The bitter competition between the Trump administration and Vladimir Putin’s Russia may be the most underreported geopolitical news story of our time. While many American Democrats remain firmly convinced that President Trump is in Mr. Putin’s pocket, the Kremlin has embraced a costly and risky strategy aimed at undercutting what it sees as a dangerous growth of U.S. power. In recent weeks, the struggle has grown more intense as Russia has sacrificed longtime allies Venezuela and Iran in a no-holds-barred attempt to counter the Trump administration’s efforts to reshape world energy markets and undercut Moscow’s power.
Despite low prices, new barrels continue to be produced, most headed straight to storage. IHS Markit predicts global storage will reach capacity within six weeks. What the market will be for oil once the remaining storage is topped off is anyone’s guess.
The shale sector has been here before, though. Shale producers survived a severe downturn in 2014 when Saudi Arabia tried to flood the market to bankrupt U.S. producers. That episode lasted for two years before Riyadh threw in the towel and struck the supply-managment deal with Russia. The result was a leaner shale industry that came back stronger than ever and pushed production to all-time highs.
There will be casualties, including plenty of mergers and acquisitions, and bankruptcies among the over-leveraged companies, but those left standing when prices rebound will make for a more robust and resilient sector.
One victim of the downturn will most certainly be the shale sector’s rapid growth, but 13 million barrels a day was probably already the peak. After all, many forecasters, including the U.S. Energy Department, believed the sector was due to stop growing in 2021 anyway — before the full impact of the coronavirus and the price war came into view.
It’s important to remember that the U.S. economy is strong and that the current crisis is the result of a global pandemic – not a market failure. Shale is not going to disappear. The United States will continue to be a significant energy producer and its prolific resources will be waiting when prices rebound.
Thus far, US shale has outlasted what even most analysts thought—certainly longer than what Saudi Arabia thought, when it tried to drown US shale in oil just a few years back before it failed miserably and decided to, with the help of OPEC, cut production instead.