Has Permian productivity peaked?
Moreover, simply drilling the wells is only one part of the equation. As Collin Eaton of Fuel Fix notes, companies are drilling wells at a faster pace than contractors can frac them. The shortage of completion crews means that the backlog of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) has shot up over the past year, rising by more than 60 % to 1,995 in April 2017 from a year earlier.
The strain on contractors means that drilling costs will also rise. Oilfield service companies bore the brunt of the market downturn over the past three years, forced to slash their rates because of the lack of work. Oil producers have consistently and repeatedly boasted about their "efficiency gains," but much of the cost-savings came from soaking service companies.
That could be at an end. The rise in drilling activity means that oilfield service companies finally have more leverage to hike their prices. The results could be an upswing in costs for producers. Service costs could jump by 20 % this year, according to an estimate from S&P Global Platts.
But it isn't all rosy for service companies either. Fuel Fix notes that they have to rebuild their rig fleets after scrapping so many during the last few years. Also, finding enough people to return to work after savagely cutting payrolls will be a challenge.
Overall, however, production is still expected to increase. Generous financing from the financial market will ensure that capital is not a limiting factor. Consequently, the shale industry will continue to shower West Texas with money, rigs and people. Oil will flow in larger volumes this year and probably next year, barring another downturn. The Permian, for instance, is still expected to add more than 70,000 bpd of additional output between May and June.
Also, OPEC's determination to prevent another downturn in prices provides some certainty to shale drillers. OPEC is erasing some of the risk for drillers to deploy resources in the Permian. On an annual basis, the EIA estimates that U.S. oil production will average 9.3 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2017 and a staggering 10.0 mb/d in 2018.
But if well productivity has peaked, the marginal barrel will be a bit trickier to produce next year than it was in, say, late 2016.