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The Bakken LTO extraction in Retrospect and a Forecast of Near Future Developments

In retrospect, it becomes easier to understand the amazing growth and resilience of Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction from Bakken (and other US tight oil plays) if the effects from the use of huge amounts of debts (including assets and equities sales) is put into this context.

Debt leverage together with a high oil price are what stimulated the US LTO extraction for some time to appear as something like a license to print money.

Now, and as long present low oil prices persist, the LTO companies are in financial straitjackets.

  • It was high CAPEX in 2015 from external funding, primarily debt and assets/equities sales, that created the impression of LTO’s resilience to lower oil prices (ref also figure 2).
    Actual data show that so far there has been some improvements in well productivities [cumulative versus time]. However, these improvements by themselves do not fully explain the apparent resilience of LTO extraction to lower oil prices.
  • NONE of the wells now added in the Bakken are on trajectories to become profitable at present prices (ref also figure 3).
    The average well now needs about $80/bo at the wellhead to be on a profitable trajectory.
    (The average spread between WTI and North Dakota Sweet has been and is above $10/bo.)
  • As far as actual data from NDIC on well productivity (EUR trajectories) provide any guidance it is not expected that well manufacturing will pick up in a meaningful way before the oil price moves and remains above $60/bo @ WH.

Writing down the drilling cost and rebasing profitability from completion costs [for DUCs, Drilled UnCompleted wells] does not change this fact.

  • The decline in the LTO extraction will (all things equal) relentlessly erode future funding capacities for drilling and completion [well manufacturing].
  • It is now all about the net cash flow from operations, debt service and retirement of debts [clearing the bond hurdles]. Debt management and debt restructuring will remain on top of the agenda for management of LTO companies. It should be expected that the management of these companies will do everything in their powers to clear the bond hurdles and keep their companies out of bankruptcy.
  • For 2016 well additions in the Bakken will fall below the threshold that allows to fully replace extracted reserves.
    In the industry this is referred to as the Reserves Replacement Ratio (RRR).
    For the Bakken the RRR for 2016 is now expected to be below 50%.
    (This lowers the collateral of the LTO companies and their debt carrying capacities.)

At present prices several companies cannot both retire their debts according to present redemption profiles and manufacture a lot of wells. This is why it is suspected that halting all drilling (where feasible [i.e. Contracts without stiff penalties for cancellation]) and deferring completions have become a necessity born out of the requirements for debt management.

This analysis presents:

  • A forecast on total LTO extraction for Bakken (ND, MB/TF) towards the end of 2017.
  • A closer look at a generic LTO company in Bakken and its near future challenges with clearing the bond hurdles.
    (The generic LTO company is based on [weighted] financial data from several, primarily Bakken invested companies’ Security and Exchange Commissions (SEC) 10-K/Q filings for 2015).
    To keep the focus on the (debt) dynamics in play, The Financial Red Queen, I opted to use a generic company. This is also done to play down discussions about specific companies.
  • The important message to drive home is how declining cash flow from operations, the big debt overhang and clearing the bond hurdles will constrain many LTO companies’ funding (CAPEX) for well manufacturing [drilling and/or completion] as long as oil prices remain below $60/bo @WH (or about $70/bo, WTI).

Figure 1: The chart above show actual LTO extraction from Bakken (ND, MB/TF) [green area], the funding constrained forecast towards end 2017 [grey area] and how LTO extraction is forecast to develop if no producing wells were added post Jan-16 [black dotted line].

Figure 1: The chart above show actual LTO extraction from Bakken (ND, MB/TF) [green area], the funding constrained forecast towards end 2017 [grey area] and how LTO extraction is forecast to develop if no producing wells were added post Jan-16 [black dotted line].

The companies operating in Bakken come in many sizes and business models and some of the majors (or subsidiaries thereof) likely have bigger financial muscles, lower debt costs (interest rates) and may have somewhat lower specific costs due to scale of operations.

  • With sustained low oil prices, the servicing of total debt has been and will be the power that forces companies deep in debt and heavily exposed to LTO into bankruptcies and causes losses on creditors and become the real driver behind the steep decline in LTO extraction.

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Written by Rune Likvern

Wednesday, 6 April, 2016 at 21:51

Status on the Bakken ”Red Queen” with Data as per April 2015

This post presents a study of developments of Light Tight Oil (LTO, shale oil) extraction for 8 companies in Bakken(ND) that as of April 2015 had added around 600 (or more) producing wells in the Bakken/Three Forks formations since January 2008.

The 8 companies are; Continental Resources, EOG Resources, Hess Bakken Investments, Marathon Oil Company, Oasis Petroleum, Statoil Oil & Gas, Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation and XTO Energy.

These 8 companies had around 63% of total LTO extraction from Bakken as of April 2015.

The decline in the oil price has so far reduced the number of rigs drilling in Bakken and a decline in total LTO extraction in Bakken. This study shows there are differences in responses amongst the studied companies to the oil price decline.

As with most other things, size matters, also in Bakken.

Figure 1: The chart above (stacked areas) shows developments in total  LTO extraction, split on the 8 presented companies and others. 4 of the studied companies had growth in LTO extraction for the period from December 2014 through April 2015 which are stacked on top. NOTE: The chart does not include contributions from wells starting to flow prior to 2008 for the presented companies and the contributions from these wells are included in others and normally diminishes as the wells ages.

Figure 1: The chart above (stacked areas) shows developments in total LTO extraction, split on the 8 presented companies and others.
4 of the studied companies had growth in LTO extraction for the period from December 2014 through April 2015 which are stacked on top.
NOTE: The chart does not include contributions from wells starting to flow prior to 2008 for the presented companies and the contributions from these wells are included in others and normally diminishes as the wells ages.

Data from the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) shows that in  April 2015 Bakken LTO extraction was at 1.11 Mb/d, down from a high of 1.16 Mb/d as of December 2014.

  • For the period December 2014 – April 2015 those in decline lost about 76 kb/d (close to 10%), while those with growth added around 21 kb/d, curtailing total decline at 55 kb/d (close to 5%).
  • The 4 companies with growth added about 300 producing wells (46%) of a total of 645 for the months January – April 15 and contributed about 37% of the total Bakken LTO extraction per April 2015.

kb; kilo barrels = 1,000 barrels

The decline in the oil price and LTO flow (for some companies) is likely to move focus to CAPital EXpenditures discipline, profitability and balance sheets healing.

The low oil price has already affected the scale of the drilling and will in the near future lead to a decline in the monthly producing wells additions.

At present oil prices ($60/Bbl, WTI) the net cash flow from operations could unabridged pay for the addition of around 100 wells/month (from spud to flow).

As of the recent months an average of 160 producing wells was started monthly and LTO extraction declined.

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Written by Rune Likvern

Thursday, 18 June, 2015 at 21:48

Will the Bakken Red Queen Outrun Growth in Water Cut?

This post presents a closer examination of actual data on Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction, developments in water cut and Gas Oil Ratio (GOR) for some pools and individual wells in the Middle Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota.

LTO extraction’s primary drive mechanism is (differential) pressure and there are some noticeable trends for LTO extraction from Bakken:

  • LTO productivity (measured as average totals by vintage) in 2014 have increased, most notably from the Middle Bakken formation which has better well productivity than Three Forks.
    There are differences to LTO productivity developments amongst the pools.
  • Water cut; generally increases as the wells ages.
    An indicator for depletion.
  • Water cut; generally increases for newer wells.
    This suggests that the areas with the highest oil saturation has been developed.
  • Gas Oil Ratio (GOR, produced and expressed as Mcf/Bbl); generally increases as the well ages. 
  • What appears to characterize a Bakken sweet spot is the presence of natural fractures (favorable geology), high oil saturation and a pressure above hydrostatic pressure.

Further, this post also has a brief look into well economics and describes how well manufacturing is likely to be affected by the decline in the oil price and what this may entail if a lower oil price ($70/Bbl, WTI) is sustained.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in the water cut [water cut = [water/(water + LTO)] for the “average” wells by vintage in North  Dakota. Produced water (brine) is transported to dedicated disposal sites. Chart by Enno Peters.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in the water cut [water cut = [water/(water + LTO)] for the “average” wells by vintage in North Dakota. Produced water (brine) is transported to dedicated disposal sites.
Chart by Enno Peters.

What is fascinating about LTO wells in Bakken is that the individual wells appear to have their own “personality” when it comes to productivity, surrounding rock properties, water/oil saturation and GOR which makes well management (of close to 9,000 “personalities”) a paramount task.

This post contains in total 30 charts that hopefully are self explanatory.

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Growth in Global Total Debt sustained a High Oil Price and delayed the Bakken “Red Queen”

The saying is that hindsight (always) provides 20/20 vision.

In this post I present a retrospective look at my prediction from 2012 published on The Oil Drum (The “Red Queen” series) where I predicted that Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction from Bakken in North Dakota would not move much above 0.7 Mb/d.

  • Profitable drilling in Bakken for LTO extraction has been, is and will continue to be dependent on an oil price above a certain threshold, now about $68/Bbl at the wellhead (or around $80/Bbl [WTI]) on a point forward basis.
    (The profitability threshold depends on the individual well’s productivity and companies’ return requirements.)
  • Complete analysis of developments to LTO extraction should encompass the resilience of the oil companies’ balance sheets and their return requirements.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction from January 2009 and as of August 2014 in Bakken North Dakota [green area, right hand scale]. The top black line is the price of Western Texas Intermediate (WTI), red middle line the Bakken LTO price (sweet) as published by the Director for NDIC and bottom orange line the spread between WTI and Bakken LTO wellhead all left hand scale. The spread between WTI and Bakken wellhead has widened in the recent months.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development in Light Tight Oil (LTO) extraction from January 2009 and as of August 2014 in Bakken North Dakota [green area, right hand scale]. The top black line is the price of Western Texas Intermediate (WTI), red middle line the Bakken LTO price (sweet) as published by the Director for NDIC and bottom orange line the spread between WTI and Bakken LTO wellhead all left hand scale. The spread between WTI and Bakken wellhead has widened in the recent months.

What makes extraction from source rock in Bakken attractive (as in profitable) is/was the high oil price and cheap debt (low interest rates). The Bakken formation has been known for decades and fracking is not a new technology, though it has seen and is likely to see lots of improvements.

LTO extraction in Bakken (and in other plays like Eagle Ford) happened due to a higher oil price as it involves the deployment of expensive technologies which again is at the mercy of:

  • Consumers affordability, that is their ability to continue to pay for more expensive oil
  • Changes in global total debt levels (credit expansion), like the recent years rapid credit expansion in emerging economies, primarily China.
  • Central banks’ policies, like the recent years’ expansions of their balance sheets and low interest rate policies
    • Credit/debt is a vehicle for consumers to pay (create demand) for a product/service
    • Credit/debt is also used by companies to generate supplies to meet changes to demand
    • What companies in reality do is to use expectations of future cash flows (from consumers’ abilities to take on more debt) as collateral to themselves go deeper into debt.
    • Credit/debt, thus works both sides of the supply/demand equation
  • How OPEC shapes their policies as responses to declines in the oil price
    Will OPEC establish and defend a price floor for the oil price?

I have recently and repeatedly pointed out;

  • Any forecasts of oil (and gas) demand/supplies and oil price trajectories are NOT very helpful if they do not incorporate forecasts for changes to total global credit/debt, interest rates and developments to consumers’/societies’ affordability.

Oil is a global commodity which price is determined in the global marketplace.

Added liquidity and low interest rates provided by the world’s dominant central bank, the Fed, has also played some role in the developments in LTO extraction from the Bakken formation in North America.

As numerous people repeatedly have said; “Never bet against the Fed!” to which I will add “…and China’s determination to expand credit”.

Let me be clear, I do not believe that the Fed’s policies have been aimed at supporting developments in Bakken (or other petroleum developments) this is in my opinion unintended consequences.

In Bakken two factors helped grow and sustain a high number of well additions (well manufacturing);

  • A high(er) oil price
  • Growing use of cheap external funding (primarily debt)

In the summer of 2012 I found it hard to comprehend what would sustain the oil price above $80/Bbl (WTI).

The mechanisms that supported the high oil price was well understood, what lacked was documentation from authoritative sources about the scale of the continued accommodative policies from major central banks’ (balance sheet expansions [QE] and low interest rate policies) and as important; global total credit expansion, which in recent years was driven by China and other emerging economies.

I have described more about this in my post World Crude Oil Production and the Oil Price.

 

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THE REVIVAL OF MOUNTRAIL’s ”OLD” SWEET SPOTS

This post is an update and slight expansion of my previous post In Bakken (ND) it is now mostly about McKenzie County about developments in light tight oil (LTO) extraction in the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota.

It also includes a little about developments in LTO extraction from Bakken/Three Forks in Elm Coulee, Montana.

Harsh winter weather affected additions of producing wells and also caused a total estimated 300 additional producing wells (relative to entering winter) to be shut in with different durations. The total effects from well additions that was below what was estimated to sustain a level production, and the high number of wells shut in caused total LTO extraction to move sideways last winter, with a small dip during December and January.

Figure 01: The chart above shows development for annual tight oil extraction from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota [green area and rh scale]. The black line shows development in the interest for the US 10 - Year Treasury [lh scale].

Figure 01: The chart above shows development for annual tight oil extraction from the Bakken/Three Forks formations in North Dakota [green area and rh scale]. The black line shows development in the interest for the US 10 – Year Treasury [lh scale].

Interest rates had for some time been on a downward trajectory and the extraction of tight oil from Bakken/Three Forks started to grow while interest rates continued to be lowered and the Fed and other central banks started their rapid expansion of their balance sheets. Assisted with a tighter global supply/demand balance the oil price moved higher.

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IN BAKKEN (ND) IT IS NOW MOSTLY ABOUT MCKENZIE COUNTY

In this post I present an update to my previous posts over at The Oil Drum (The Red Queen series) on developments in tight oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota with some additional estimates, mainly presented in charts. The expansion is much about the differences between wells capable of producing, actual producing wells and idle wells (here defined as the difference between the number of wells capable of producing and the number of actual producing wells).

Figure 01: The chart above shows monthly net additions of producing wells (green columns plotted against the rh scale) and development in oil production from Bakken (ND) (thick dark blue line, lh scale) as of January 2000 and as of October 2013. The 12 Month Moving Average (12 MMA) is also plotted (thick dotted dark red line, lh scale).

Figure 01: The chart above shows monthly net additions of producing wells (green columns plotted against the rh scale) and development in oil production from Bakken (ND) (thick dark blue line, lh scale) as of January 2000 and as of October 2013. The 12 Month Moving Average (12 MMA) is also plotted (thick dotted dark red line, lh scale).

There is still noticeable growth in tight oil production from an accelerated additions of producing wells.

  • For October 2013 North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) reported a production of 877 kb/d from Bakken/Three Forks.
  • In October 2013YTD production from Bakken/Three Forks (ND) was 775 kb/d.
    (It is now expected that average daily production for all 2013 from Bakken (ND) will become around 800 kb/d.
  • The cash flow analysis now suggests less use of debt for manufacturing wells for 2013.
    Major funding for new wells now appears to come mainly from from net cash flows.

kb; kilo barrels = 1,000 barrels

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TIGHT OIL AND OIL SAND VERSUS SMALL DEEP WATER DEVELOPMENTS, SOME OBSERVATIONS

This post which is based on results from earlier research and analytic work posted on The Oil Drum, Fractional Flow and not least in recent (private) discussions with other international acknowledged experts present some facts and observations about developments of tight oil (which to some extent also applies to oil sands) versus small deep water discoveries*.

*Small deep water discoveries are here meant discoveries with Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) below 100 Million Barrels of Oil Equivalents (MBOE).

Figure 1: Chart above shows relative developments in annualized yield curves (lh scale) of oil for so-called elephants (Norwegian deep water discoveries estimated to hold ultimate recoverable reserves (EUR) above 1,000 million barrels with crude oil [red lines]). Small discoveries (Norwegian deep water discoveries estimated to hold ultimate recoverable reserves (EUR) below 100 million barrels with crude oil, [green lines]). The reference tight oil well for Bakken [violet lines]. The cumulative versus time is plotted against the rh scale.  Note also the short high flow life cycles of small deep water developments and tight oil.

Figure 1: Chart above shows relative developments in annualized yield curves (lh scale) of oil for so-called elephants (Norwegian deep water discoveries estimated to hold ultimate recoverable reserves (EUR) above 1,000 million barrels with crude oil [red lines]).
Small discoveries (Norwegian deep water discoveries estimated to hold ultimate recoverable reserves (EUR) below 100 million barrels with crude oil, [green lines]).
The reference tight oil well for Bakken [violet lines].
The cumulative versus time is plotted against the rh scale.
Note also the short high flow life cycles of small deep water developments and tight oil.

One big takeaway from the chart above is that both developed small deep water discoveries and tight oil wells have steep decline rates and short high flow life cycles. These are now the major sources that offset declines from the bigger, heavily depleted legacy fields (with long productive life cycles) and provide any growth in global oil supplies.

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