Energy Exports Soar as Fracking Drives Record Production

Friday, February 02, 2018

A new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that hydraulically fractured horizontal wells accounted for 69 percent of new oil and gas wells drilled in 2016, up from less than 20 percent in 2008. The report comes as the United States is reaching production and export milestones unseen in decades: crude oil production recently surpassed 10 million barrels per day (b/d) – a 47 year high – while 2017 was the first year since 1957 that the United States was a net natural gas exporter.

Defying estimates made just months ago, EIA reported this week that American crude oil production topped 10 million b/d in November 2017 for the first time since November 1970.  Much of this growth has stemmed from shale development, EIA notes, as horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured wells accounted for 10.7 million feet of the almost 13 million total feet drilled in 2016.

Crude Oil Production

According to the EIA, oil production from shale in Texas achieved record highs last November, as output topped 3.89 million b/d. To put that in perspective, Texas shale oil production was over three times higher than the next highest producing state, North Dakota, which had roughly 1.18 million b/d in output that month.

In addition to historic shale production in Texas, overall oil production from tight formations across the country reached a record high of 5.09 million b/d in November, besting the previous high set in March 2015 by nearly 400,000 b/d. With this, liquids production (crude oil and condensate) now accounts for roughly 51 percent of total U.S. production, up from just 7 percent in November 2008.

Tight Formation Production

This record production has allowed the United States not only to meet demand domestically but also transition into a global exporter of crude oil. According to EIA, U.S. crude oil exports grew by roughly 380 percent between November 2015 and November 2017, reaching over 1.5 million b/d. Meanwhile, October 2017 saw record oil exports, as the United States shipped abroad more than 1.73 million b/d.

Like crude oil production, U.S. natural gas production has grown significantly over the past decade thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling. In 2017, U.S. dry natural gas production averaged roughly 73.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), with dry shale gas accounting for about 50 Bcf/d, or nearly 60 percent, of that production by December 2017.

Dry Shale Production

EIA estimates dry natural gas production will increase to 79.7 Bcf/d in 2018 and 83.1 Bcf/d in 2019. These projected increases in dry natural gas production will push domestic production ahead of U.S. consumption for the first time since 1966, EIA notes.

Mirroring the rise in natural gas production, U.S. exports of natural gas have also soared. Year over year, annual U.S. natural gas exports grew by over 2 Bcf/d, making the United States a net annual exporter of natural gas in 2017 for the first time in 60 years. Further, net natural gas exports are forecast to average 2.3 Bcf/d in 2018 and an astounding 4.6 Bcf/d in 2019.

U.S. Trade

Even as exports are predicted to grow rapidly, EIA still estimates average domestic natural gas prices to be less than the 2017 average of $2.99 per million British thermal units (MMBtu). The agency projects that natural gas prices will decline to an average of $2.88/MMbtu in 2018, before minimally increasing to an average of $2.92/MMbtu in 2019.

This forecast echoes the conclusions reached in a Texans for Natural Gas report released earlier this year, which found that while natural gas power generation in the state grew by 17 percent from 2008 to 2016, residential prices in Texas declined by nearly 15 percent.