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The Anatomy Of An Oil Market Evolution, Its Sustainability, And Consequences



Oil price manipulation looks to be elusive, based on failing abilities to constrict supply.

For decades, the oil market was based on oil supplies not meeting increases in demand, and prices sustained at high levels.

U.S. oil production changed expectations by producing supply that exceeded demand.

Technology transformed the oil market in ways unforeseen by OPEC and markets.

This technological transformation was once thought to be self-limiting but has been tested with historically low oil prices and survives, but at what challenge to OPEC countries?

World oil markets have experienced a fundamental transition in recent years, making the practice of oil price manipulation to be elusive. In the past, oil prices were basically supported by the market being undersupplied, together with the specter of peak oil. Oil market paradigms were based on declining production in countries composing the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), contrasting with rising global demand mostly among non-OECD countries. In the face of such production declines, OPEC and Eurasia (Russia and the former United Soviet Social Republics, USSR) pegged their production to quotas more so associated with global supply than global demand. The resulting anticipation was for a state of secular market undersupply to simply continue, pushing oil prices higher.

However, oil prices collapsed. Market expectations were defeated with the U.S. dramatically increasing production. The production increase in the U.S. shocked markets by demonstrating the capacity to supply 78% of the total global oil demand increase from 2008 to 2015 – something never before experienced from a country or entity in the oil markets. OPEC and Eurasia market quotas, associated with global supply, cemented an oversupplied dynamic.

This oversupply was once thought to be self-limiting, with U.S. producers simply having to shut in production at various declining price levels. 2016 proved this not to be the case. Now, OPEC and Russia seek to regain influence in an oil market that’s dramatically altered. Altered in such a way that the past method of controlling prices by controlling supply has simply given way to new technologies. These technologies evolved an oil market where the ability to accumulate market share at historically low prices is paramount. Driving this is the fact that oil production trends have been much more dramatic than trends in oil demand, with both trends favoring oversupplied conditions. Technology is creating the ability to produce more oil at progressively lower costs. Likewise, technology reduces oil demand by creating fuel inefficiencies and alternative modes of energy.

Another transitional market dynamic is looming between a state of oversupplied conditions and sovereign budget deficits. Where OPEC countries once enjoyed significant sovereign budget surpluses and associated social services, now worrying budget deficits have persisted since 2014. To bridge the gap, unprecedented bond debt has been issued among the most able, namely Saudi Arabia, with their $17.5 billion global bond issuance in October of last year. The primary method of addressing deficits has been the use of foreign currency reserves, such as in Iraq to fill an approximate $20 billion per year shortfall over the last 3 years. All of this in a region already inflicted with substantial ideological tensions, insurgencies and territorial conflicts.

OPEC once balanced production between supporting prices, while avoiding global economic recession. Now we see OPEC pressured in an unprecedented way, with private company profitability setting oil price discovery. A collapse in OPEC production is the risk as always, but now it is compounded by the new economics of oil price due to technology and not just the customary features of ideology and territory.

An undersupplied market and resulting price support, but technology’s disruption

According to data from the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), from 2007 through 2013, global markets were undersupplied with oil 4 years out of the total 7. The undersupply was often significant, with an undersupply of 1.4 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2007 and 1.24 mb/d in 2011. In 2012, an oversupply of only 140 thousand barrels per day (kb/d) occurred. In 2009 and 2010, the market was essentially balanced, with demand having been eroded by the Great Recession.

In the singular instance of oversupply, the volume of oversupply was minimal. This dynamic supported inflation-adjusted oil prices in the range of $90-105 per barrel. A shift to oversupply came in 2014 with an oversupply of 820 kb/d, gaining to 1.71 mb/d in 2015 and 250 kb/d in 2016. So far in 2017, the first quarter saw a state of balance and the second quarter saw an undersupply of 270 kb/d, primarily attributable to a large decline in Canadian production due to an unscheduled disruption in operations. Of course, it was in the second half of 2014 that oil prices began their collapse as the basic premise of maintaining an undersupplied market showed failure.

Basic to explaining this shift in supply is shale and tight oil production in the U.S. For decades, oil production in the U.S. had been in decline until technology opened a new chapter. Chevron’s 10-K for 2016 explains the oil industry’s new approach to production by using the Permian basin as an example. According to the company, the “Permian has multiple stacked formations that enable production from several layers of rock in different geological zones.” This allows “for multiple horizontal wells to be developed from a single well pad location using shared facilities and infrastructure…”

Such a compounding of wells on a single well pad, near shared facilities and infrastructure, largely explains the countervailing premise of historical oil market dynamics.

Technology in U.S. oil production defeated general oil market expectations of undersupply in a dramatic fashion

The EIA tracks oil production data in a variety of ways. One such way is by tracking production of “petroleum and other liquids,” which is similar to barrels of oil equivalents. I will reference this EIA data as barrels of oil equivalents per day (boe/d). In 2009, as the new production technologies were being launched, U.S. production jumped by 630 kboe/d to 9.14 mboe/d, an increase of 7.4% over 2008’s level of 8.51 mboe/d. U.S. production increased at similar rates until 2012, when the increase was 980 kboe/d to reach 11.11 mboe/d, up 9.7% over 2011 levels. 2013 saw the U.S. rate of production brake the 1 million mark by increasing by 1.23 mboe/d, 2014 was a banner year with a production increase of 1.73 mboe/d, and 2015 saw a per day increase of another 1.05 mboe/d.

With multiple years of increasing production by over a million barrels per day, and nearly 2 million barrels per day in 2014, U.S. total production found itself at 15.12 mboe/d in 2015. This reflects a 77.6% increase in U.S. oil production from a 2008 level of 8.51 mboe/d. Over 7 years, the U.S. increased its production by a remarkable 6.61 mboe/d.

U.S. production grew to contribute 63.5% of the total increase in global oil supply, compared with OPEC contributing 24.8%

From 2008 to 2015, total global oil production went from 85.37 mboe/d to 95.78 mboe/d, an increase of 10.41 mboe/d. Of this increase in supply, the U.S. accounted for 6.61 mboe/d, or 63.5% of the increase in total global supply. Over the same period, the largest oil producer, OPEC, saw their production go from 35.72 mboe/d in 2008 to 38.31 mboe/d in 2015, an increase of only 2.59 mboe/d. Most of OPEC’s increased production was in 2015, with an increase of 1.96 mboe/d. Still, OPEC’s share of total increased global supply was only 24.8%. If one considers that global oil production grew by 10.41 mboe/d between 2008 and 2015, and increased production from both the U.S. and OPEC totaled 9.2 mboe/d, the combined increase in supply from the U.S. and OPEC accounted for 88% of the total increase in global supplies.

Eurasia once was the second-largest oil producer behind OPEC, but this changed in 2014 with the progressing evolution of U.S. production. In 2008, Eurasia produced 12.52 mboe/d, contrasting with the U.S. producing 8.51 mboe/d. By 2015, Eurasia’s production advanced to 14.10 mboe/d, while U.S. production saw 15.12 mboe/d. This resulted in Eurasia production growing by a small 1.58 mboe/d from 2008 to 2015, which is only 15% of the total growth in global production of 10.41 mboe/d.

If one combines the U.S., OPEC and Eurasia production increases, the three grew production from 2008 to 2015 by 10.78 mboe/d, while total global production increased at a smaller rate of 10.41 mboe/d. This numerical discrepancy shows that production from the above three assisted in offsetting production declines in other areas, such as the North Sea having a decline of 1.24 mboe/d and Mexico declining by 570 kboe/d. Add in Canadian production increasing by 1.46 mboe/d, together with minor advances and declines in other areas, and one can see that the increase in U.S. production of 6.61 mboe/d fundamentally altered the global oil market.

From 2009 through 2011, U.S. oil production steadily crept higher, gaining by about 500 kboe/d. That rate of production doubled in 2012, hitting nearly one million barrels per day of new oil that previously wasn’t anticipated. OPEC generally keeps its share of total global production at about 40%, and Eurasia similarly keeps its share in the 15% range. The U.S., on the other hand, expanded its share of total global production from 9.9% in 2008 to 15.8% in 2015. In so doing, it accounted for 63.5% of the increase in total global supply and is the essential reason for the increase in global supply.

Declining production outside of OPEC and Eurasia signaled deepening undersupply, but U.S. production came to address 78% of the increase in global oil demand

Looking at the demand side of the equation, production in the U.S. appears to have averted a looming energy crisis. In so doing, a progressing undersupply imbalance was corrected, at the expense of high oil prices. In 2008, total global consumption stood at 85.78 mboe/d and reached 94.07 mboe/d by 2015, resulting in an increase of 8.29 mboe/d. Of course, total global oil supply increased by 10.41 mboe/d over this period, showing an oversupply of 2.12 mboe/d. This oversupply assisted in compensating for more periods of substantial undersupply than rare periods of meager oversupply.

With the U.S. increasing its production by 6.61 mboe/d from 2008 to 2015, and total global demand increasing by 8.29 mboe/d, the increase in U.S. production addressed 78% of the increase in global demand and, together with OPEC and Eurasia production, an oversupply resulted. Over the 7 years prior to 2008, an opposite dynamic prevailed where supply grew by 7.6 mboe/d and demand grew by 10.3 mboe/d, with an undersupply of 2.7 mboe/d. Undersupply was the essential premise of oil markets, and when the U.S. shale revolution became apparent as a continuing development, prices collapsed.

Originally, it was assumed that the oversupplied condition would be self-correcting. That is, the falling price of oil due to changes in market dynamics would inevitably weed out U.S. shale production. However, as observed by Chevron’s John Watson in his Q4 2016 earnings call, “I have been surprised at how resilient production has been in many locations around the world[,] some of that is we just keep getting better.”

Resilient U.S. production is proving to be sustainable, and when combined with Canadian production, continued oversupplied conditions look more likely than not, with potential social ramifications among OPEC countries

One such location of production resiliency is certainly the U.S. In January 2016, the EIA projected that U.S. petroleum production would fall into a run rate of 14.5 mboe/d and stay there, if not go lower, through 2017. This contrasts with a run rate in the 15.20 mboe/d range seen in 2015, a decline of 700 kboe/d. By June 2016, the EIA projected U.S. production to fall as low as 14.22 mboe/d, a decline of 980 kboe/d versus 2015 levels. Interestingly, EIA projected continuation of oversupply through 2017 despite projections of significantly declining U.S. production. The essential reason was forecasts of OPEC increasing production, thereby offsetting U.S. declines. It wasn’t until December of 2016 that OPEC resolved to cut production by 1.8 million barrels of crude per day. The reason: By December of 2016, both OPEC and the EIA had recognized the resiliency of U.S. production.

Though U.S. production did decline, it didn’t do so to the extent thought. It consistently defeated projections to the upside throughout 2016 by around 200 kboe/d. Ultimately, U.S. production decreased by only 290 kboe/d compared with 2015, despite oil prices rarely exceeding $50 per barrel, going as low as $27 and ranging between $50 and $40. In 2016, the market remained oversupplied by 350 kboe/d, assisted by OPEC increasing its production by 610 kboe/d.

OPEC’s agreement in late 2016 to cut production by 1.8 mb/d boosted oil price optimism. But the agreement was more so a last-ditch response to OPEC’s disappointed expectations of U.S. shale production collapsing. Through the first half of 2016, both OPEC and the EIA projected declining U.S. production, with OPEC’s expectations being much more aggressive. In the second half of 2016, it became apparent that U.S. shale production could function in an environment of sustained low pricing. Consequently, the EIA began to revise projections for U.S. production upwards.

Currently, U.S. production has returned to the upward trajectory previously witnessed. In January 2017, the EIA projected U.S. first-quarter production to be 14.76 mboe/d, while the actual production was 15.01 mboe/d. Same with the second quarter, where the projection was 15.04 mboe/d with an actual rate of 15.36 mboe/d. By the fourth quarter of this year, the EIA projects U.S. production to reach 16.24 mboe/d, exceeding the high mark reached in 2015 of 15.20 mboe/d. OPEC is also projected by the EIA to exceed previous records of production by reaching 39.91 mboe/d by the end of 2017.

The EIA forecasts a balanced oil market this year, going into moderately oversupplied next year. However, such a forecast for 2017 looks to be based essentially on flat Canadian production. Since the rescission, Canada has consistently increased production. In the fourth quarter of 2016, their production reached 4.95 mboe/d, and it was at 4.92 mboe/d in the first quarter of 2017. In the second quarter of 2017, production fell to 4.52 mboe/d due to disruptions arising from a fire at Suncrude Canada Ltd.’s bitumen processing plant. For the third and fourth quarters of 2017, the EIA is projecting Canadian production to be at 4.78 mboe/d. Given the country’s history of increasing production, and given a production rate of 4.9 mboe/d prior to the second quarter disruption, it appears more likely that Canadian production will reach the 5.0 mboe/d level. Such an event would result in a slightly oversupplied market for 2017.

OPEC’s production cuts are showing signs of declining enthusiasm. June’s compliance rate decline to 78% versus high 90% rates in previous months. There is a market dynamic at play which OPEC has yet to address, at prices more so implying the need for difficult social transition than simply the margin efficiencies obtained by private oil companies.

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5 Comments on "The Anatomy Of An Oil Market Evolution, Its Sustainability, And Consequences"

  1. dave thompson on Thu, 10th Aug 2017 11:11 am 

    Canada and US are supplying the increase in what? Crap fracked condensate and tar sands? This production of low EROEI FF’s will not last. It is just one big ponzi shell game scheme of deception.

  2. DMyers on Thu, 10th Aug 2017 7:56 pm 

    Another tribute to the fascinating and fulfilling story of American know-how and technology, as we once again break out ahead of the rest. The article is really saying that oil production has become a technological phenomenon. No consideration about what’s really down, out, or over there. Oil production has become as limitless as a hard drive.

    Take this statement from the article. “Given the country’s history of increasing production, and given a production rate of 4.9 mboe/d prior to the second quarter disruption, it appears more likely that Canadian production will reach the 5.0 mboe/d level.”

    What inference other than that increasing oil production is a trait of some locations? If you have a history of increasing production, well, then, this is simply an “increasing production” spot. It’s production will always increase, because that’s what it does. Of course the increase, at this point, is predicated on improved technology to coax oil out of thin air.

    As to the wonderful condensate, which gets full, liter by liter, credit as an oil equivalent,it is, in fact only half-oil. It goes with Canadian whatever that stuff is to make genuine, simulated oil. Is it a fifty-fifty blend? No one has said, although Rockman implied this at one point.

    This is not sustainable. Please look at it again, sir. Oil scarcity is not a dreamed up marketing ploy. It is a fact associated with the nature of the resource.

  3. Boat on Thu, 10th Aug 2017 9:20 pm 


    There are rock formations even conventional reservoirs where current tech is to expensive to frack. I have read many posts claiming that even after successful fracking as much as 80 percent of the oil remains. More explosions, closer together, more sand, more wells per pad, is the trend.
    Are the changes working? The Permian in Texas as little as 4 years ago produced 200 bpd per day avg. Today that number is over 600 bpd pd. No wonder fracking competes with the rest of the world at $40-$50

  4. rockman on Fri, 11th Aug 2017 12:31 am 

    “U.S. oil production changed expectations by producing supply that exceeded demand.” In the last 10 years the US has 25 BILLION bbls of oil. During that same time period total oil storage in the US increased 220 million bbls. IOW the US consumed 99.1% of the oil produced in the country. During that same period the US consumed 99.7% of the oil it produced and imported.

    No: oil production in the US has not exceeded demand in the last 10 years by a meaningful amount. And no: US oil production + imports have not exceeded demand in the last 10 years by a meaningful amount.

    The fact will never change: oil supplied and oil demand (consumed) will always be in close balance. The amount of oil produced and consumed in the US and globally dwarfs the increase in the amount of oil added to storage.

  5. rockman on Fri, 11th Aug 2017 2:21 pm 

    D – “As to the wonderful condensate, which gets full, liter by liter, credit as an oil equivalent,it is, in fact only half-oil. It goes with Canadian whatever that stuff is to make genuine, simulated oil. Is it a fifty-fifty blend? No one has said, although Rockman implied this at one point.”

    Sorry buddy, condensate is oil. Which is why it can sell for as much or more then middle weight oil. I’m sure you’re familiar with the WTI tossed around daily by the MSM. You would call that “real oil”, wouldn’t you? Are you aware that the official definition of WTI is a light crude oil with an API gravity of 39.6°. And 39.6° API is just an hair short of the 40° API that most use as the beginning of the condensate classification.

    More important, the condensates/light oils are absolutely critical to our refining industry. The refiners that process 32° API oil of which there is an insufficient amount. In fact less then 20% of our production qualifies. In fact condensate/light oil (40°+ API) represents about 45% of total US oil production:

    Which is fortunate because we need a lot of condensate/light oil to blend with our heavy oil imports to create the 32° API blended oil our refineries DEMAND.

    The condensate/light oil is also critical to our daily import of 3 million bbls of Canadian oil. Canada lacks all the condensate/light oil it needs to blend with the oil sands production: about 350,000 bbls per day is imported from the US. Dilbit (DILuted BITumin) is made up of 25% to 40% of condensate/light oil that only increases the gravity to about 23° API. Then in places like Cushing, OK (the largest oil blending facility in the world() more US condensate/light oil is added to the dilbit to reach the required 32° API weight. Just guessing but by the time the dilbit reaches the refineries it is composed of at least 50% condensate/light oil. Possibly a good bit more.

    And the final dilbit blend (32° API) is 100% all natural OIL. Honest injun. LOL.

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