US 'biggest oil producer'

The United States will remain the world's biggest oil producer this year after overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia as extraction of energy from shale rock spurs the nation’s economic recovery, Bank of America Corp said.

US production of crude oil, along with liquids separated from natural gas, surpassed all other countries this year with daily output exceeding 11 million barrels in the first quarter, the bank said in a report this week. The country became the world's largest natural gas producer in 2010. The International Energy Agency said in June that the US was the biggest producer of oil and natural gas liquids.

"The US increase in supply is a very meaningful chunk of oil," Francisco Blanch, the bank’s head of commodities research, said by phone from New York. "The shale boom is playing a key role in the US recovery. If the US did not have this energy supply, prices at the pump would be completely unaffordable."

Oil extraction is soaring at shale formations in Texas and North Dakota as companies split rocks using high-pressure liquid, a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The surge in supply combined with restrictions on exporting crude is curbing the price of West Texas Intermediate, America's oil benchmark. The US, the world's largest oil consumer, still imported an average of 7.5 million barrels a day of crude in April, according to the Department of Energy's statistical arm.

US oil output will surge to 13.1 million barrels a day in 2019 and plateau thereafter, according to the IEA, a Paris-based adviser to 29 nations. The country will lose its top-producer ranking at the start of the 2030s, the agency said in its World Energy Outlook in November.

"It's very likely the US stays as No 1 producer for the rest of the year" as output is set to increase in the second half, Blanch said. Production growth outside the US has been lower than the bank anticipated, keeping global oil prices high, he said.

Partly as a result of the shale boom, WTI futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange remain at a discount of about US$7 a barrel to their European counterpart, the Brent contract on ICE Futures Europe's London-based exchange. WTI was at $103.74 a barrel as of 4.13pm London time.

Islamist insurgency

"The shale production story is bigger than Iraqi production, but it hasn't made the impact on prices you would expect," said Blanch. "Typically such a large energy supply growth should bring prices lower, but in fact we're not seeing that because the whole geopolitical situation outside the US is dreadful."

Territorial gains in northern Iraq by a group calling itself the Islamic State has spurred concerns that oil flows could be disrupted in the second-largest producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) after Saudi Arabia. Exports from Libya have been reduced by protests, while Nigeria's production is crimped by oil theft and sabotage.

Libya will resume exports as soon as possible from two oil ports in the country's east after taking back control from rebels who blocked crude shipments for the past year, Mohamed Elharari, spokesman for the state-run National Oil Corp, said by phone from Tripoli.

The US will consolidate its position as the world's biggest producer in the coming months if returning Libyan supply limits the need for Saudi barrels, said Julian Lee, an oil strategist who writes for Bloomberg News First Word. The observations he makes are his own.

Record investment

"There's a very strong linkage between oil production growth, economic growth and wage growth across a range of US states," Blanch said. Annual investment in oil and gas in the country is at a record $200 billion, reaching 20% of the country’s total private fixed-structure spending for the first time, he said.

A US Commerce Department decision to allow the overseas shipment of processed ultra-light oil called condensate has fanned speculation the nation may ease its four-decade ban on most crude exports. Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and Enterprise Products Partners LP will be allowed to export condensate, provided it is first subject to preliminary distillation, the companies said June 25.

The decision was "a positive first step" to dispersing the build-up of crude supply in North America, Bank of America said in a report on June 27. The US could potentially have daily exports of 1 million barrels of crude, including 300,000 of condensate, by the end of the year, according to a June 25 report from Citigroup Inc.

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