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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Forbes: What if Fracked Shale isn't the High Cost Producer?

From Forbes:
It’s easy enough to read the basic policy that OPEC is following over the oil price at present. They’re losing market share to unconventional oil producers and they’re not happy about that. So, they’re entirely happy to allow the price to fall so as to keep their own market share. The basic assumption is that those large conventional reservoirs will always be cheaper to produce from than those unconventional deposits. Thus, as the price falls, the unconventional producers go out of business, OPEC retakes market share and all is rosy in their garden. This does, however, depend upon the assumption that the unconventional producers are the higher cost producers. And while that’s definitely true of some of them, say the oil sands, there’s a remarkable claim out there that this isn’t particularly true of the shale oil developers. Which is something that is, if true, something of a problem for OPEC’s strategy. 
The basic idea of what OPEC is doing is here:

“(OPEC) cannot continue protecting a certain price. That is not the only aim of OPEC,” said Suhail Mohamed Faraj al-Mazrouei, the U.A.E. oil minister, at an energy event in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. 
He said it would take time for oil prices to stabilize, but whether that timeline is going to be two or three years depends on how rational oil producers are. He said U.S. shale-oil producers will set the “floor” for tumbling crude prices. 
Or as it’s more baldly stated here:

ABU DHABI: OPEC cannot protect world oil prices which have plunged since June, the United Arab Emirates said today, adding that rising North American shale oil output needed to be curbed. 
World prices have been falling since June but the pace of the slide accelerated in November when the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to maintain its production unchanged at 30 million barrels per day. 
Analysts say that richer OPEC members like the UAE have been ready to accept the price fall in the hope that it will force higher-cost shale producers out of the market.
OK, that’s fine as a strategy as long as the basic analysis is correct. We might compare this with JD Rockefeller’s usual ambition of giving rivals a “sweating” when he was running Standard Oil. Rockefeller was the dominant producer and also the lowest cost producer (more through his command of transport than drilling technology, but the end result was the same). In any decision to reduce prices he, as that low cost producer, could force the other, higher cost, producers out of the market. And he did so: largely to the benefit of consumers although that’s not how the standard anti-trust histories record it all. 
However, that does only work if that analysis about who is the low cost producer is is actually correct. And there’s a rather remarkable claim that it may well not be OPEC that is, but the shale producers:
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