Eagle Ford Reality Check

David Hughes is probably the foremost authority on tracking shale gas and tight oil production. And in collaboration with the Post Carbon Institute, Hughes is out with his latest update "Eagle Ford Reality Check: The Nation's Top Tight Oil Play After More Than a Year of Low Oil Prices."

It's a great review of what's happening in the largest tight oil play in the U.S. and how they're coping with low prices. The short version: they're not, and production is dropping because of it.

Consider that U.S. tight oil plays already have to deal with the dual challenges of steep decline rates (which Hughes has previously covered at length) and debt/investor issues. Add onto that low oil prices far under tight oil's breakeven points - and all of this is a giant recipe for lower production.

Will the U.S. ever beat it's November 1970 peak of oil production? The answer is probably going to have to wait until later 2016/2017 when oil prices are once again high enough to justify production gains again. Shale promoters argue that there is a "fracklog" of new production just waiting for the proper price to be unleashed. Yet Hughes argues that the best days of the best plays might already be behind us.

If he's right, it's quite possible that OPEC's war on U.S. production, and the lower prices that were the result, might have robbed the shale drillers of their one window to set a new all-time U.S. oil production peak.

Here's Hughes:

"The hype surrounding tight oil as a means to bolster global oil production over the long term is not justified. Geological fundamentals clearly show that high decline rates, limited sweet spots, and finite numbers of drilling locations will limit long term contributions to production. The Eagle Ford and Bakken plays have peaked after only a few years, and although they have made a significant short term impact, their best days are behind them. The Bakken and Eagle Ford are unique in that they were developed from scratch, whereas other plays in the Permian Basin, Niobrara and elsewhere are redevelopments of old plays (which have been producing for decades) with new technology. The optimistic tight oil forecasts of the EIA, and even more optimistic forecasts of some industry watchers, are unhelpful abstractions in developing energy policy for a more sustainable future."