%26pid%3D15.1%26f%3D1&sp=357f055eb112ef212bb5189aeccf6ad8

Against this challenging backdrop, we bring you the following commentary from Emanuel Grillo, partner at Baker Botts’s bankruptcy and restructuring practice who spoke to Bloomberg Brief last week.  

*  *  *

Via Bloomberg Brief

How does the second half of this year look when it comes to energy bankruptcies?

A: People are coming to realize that the market is not likely to improve. At the end of September, companies will know about their bank loan redeterminations and you’ll see a bunch of restructurings. And, as the last of the hedges start to burn off and you can’t buy them for $80 a barrel any longer, then you’re in a tough place.

The bottom line is that if oil prices don’t increase, it could very well be that the next six months to nine months will be worse than the last six months. Some had an ability to borrow, and you saw other people go out and restructure. But the options are going to become fewer and smaller the longer you wait.

Are there good deals on the horizon for distressed investors?

A: The markets are awash in capital, but you still have a disconnect between buyers and sellers. Sellers, the guys who operate these companies, are hoping they can hang on. Buyers want to pay bargain-basement prices. There’s not enough pressure on the sellers yet. But I think that’s coming. 

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Banks will be redetermining their borrowing bases again in October. Will they be as lenient this time around as they were in April?

A: I don’t know if you’ll get the same slack in October as in April, absent a turnaround in the market price for oil. It’s going to be that ‘come-to-Jesus’ point in time where it’s about how much longer can they let it play. If the banks get too aggressive, they’re going to hurt the value for themselves and their ability to exit. So they’re playing a balancing act.

They know what pressure they’re facing from a regulatory perspective. At the same time, if they push too far in that direction, toward complying with the regulatory side and getting out, then they’re going to hurt themselves in terms of what their own recovery is going to be. All of the banks have these loans under very close scrutiny right now. They’d all get out tomorrow if they could. That’s the sense they’re giving off to the marketplace, because the numbers are just not supporting what they need to have from a regulatory perspective.

Source: Zero Hedge

Why Oil Price Should Bottom In April

Summary

  • Oil production continues to eclipse record highs on a weekly basis despite the oil rig count declining 49% since October.
  • A single oil-well declines exponentially up to 75% in its first year of production. However, in a process known as Convolution, older wells buffer the rapid decline from new rigs.
  • This article provides a comprehensive analysis of principles behind oil drilling and production, applies it to the current crude oil climate, and predicts future production, rig counts, and oil price.
  • Based on my analysis, I remain short-term bearish but long-term bullish on the commodity. My trading strategy based on this analysis is discussed in detail.

by Force Majeure | Seeking Alpha

On Friday, March 20, Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) reported that the crude oil rig count had fallen an additional 41 rigs to 825 active rigs. This was the 15th straight week and 25th out of 26 weeks that the rig count has declined. Active oil rigs are now at the lowest level since the week ending March 18th, 2011 and total drilling rigs (oil + natural gas) are the fewest since October 2009. Overall, the oil rig count is down 49% in the 23 weeks since peaking in October. Nevertheless, in its weekly Petroleum Report, the EIA announced last Wednesday that domestic oil production set yet another record high of 9.42 million barrels per day. Since the rig count peaked the week of October 10, 2014 and began its subsequent collapse, oil production has climbed 460,000 barrels per day, or 5.2%. This continued increase in production in the face of a plummeting rig count has confounded journalists, flummoxed investors, and inflated supplies to record highs leading to a continued slump in oil prices.

The two main questions on traders’ minds are 1) why is oil production still at record highs five months after the rig count started dropping? And 2) when, if at all, will oil production begin to fall and how far will it fall? This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the principles behind the relationship between oil drilling and production, applies it to the current crude oil climate, and predicts where both production and the rig count will go in the coming year.

Before we discuss the real-world oil production and drilling situation – an extremely complex picture with over 1 million rigs producing oil – let’s look at a simple, hypothetical situation. The first key point is that once an oil well is drilled, its production is not constant. In fact, production not only begins to decline almost immediately, it does so in an exponential fashion. After analyzing production curves from multiple wells, I will be estimating weekly oil production from a single oil well by the following equation:

Equation 1:

Daily Oil Production From Single Well = (Initial Daily Production)/(1+ (Week # from start of production*K)

Where K is a constant equal to 0.06

When graphed using a well that initially produces 1000 barrels of oil per week this equation is represented by Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Crude oil production curve of single, hypothetical well showing exponential decay.

There are two take home points to note from this chart. First, initial decay is very rapid, with weekly production declining by about 75% after 1 year. Second, after the initial rapid decay, production declines much slower and becomes approximately linear with decay rates of 5-10% per year. Although this graph ends after 2 years or 104 weeks, production continues slowly and steadily beyond 5 years.

Figure 1 represents production from a single well. What happens when we add multiple wells over a period of time? The process by which multiple functions – in this case, oil wells – are added over time is known as Convolution. As noted before, even after an oil well has been active for many years, it is still producing a small volume of oil, a fraction of its initial output. However, there are a LOT of these old, low-output rigs – over 1.1 million in fact. When the number of drilling rigs decreases – thus reducing the number of new wells that come into the service – the old, stable wells plus the production from the declining number of new wells is initially enough to buffer the decline in rig count and net output will continue to rise.

Let’s illustrate this with a simple example. Imagine a new oil field monopolized with a single company that owns 30 oil rigs. The company adds five new rigs each month. Each rig is able to drill 1 new well per month. After six months, the company has deployed all of its rigs to the field. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the company encounters financial difficulties and is forced to withdraw rigs at a rate of 5 per month until zero remain drilling. Figure 2 below compares active drilling rigs and total wells in this field.

Figure 2: Rig count and total well count of hypothetical oil field

Note that after the rig count peaks and begins to decline, total wells continue to increase before ultimately peaking at 180, where it remains for the remainder of the 20-month period.

Each well initially produces 200 barrels of oil per day and declines according to Equation 1 and the chart in Figure 1. Figure 3 below shows total oil field production overlaid with the total rig count of the field.

Figure 3: Oil Production from hypothetical oil field illustrating how crude oil production can continue to climb despite a sharp reduction in the rig count due to convolution.

Oil production initially climbs rapidly as more rigs are added to the field, reaching 500,000 barrels per month by the time the rig count peaks after 6 months. However, even though the rig count declines to zero six months later, total production continues to increase and peaks at 770,000 barrels per month in month 10 – 4 months after the rig count peaked. Production then begins to decline, but slowly. Even by month 20 after the rig count has been at zero for eight months, production has only declined by 33%.

This is obviously a simply, insular example, but it illustrates several important points. First, there is a delay between when the rig count peaks and when production begins to decline as the combination of old, accumulated oil wells and the continued addition of new wells by the declining rigs is sufficient to coast production higher initially. Second, even when production begins to decline, it is blunted, with production declining a fraction of the actual reduction in rig count. For those interested, the Following Article delves into these principles further and provides useful insight.

Let’s now apply these principles to actual domestic oil production. Before we can set up the model, there are three baseline metrics that need to be established: 1) Rate that rigs drill a well, 2) Time between initial spudding of a well and when it begins production, and 3) Initial production rate of new oil wells.

The EIA has released well counts on a quarterly basis for the past two years. Their data shows that the ratio of new wells to rigs has increased slowly from around 4.75 per quarter in 2012 to 5.3 per quarter in 2014. This equates to about 0.4 wells per week per rig presently. For the model, I used a linear reduction in drilling efficiency with drilling rates down to 0.3 wells per week per rig in 2006.

It takes 15-30 days to drill a new oil well. Once the hole is dug, the well must be completed. It typically takes another week for the rig to be removed and new equipment to be set up. A further week is devoted to hydraulic fracturing. Initial flow back and priming of production takes place over the next 3-4 days. Over the final week, the well is primed for continuous production including installation of tank batteries, the pump jack, and assorted power connections. The well is then connected to the pipeline and permanent production begins. Thus, it takes roughly two months from initial spudding of the well to when it begins production. However, once a well is completed it does not always begin to produce immediately and may not do so for up to six months.

Initial oil production rates have increased markedly over the past decade as drilling technology has improved. The EIA released the chart shown below in Figure 4 showing yearly initial production rates in the Eagleford Shale.

Figure 4: Yearly production rates in Eagleford Shale Formation showing rapidly increased initial rates of production 2009-2014. (Source: EIA)

Initial rates increased from less than 50 barrels per day (or 350 per week) in 2009 to nearly 400 barrels per day (or 2800 per week) in 2014. Note that the decay rate has also increased such that by 2-3 years, all wells are approaching the same output despite the significant differences in increased production. This is a relatively new oil formation and older formations produced more oil initially prior to 2010. For my model, I assumed initial production of 2625 barrels of oil per well per week in 2014-2015 with initial production declining to 1400 barrels per well per week in 2006.

Using this data and the methodology discussed in the example above, a modeled projection of U.S. oil production is created dating back to 2006. This data is shown in Figure 5 below and is compared to actual oil production, calculated on a weekly basis. My preferred unit of time is 1 week as this is the frequency that both the rig count and oil production numbers are released.

Figure 5: Projected oil production based on my model vs. observed crude oil production vs. Baker Hughes Rig Count [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

Overall, this model accurately projects oil production based on active drilling rigs. Between 2006 and 2015, the average error was 88,000 barrels per day, or 1.2%. Over the past six months, this error has averaged just 44,000 barrels per day. The model correctly shows production continuing to increase despite the sharp reduction in active drilling rigs. It is interesting to note that the largest deviation between projected oil production and observed production occurred in late 2009 and early 2010, or shortly after the rig count bottomed out from the previous oil price collapse. The model predicted that oil production would decline somewhat while actual production actually just leveled off before beginning a new rally once the rig count rebounded later in 2010.

This model can be used to project how oil production might behave heading into the future. To do so, we must make assumptions about how the rig count might behave heading into the future. First, let’s pretend that the rig count stays unchanged at 825 active oil rigs for the next 1 year. Figure 6 below projects crude oil production to 1 year.

Figure 6: Projected oil production based the rig count remaining unchanged at 825 [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

Using this projection, crude oil production will peak during the week ending April 10 at 9.51 million barrels per day and then begin declining. By next March 2016, production will have declined to 8.68 million barrels per day, down 9.5% from the projected peak. Again, this goes to show the buffering capacity of older rigs, given that a sustained 50% reduction in the rig count results in a comparatively small <10% decrease in output.

Two qualifying notes are necessary. This model shows a relatively short period of time between production plateauing and production beginning its decline. 1) Given that this model assumes all completed wells are producing oil within 3 months of spudding, it is certainly possible that the production curve may flatten out for a longer period of time due to additional completed wells that have been idle are slowly hooked up to pipelines over the next several months. 2) This model also makes the assumption that all rigs produce oil equally. If rigs drilling less-productive oil fields have been selectively retired while those drilling richer fields have remained active, the rate of decline will similarly be slower and less than projected.

The most recent historical comparison to the events currently unfolding took place in 2008-2009 following the collapse of oil from record highs during the great recession from a high of $146/barrel to near $30/barrel. The rig count during that event was likewise slashed by 50% before rapidly recovering when prices rebounded. However, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison since drilling technology has changed substantially – decline rates are much more rapid, initial production is nearly double that in 2008, etc – and inferences cannot necessarily be made about the future of production. However, let’s assume that the current rig count follows a similar trend. If so, the rig count will slow its descent and bottom out in roughly six weeks near 760-780. If the rig count follows the trend seen in 2009, the count will then rapidly rise and will reach 1330 by this time next year. Production will again peak during the week of April 10, before declining. Production will bottom out in late October near 8.9 million barrels per day, down just 6.3% from its peak before again increasing late in the year.

However, the decline in oil in 2008-2009 was based more on the combination of a bubble bursting and a slumping economy than fundamental forces while the current slump is predicated on a supply/demand mismatch. I expect this will keep prices and rigs down significantly longer than in 2008-2009. Let’s amplify the 2008-2009 rig count curve and project instead that rigs bottom out near 730-750 and that the rate of recovery is roughly half that of 2008-2009 with total rigs at just 950 this time next year. Using this model, production will continue to slowly decline through the New Year and flatten out near 8.7 million barrels per day by March 2016, down 8.4% from the peak. I believe that this is a more realistic model for crude oil production. This projection is shown below in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Projected oil production based on 2008-2009 rig count [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

What does this mean for the supply/demand situation? As I have discussed in my previous articles, crude oil supply and demand are severely mismatched. This has led to oil inventories skyrocketing to a record high of 458 million barrels, a huge 98.7 million barrels above the five-year mean for March. Applying the projected production curve shown in Figure 7 to crude oil storage yields some surprising results. Even with just an 8.7% reduction in supply, the inventory surplus will narrow markedly. These results are shown below in Figure 8, which compares the five-year average storage level and current and projected storage levels. Note: These projections assume that total imports will remain flat and that total demand will follow the five-year average.

Figure 8: Projected crude oil storage based on projected oil production data vs. 5-year average [Source: EIA]

While the rig count continues to climb and then plateaus, I expect that the storage surplus will continue to widen with total inventories approaching 500 million barrels by early May. However, as production drops off, the inventory surplus begins to decline. By the last week of 2015, total supply has declined by 4.7 million barrels per week and projected inventory levels cross the five-year average for the first time since October 2014. Should the rig count begin the slow rise that is projected, by March of 2016, total storage levels will be 50 million barrels BELOW the five-year average. Even if the two qualifying statements discussed above verify or the rig count rises more rapidly than projected, I expect that, based on the drop in rig count already, crude oil inventories will be at or below average this time next year.

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What does this mean for crude oil prices? There is a chicken and egg situation going on here. This article makes references to the rebound in rig count after bottoming out in the next month or two. This, of course, is predicated on a rise in price to make drilling again profitable. Without a rally, the count will continue to fall or, at the very least NOT rise, putting further pressure on supply and down-shifting the projected production curve further, making it more likely that prices will THEN rally. Until they finally do. One way or another, I do not see how crude oil can remain priced at under $45/barrel for longer than a few months. Something has to give. Drilling technology is simply not yet to the point where this is a profitable price range for the majority of companies.

Given that these projections show production increasing through early April, I would not be surprised to see continued short-term pressure on oil prices. As I discussed in My Article Last Week, storage at Cushing, the closely watched oil pipeline hub, continues to fill rapidly and threatens to reach capacity by early May. I would welcome such an event, as crude oil would likely drop under $40/barrel presenting an even better buying opportunity. I therefore maintain a short-term bearish, long-term bullish stance on oil.

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My favorite way to play a rally in oil is to short the VelocityShares 3x Inverse Crude Oil ETN (NYSEARCA:DWTI) to gain long exposure. This takes advantage of leverage-induced decay to at least partially negate the impact of contango on the ETF. The United States Oil ETF USO), on the other hand, is intended to track 1x the price of oil and leaves an investor directly exposed to contango, which is now 15% over the next six months. The same applies to the VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil ETN (NYSEARCA:UWTI), except that exposure to contango is now tripled to 45%.

The advantage to USO is in its safety. A short position in DWTI theoretically leaves an investor open to infinite losses should the price of oil continue to drop. Further, shares must be borrowed to short, which can cost 3-5% annually depending on the broker. And if, once a trader has a position, these shares are no longer available, the position can be forcibly closed at an inopportune time. A slightly less risky position would be the ProShares UltraShort Bloomberg Crude Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:SCO) that is more liquid and less volatile.

For this reason, I started a small position in USO on Thursday at $16.05 when oil erased its post-Fed Remarks gains from Wednesday. This position is equal to just 2% of my portfolio. I will add to my USO position once oil breaks $45/barrel and then again should the commodity break $42/barrel for a total exposure of 6% of my portfolio. Should oil continue to decline to under $40/barrel, I will begin to sell short DWTI at what I assume to be a safer entry point until 10% of my portfolio is allocated to oil ETFs.

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Should oil rebound, I will look to take profits. Once the rig count bottoms, I will begin taking profits once oil reaches $50/barrel. I will selectively sell USO initially. I prefer to close out the position most exposed to contango initially in the event that oil reverses and I would otherwise be stuck holding it for an extended period of time. I will then close out DWTI if and when crude oil again reaches $60/barrel. While I believe that oil may ultimately see higher prices, I am concerned at the speed at which rigs may be re-deployed once drilling again becomes profitable. I believe that this will keep oil under $70/barrel for the foreseeable future and will look to exit prior to this level.

In conclusion, an oil production model based on 9 years of domestic production and rig count data is used to project oil production for the past 1 year. This model suggests that oil will bottom around the week ending April 10. However, this is just a modeled projection and the actual peak in production will depend on nuances in drilling discussed above. Nevertheless, I believe that the peak in oil production will represent a significant psychological inflection point and that crude oil is poised for a rally once production begins to roll over.