The surge of light, tight oil unleashed by the U.S. energy revolution has caused a profound shift in the world oil market. The demand for oil is no longer the dominant factor, but the new supply made possible by the increase in U.S. production to nine million barrels daily.
Faced with an unprecedented challenge to its market domination, OPEC decided to maintain current levels of production, which led to U.S. oil prices trading in the high $60 per barrel for the first time since the summer of 2009.
OPEC’s motivations for standing pat have been ascribed to their desires to smother the U.S. fracking boom, avoid losing market share, or allow time for the oil market “to stabilize itself eventually”, according to the Saudi Oil Minister. In the view of many industry analysts, OPEC will be surprised by the resilience of new U.S. oil production, and fail to achieve the first two of its goals.
Oil prices at five-year lows have made the economic climate for U.S. oil production more challenging than it has been in years. But royalty owners should remain optimistic about monetizing their mineral leases. A new IHS analysis of well data finds that 80% of new tight-oil production in 2015 would be economic between $50 and $69 per barrel. Data from individual companies reveals that some projects are profitable down to about $40 a barrel.
Technological advances that lower the cost of drilling each well have been driving this change. Statoil reports that their costs have fallen 50% in two years, and could keep falling another 15% by 2016. In addition, producers are generating more oil per well. The result is fewer wells, at lower cost, with higher overall production.
OPEC’s gamble on allowing oil prices to plunge may hurt their own members, and non-member Russia, more than the U.S. Venezuela depends on oil revenues for up to 65% of government spending and its economy is already in chaos. Iran depends on oil for 50% of its budget and sanctions have cut its oil exports almost in half. With oil providing over 40% of the Russian budget and the value of the ruble falling rapidly, Russia is headed for recession.
U.S. mineral owners can take comfort in the fact that experts believe the biggest impact of lower oil prices on future output will be a slowdown and reduction in major new investments around the world. The losers will be countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America trying to woo investment for new oil and gas projects. This lack of new projects will benefit U.S. royalty owners in the long term because it will cause oil prices to rise once again.