Shale has upended global energy markets but two questions remain unanswered: Can it be called upon to meet demand growth, and will it ever be profitable?
WoodMac sees Permian production peaking at 3.5 million barrels per day in 2021, but that forecast stands in sharp contrast to other estimates pointing to robust growth for the foreseeable future.
The potential acceleration of decline rates at some shale wells is an ominous sign that the drilling bonanza in West Texas should not be taken for granted.
There are some signs that the U.S. shale industry is bumping up against its productivity limits, which could lead to lower-than-expected output gains or rising drilling costs.
With so much focus on OPEC cuts and shale growth as of late, declines at existing fields and demand increases from low prices mean that a supply gap will eventually form, even if the rosiest scenario pans out in the Permian.
Even though a large amount of shale production is hedged for this year, the industry is still vulnerable to cost inflation, access to capital markets and investment banks, and fluctuations in the oil price.
Exxon and other oil majors are still giving the green light to a handful of complex and risky but potentially highly profitable projects offshore, while at the same time increasingly shifting more resources into safer, smaller-scale shale drilling.
U.S. independent shale companies are starting to step up their spending plans, eyeing a swift return to the shale patch as oil prices rise. Many have revised their capex upward, added rigs, and hedged production forward.
The Permian has weathered the downturn in prices better than other shale plays, and prospects there are improving even more with prices firming after OPEC's decision to cut output.
While some companies have been able to drill profitable wells with prices at current levels and the Permian remains attractive, the U.S. oil industry is not healthy with oil under $50.