In its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) update released this week, EIA forecasts that U.S crude oil production will average 9.4 MMbpd in the second half of 2017, 340,000 bpd more than in the first half of 2017.
EIA’s close monitoring of current rig activity in several producing regions shows continued production growth from tight-oil formations, such as shale in the Permian region, driving overall production increases.
The STEO projects that the most significant production growth in the second half of 2017 will be in the Permian region. Permian production is forecast to grow to 2.6 MMbpd in the second half of 2017, a 260,000 bpd increase from the first half of 2017. Production in the Permian continues to increase, in part as a result of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil average monthly prices that have remained higher than $45/bbl since the second half of 2016.
Extending across western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the Permian region has developed into one of the more active drilling regions in the United States because its large geographic size and favorable geology contain many prolific tight formations such as the Wolfcamp, Spraberry, and Bonespring. Increases in proppant intensity, lateral lengths, and changes to slick-water completions are also among the factors that have allowed the Permian to remain one of the most economic regions for oil production despite the low-oil-price environment. WTI spot prices averaged $50/bbl in the first half of 2017, spurring deployment of more rigs to the Permian, which rose steadily from 276 rigs in January to 380 rigs in September. The STEO projects that the Permian region rig count will continue to grow from an average of 341 rigs in 2017 to 371 rigs in 2018, and the WTI price is forecast to average $49/bbl for the second half of 2017 and $51/bbl in 2018.
The STEO forecasts Niobrara and Anadarko production to grow by 75,000 bpd and 42,000 bpd, respectively, averaging 500,000 bpd and 460,000 bpd, respectively, for the second half of 2017. This growth makes these two regions the second- and third-largest contributors to the STEO’s projected growth between the first and second half of 2017. Production in the Niobrara and Anadarko regions has grown continuously since January 2017 in response to increasing rig activity and a monthly WTI price range from $45/bbl to $53/bbl during the year. With an expectation that prices will continue to be near this range, rig activity and production are expected to continue to grow.
In the STEO forecast, the Bakken region is expected to maintain production at slightly less than 1.1 MMbpd through 2017, increasing by 31,000 bpd between the first and second half of the year. The Bakken region predominately spans the Williston Basin, which contains the Bakken and the Three Forks formations. Although the Bakken region is large in geographic size (23 million acres), it contains fewer identified prolific formations than the Permian. In addition, operators in this region are affected by winter weather and have greater transportation constraints in moving oil to refineries and markets. Rigs in the Bakken region grew from 35 in January to 44 in May of this year, increasing further to 51 in September.
The STEO forecasts production in the Eagle Ford region to remain relatively flat in the second half of 2017 at 1.2 MMbpd, a 5,000 bpd increase from the first half of 2017. Compared with the Permian, the Eagle Ford region has a significantly smaller geographic area with fewer prolific stacked formations and fewer opportunities to drill. Rigs in the Eagle Ford region grew from 57 to 98 from January through May of this year, but declined to 83 in September, in part as a result of a lagged response to lower WTI prices in the second quarter of 2017. More recently, the Eagle Ford region experienced temporary outages in production and rig activity in August and September because of Hurricane Harvey.
EIA expects Alaska production to remain relatively flat, averaging 460,000 bpd in the second half of 2017, a 22,000 bpd decrease from the first half of 2017, because of seasonal maintenance on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System during the third quarter.
Production in the rest of the United States is expected to remain fairly constant, with relatively modest production declines in California (30,000 bpd) and the Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico (7,000 bpd) in the second half of 2017.
In the Lower 48 states, observed rig counts typically follow changes in the WTI price with an approximate four-month lag. In addition to responding to the WTI price, rig counts are related to cash flow and profitability. If returns are positive at a given price level, an operator could choose to add rigs. In that scenario, prices do not have to continually rise to support increases in rig counts. For most predominately tight-oil regions to see continued growth in production, rig activity must continue to increase because of the well dynamics, which on average have high initial production rates but very fast declines (e.g., 60% over the first 12 months of production). However, with the number of rigs continuing to increase, especially in the Permian, EIA has assessed that new wells are being drilled at a pace sufficient to maintain and increase production levels. If that trend changes, EIA will continue its process of adjusting its forecast in regular monthly STEO updates.
EIA models oil production monthly in the STEO at the state and regional levels. The STEO forecast is based on recent trends in drilling and production and on anticipated future changes, driven largely by the WTI price. EIA evaluates past production trends on a well-by-well basis for all production documented since 2014 and uses that history to estimate future well performance and decline rates at the state and regional levels.
As indicated above, EIA has observed that changes in the WTI price affect the number of active drilling rigs within about four months. Changes in the number of active rigs lead to changes in production volumes within about two months. Consequently, the STEO oil production forecast is based on the historical observation that changes in production volumes typically occur about six months after a change in the price of crude oil. The forecast is also influenced by estimates of cash flow and production costs, which vary by region and over time. In addition, the STEO makes assumptions regarding how the inventory of drilled but uncompleted wells responds to price and how that response affects production at the state and regional levels.
All historical production data are benchmarked monthly to the EIA-914 survey data and to EIA’s Petroleum Supply Monthly (PSM) estimates at the state level. The October STEO forecast for oil production is benchmarked to the PSM data for July 2017.
Since it started in 2016, the Dallas Fed Energy Survey quarterly business indicator of the share of exploration and production firms that think oil production will increase or decrease has moved consistently with EIA’s 914 survey of oil production. Consistent with the updated STEO forecast for U.S. oil production, the recently released 2017 third-quarter report from the Dallas Fed survey (July–September) shows expectations of an increase in oil production in Texas, New Mexico, and northern Louisiana from an index of 10.2 in the second quarter to 19.3 in the third quarter.
Forecasting crude oil production is a dynamic process because of many uncertainties. Not all operators respond to price movements at the same time, which leads to uncertainty in the timing and degree of change in the production trend. Constantly evolving drilling practices within the industry, changes in well performance, pipeline infrastructure, and weather events can also have significant influence on the short-term outlook for crude oil production in the Lower 48 states. Production estimates have shifted (and are likely to continue to shift) as new geological information is gained, long-term well productivity is observed, and technological advances and better operational practices improve well productivity and reduce costs. Potential changes in market dynamics, such as recent indications that investors may require companies to focus more on returns and less on production growth, also add uncertainty to the pace and level of future production.