Patzek 2016: Is U.S. Shale Oil Production Peaking?

Tad Patzek.  March 16, 2016 Is U.S. Shale Oil & Gas Production Peaking? Part II: Oil Production.  patzek-lifeitself.blogspot.com

In Part I of this post, I discussed production of gas from the four largest shale plays in the U.S. Ordered by production levels, these are the Marcellus, Barnett, Haynesville and Fayetteville shales. In my mind it is quite unlikely that much new drilling will occur in Fayetteville and Haynesville.  There will be some drilling in the Barnett and plenty in Marcellus, but significantly less than to date.

Based on my calculations in 2015, these plays may deliver between 3 and 7 years of U.S. gas consumption, a far cry from the 100-year gas supply postulated by many experts.

Consistent with this view, for at least three years I have argued that the large-scale oil and gas exports from the U.S. may not be good.

Here I consider the two largest oil plays in the U.S.: the Eagle Ford and Bakken shales.  Eagle Ford is also a significant gas and condensate producer.  At their respective production peaks, these two shales together produced about 3 million barrels of oil per day and destabilized global oil markets on the expectation that both would continue to produce at this high level for several years.

As I show below, oil production from the Eagle Ford and Bakken might have already peaked, and their ultimate production might be 8 billion barrels of oil and 23 Tcf of natural gas.  Both may eliminate 3 years of oil imports into America and satisfy 10 months of natural gas consumption.  While these volumes are quite significant, they are a far cry from the 15 billion barrels of proven recoverable oil reserves “predicted” by the industry experts for the Bakken shale alone.

The plot below shows global production of crude oil and lease condensate in the world in red and the U.S.A. in blue, both relative to the production at the end of 2004.  Notice that between 1982 and 2005, global production of crude oil increased by 20 million barrels of oil per day (20 MBOPD). During the same time period, the U.S. crude oil production decreased by about 4 million barrels of oil per day (4 MOPD).  Therefore, the new field projects outside of the U.S. generated an incremental 24 MOPD.

The rate of crude oil and lease condensate production in the world’s and U.S.a in millions of barrels per day.  Both curves were shifted by subtracting the respective production rates in December 31, 2004, so that the zero level of production corresponds to to this date.

Since 2005, the increase of global production has been numerically equal to the increase of U.S. oil production, which in turn has been dominated by oil production from the Eagle Ford and Bakken.  This means that the output of all petroleum projects outside of U.S. has stagnated; production growth in some projects has been exactly cancelled by declines of other projects. In other words, we are near the peak of crude oil and lease condensate production in the world. And this 10-year stagnation of global production happened despite the record investment in upstream E&P of up to $700 billion per year before the last oil price collapse.

If net increase of global petroleum production is almost equal to U.S. shale oil production, it follows that sales of the Eagle Ford and Bakken crudes controlled to a large extent the global petroleum markets.  Expecting that U.S. oil production would continue increasing, Saudi Arabia refused to cut its production and price of oil collapsed around the world.  It is therefore important to estimate ultimate oil and gas production in both Eagle Ford and Bakken, and possible production declines in both of these plays.  Such an analysis has strong geopolitical implications and here I will tread lightly.

Let me start from showing you the overall energy production from both plays in EJ/year and EJ. 1 EJ = 0.81 trillion standard cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas or 163 million barrels of (equivalent) oil. In 2015, U.S. produced 3.44 billion barrels of oil and imported 2.68 billion barrels.  The U.S. also consumed 27.4 Tcf on natural gas.

Supposing that ultimate total production from the Eagle Ford will be 50% higher than the ultimates reported in the two charts below, 2.7*1.5 = 4 billion barrels of oil and 12 Tcf*1.5 = 18 Tcf will be produced.  Therefore, in total, the Eagle Ford shale might eliminate 1.5 years of U.S. crude oil imports, and satisfy 8 months of consumption of natural gas.

Please click on the image to see it in full resolution.  Rate of total production of oil and gas in the Eagle Ford formation. In EJ/year. The 6 EJ/year at the peak of production is equivalent to 1.6 MBOPD and 6 billion standard cubic feet of gas per day.
Cumulative total (oil+gas) production from the Eagle Ford shale. The ultimate 29 EJ produced is equivalent to 4.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent or 2.7 billion barrels of oil and 12 Tcf of natural gas.

Also supposing that ultimate total production from the Bakken will be 50% higher than the ultimates reported in the two charts below, 2.6*1.5 = 3.9 billion barrels of oil and 3.3 Tcf*1.5 = 5 Tcf will be produced.  Therefore, in total, the Bakken shale might eliminate 1.5 years of U.S. crude oil imports, and satisfy 2 months of consumption of natural gas.

Rate of total production of oil and gas in the Bakken formation. In EJ/year. The 3.2 EJ/year at the peak of production is equivalent to 1.2 MBOPD and 1.6 billion standard cubic feet of gas per day.  The Bakken is less rich in gas than Eagle Ford
Cumulative total (oil+gas) production from the Bakken shale. The ultimate 21 EJ produced is equivalent to 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent or 2.6 billion barrels of oil and 3.3 Tcf of natural gas.

I end with this excerpt from an exceptional book, The Captive Mind, by the famous Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, a fellow faculty at Berkeley some years ago, and a winner of Nobel Prize in literature:

An old Jew in Galicia once made an observation: “When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let them thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”

Call me a 60%-right kind of a guy. The number of Americans, who believe that there may be a critical shortage of energy supply in the next 5 years is at an all time low.

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