US shale: outlook and forecasts?

US shale production forecasts by basin

What outlook for US shale in the energy transition? This model sets out our US shale production forecasts by basin. It covers the Permian, Bakken and Eagle Ford, as a function of the rig count, drilling productivity, completion rates, well productivity and type curves. US shale likely adds +1Mbpd/year of production growth from 2023-2030, albeit flatlining in 2024, then re-accelerating on higher oil prices. Our shale outlook is also summarized below.

What outlook for shale in energy transition?

Shale is a technology paradigm where well productivity has risen by 3-7x over the past decade, through ever greater digitization. Shale economics are very strong, with 20% IRRs at $50/bbl oil on shale oil (model here) or at $2.8/mcf on shale gas (model here). We think 100bn bbls of recoverable shale resources remain in the US and ultimately, liquids production could be ramped up from 10Mbpd in 2023 to 17Mbpd by 2030 (note here), and most of this will be needed as energy shortages loom.

However the US shale industry has shifted its focus towards capital discipline and ESG. US shale averages 10kg/boe on a Scope 1 upstream basis (data here), shale oil averages 25kg/boe on a full Scope 1&2 basis running up to the refinery gate (data here) and 55kg/boe on a refined basis running up to the point of combustion (data here). The spread is wide, after comparing and contrasting 425 companies here and here. The best decarbonization opportunities for shale are mitigating flaring and methane leaks followed by electrification. Ultimately, we think the best operators could reach CO2 neutrality.

The most important questions on shale are how the resource base and well productivity will trend. This has been the topic of our shale research, and our latest views are covered in our 2024 shale outlook. Historically, we have also undertaken large reviews of the pace of shale technology progress, based on technical papers (examples here and here). There are fifty variables to optimize. And we are most excited about big data techniques, fiber optics and shale-EOR.

Modelling US shale production by basin?

Our model for US shale production looks at each of the main basins, using a factor breakdown. Total production in month T1 = Total production in month T0 + new additions – base declines. To calculate new monthly additions, we multiply (a) number of rigs running (b) wells drilled per rig per month (c) wells completed per well drilled (d) initial production of newly completed wells (IP30). And to calculate the base declines, we fit a best-fit type curve onto the new additions from past months. This model has worked quite smoothly for 6-years now, including history going back to 2011 and forecasts going out through 2030.

The Permian basin is the largest US shale oil basin, with 8Mbpd of total liquids production in 2023. Over the past six years from 2017-2023, the Permian basin has seen an average of 340 rigs running, drilling an average of 1.2 wells per rig per month, completing 1.06 wells for every well drilled (DUC drawdown) at an initial production rate of 780bpd (IP30 basis), adding +850kbpd/year of new supply to global oil markets. We still see strong growth potential, and the Permian could reach 14Mbpd of total liquids production by 2030, amidst higher activity and oil prices. All of these variables can be stress-tested in the model.

US shale production forecasts by basin
Permian production rigs productivity and drilling activity

The Bakken is the second largest US shale oil basin, with 1.3Mbpd of total liquids production in 2023. Over the past six years from 2017-2023, the Bakken has seen an average of 40 rigs running, drilling an average of 1.9 wells per rig per month, completing 1.15 wells for every well drilled (DUC drawdown) at an initial production rate of 780bpd (IP30 basis), adding +20kbpd/year of new supply to global oil markets. We see a decline in 2024, a recovery in 2025-26 and a plateau through 2030.

US shale production forecasts by basin
Bakken production rigs productivity and drilling activity

The Eagle Ford is the third largest US shale oil basin, with 1.1Mbpd of liquids production in 2023. Over the past six years from 2017-2023, the Eagle Ford has seen an average of 60 liquids-focused rigs running, drilling an average of 2.1 wells per rig per month, completing 1.22 wells for every well drilled (DUC drawdown) at an initial production rate of 680bpd (IP30 basis), but liquids production has actually declined, especially during the volatility of the COVID years. We see a decline in 2024, a recovery in 2025-26 and a plateau through 2030.

US shale production forecasts by basin
Eagle Ford production rigs productivity and drilling activity

Challenges and controversies for US shale?

The main revisions to our shale production models have been because of lower activity, as capital discipline has entrenched through the shale industry. The chart below shows our forecasts for activity levels at different, prior publication dates of this model. We have compiled similar charts for all of the different variables and basins, in the ‘revisions’ tab, to show how our shale numbers have changed.

US shale production forecasts by basin

Our shale outlook for 2023-2030 sees the potential for +1Mbpd of annual production growth as the industry also generates $150-200bn per year of annual free cash flow. You can stress test input variables such as oil prices in the model.

US shale production forecasts by basin
US shale cash flow and capex forecasts see potential for $150-200bn of free cash flow at $100 bbl oil

We have also modeled the Marcellus and Haynesville shale gas plays, using the same framework, in further tabs of the data-file. Amazingly, there is potential to underpin a 100-200MTpa US LNG expansion here, with just 20-50 additional rigs. Although recently we wonder whether the US blue hydrogen boom will absorb more gas and outcompete LNG, especially as the US Gulf Coast becomes the most powerful clean industrial hub on the planet (note here).

International shale? We have found it harder to get excited about international shale, but there is strong potential in other large hydrocarbon basins, if European shale is ever considered to rescue Europe from persistent gas shortages, and less so in China.

Please download the data-file to stress-test our US shale production forecasts by basin.

Global oil production by country?

Global oil production by country over time in Mbpd, correlates heavily with Brent crude oil prices in $/bbl

Global oil production by country by month is aggregated across 35 countries that produce >80kbpd of crude, NGLs and condensate, explaining >96% of the global oil market. Production has grown by almost +1Mbpd/year over the past two-decades, led by the US, Iraq, Russia, Canada. Oil market volatility is usually very low, at +/- 1.5% per year, of which two-thirds is down to conscious decisions over production levels.

Monthly global oil production by country is aggregated in this data-file, aggregating data from JODI, the International Energy Agency, the Energy Institute and individual countries’ national hydrocarbon registries, then extensively scrubbing and cleaning the data. This gives us month-by-month visibility on about 97% of the global oil market.

In particular, the data cover 35 countries with over 80kbpd of production (crude, NGL and condensate), which comprise 96% of the global oil market. Of this sample, 25 countries with over 600kbpd of production comprise 93% of the global oil market; 10 countries with over 2.5Mbpd of production comprise 75% of the global oil market; and 4 countries with over 5Mbpd of production comprise 50% of the global oil market (the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Canada).

Global oil production has grown by almost +1Mbpd per annum over the past 20-years, matching the trend in global oil demand by country.

The largest increases in oil production have come from the United States (+0.6Mbpd/year, due to US shale growth), Iraq (>0.1Mbpd/yr), Russia (>0.1Mbpd), Canada (>0.1Mbpd), Brazil (0.1Mbpd), UAE (<0.1Mbpd), Saudi Arabia (<0.1Mbpd), Kazakhstan (<0.1Mbpd).

Conversely, the largest declines in oil production by country have come from Venezuela, Mexico, the UK, Norway (all <0.1Mbpd/year).

The volatility of global oil markets is low compared to new energies. Across the 20-year period from 2003-2023, the standard deviation of YoY monthly oil production is 3Mbpd, for a standard error of 3.4%. However, excluding the volatility during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 onwards, the standard deviation of YoY monthly oil production is 1.8Mbpd, for a standard error of 2%. And after smoothing out over a TTM basis, this falls even further to 1.2Mbpd, for a 1.5% standard error.

Volatility or voluntary? Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, the US, Canada and Russia very clearly adapt their growth/output to market pricing signals, which actually dampens down supply volatility. Countries with the highest volatility in their production are Libya (standard error of +/- 35% of average output, on a TTM basis), Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria (all around +/- 10%). Full details in the data-file.

US CO2 and Methane Intensity by Basin

US CO2 and Methane Intensity by Basin

The CO2 intensity of oil and gas production is tabulated for 425 distinct company positions across 12 distinct US onshore basins in this data-file. Using the data, we can break down the upstream CO2 intensity (in kg/boe), methane leakage rates (%) and flaring intensity (mcf/boe), by company, by basin and across the US Lower 48.

In this database, we have aggregated and cleaned up 957 MB of data, disclosed by the operators of 425 large upstream oil and gas acreage positions. The data are reported every year to the US EPA, and made publicly available via the EPA FLIGHT tool.

The database covers 70% of the US oil and gas industry from 2021, including 8.8Mbpd of oil, 80bcfd of gas, 22Mboed of total production, 430,000 producing wells, 800,000 pneumatic devices and 60,000 flares. All of this is disaggregated by acreage positions, by operator and by basin. It is a treasure trove for energy and ESG analysts.

CO2 intensity. The mean average upstream oil and gas operation in 2021 emitted 10kg/boe of CO2e. Across the entire data-set, the lower quartile is below 3kg/boe. The upper quartile is above 13kg/boe. The upper decile is above 20kg/boe. And the upper percentile is above 70kg/boe. There is very heavy skew here (chart below).

The main reasons are methane leaks and flaring. The mean average asset in our sample has a methane leakage rate of 0.21%, and a flaring intensity of 0.03 mcf/bbl. There is a growing controversy over methane slip in flaring, which also means these emissions may be higher than reported. Flaring intensity by basin is charted below.

US CO2 intensity has been improving since 2018. CO2 intensity per basin has fallen by 17% over the past three years, while methane leakage rates have fallen by 22%. Activity has clearly stepped up to mitigate methane leaks.

(You can also see in the data-file who has the most work still to do in reducing future methane leaks. For example, one large E&P surprised us, as it has been vocal over its industry-leading CO2 credentials, yet it still has over 1,000 high bleed pneumatic devices across its Permian portfolio, which is about 10% of all the high-bleed pneumatics left in the Lower 48, and each device leaks 4 tons of methane per year!).

Most interesting is to rank the best companies in each basin, using the granular data, to identify leaders and laggards (chart below). A general observation is that larger, listed producers tend to have lower CO2 intensity, fewer methane leaks and lower flaring intensity than small private companies. Half-a-dozen large listed companies stand out, with exceptionally low CO2 intensities. Please consult the data-file for cost curves (like the one below).

Methane leaks and flaring intensity can also be disaggregated by company within each basin. For example, the chart below shows some large Permian producers effectively reporting zero flaring, while others are flaring off over 0.1 mcf/bbl.

All of the underlying data is also aggregated in a useful summary format, across the 425 different acreage positions reporting in to EPA FLIGHT, in case you want to compare different operators on a particularly granular basis.

Shale productivity: snakes and ladders?

Shale Productivity Snakes and Ladders

Unprecedented high-grading is now occurring in the US shale industry, amidst challenging industry conditions. This means 2020-21 production surprising to the upside, and we raise our forecasts +0.7 and +0.9Mbpd respectively. Conversely, when shale activity recovers, productivity could disappoint, and we lower our 2022+ forecasts by 0.2-0.9 Mbpd. This 7-page note explores the causes and consequences of this whipsaw effect.

Chevron: SuperMajor Shale in 2020?

Chevron Shale Technologies

SuperMajors’ shale developments are assumed to differ from E&Ps’ mainly in their scale and access to capital. Access to superior technologies is rarely discussed. But new evidence is emerging. This note assesses 40 of Chevron’s shale patents from 2019, showing a vast array of data-driven technologies, to optimize every aspect of shale.

CO2 Intensity of Oilfield Supply Chains

Oilfield Supply Chain CO2 per barrel

This data-file calculates the CO2 intensity of oilfield supply chains, across ten different resources, as materials are transported to drilling rigs, frac crews, production platforms and well pads.

Different resources can be ranked on this measure of supply chain CO2-intensity: such as  the Permian, the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Norway, Guyana, pre-salt Brazil and Middle East onshore production (chart above).

Underlying the calculations are modeling assumptions, for both onshore and offshore operations, each based on c15 input variables. You can change the inputs to run your own scenarios, or test the most effective ways to lower supply-chain CO2.

Permian CO2 Emissions by Producer

Permian CO2 Emissions by Producer

This data-file tabulates Permian CO2 intensity based on regulatory disclosures from 20 of the leading producers to the EPA in 2018. Hence we can  calculate the basin’s upstream emissions, in tons and in kg/boe.

The data are fully disaggregated by company, across the 20 largest Permian E&Ps, Majors and independents; and across 18 different categories, such as combustion, flaring, venting, pneumatics, storage tanks and methane leaks.

A positive is that CO2 intensity is -52% correlated with operator production volumes, which suggests CO2 intensity can be reduced over time, as the industry grows and consolidates into the hands of larger companies.

US Shale Gas to Liquids?

US shale gas to liquids

We have reviewed 40 of Shell’s GTL patent filings for 2018. They show continued progress, innovating new fuels, lubricants, renewable-heavy gasolines, waxes and detergents. Each patent is summarised and categorized in this data-file.

All of this begs the question whether there is a commercial rationale for a US replica of the Pearl GTL project, to handle the over-abundance of gas emanating from the Permian; and produce these advantaged products. It would also help reduce the risk of US LNG projects glutting the market.

We therefore model the economics in this data-file, using prior project disclosures and our learnings from the patent history. Our base case IRR is 11%, taking in 1.6bcfd of shale gas as feedstock. Resiliency is tested at varying oil and gas prices.

The cutting edge of shale technology?

shale technology technical papers

The database evaluates 950 technical papers that have been presented at shale industry conferences from 2018-2020.  We have summarised each paper, categorized it by topic, by author, by basin, ‘how digital’ and ‘how economically impactful’ it is.

The aim is to provide an overview of shale R&D, including the cutting edge to improve future resource productivity. We estimate 2020 was the most productivity-enhancing set of technical papers of any year in the database.

Recent areas of innovation include completion design, fracturing fluids, EORand machine learning. We also break down the technical papers, company-by-company, to see which operators and service firms have an edge (chart below).

CO2-EOR in Shale: the economics

CO2-EOR in shale

We have modelled the economics of CO2-EOR in shale, after interest in this topic spiked 2.3x YoY in the 2019 technical literature. Our deep-dive research into the topic is linked here.

The economics appear positive, with a 15% IRR under our base case assumptions, and very plausible upside to 25-30%.

There is potential to sequester 3.5bn tons of CO2 in shale formations in the US, plus another 40bn tons internationally, for a CO2 disposal fee of c$40/ton, which we have quantified based on the technical literature.

The model also allows you to stress-test your own assumptions such as: oil prices, gas prices, CO2 prices, CO2 tax-credits, compressor costs and productivity uplift. The impacts on IRR, NPV and FCF are visible.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2019-2024.