By: Nilanjan Choudhury – Zacks – According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) latest Drilling Productivity Report, oil output in the Permian Basin will surpass 5 million barrels per day in January. The agency forecasts that crude volumes from the region in the western part of Texas and the south-eastern part of New Mexico will go up from 4,960 thousand barrels per day (Mbbl/d) in December to 5,031 Mbbl/d next month. The projected production figure for January would be a new record for America’s biggest oil field and reflects the steady addition of rigs. As proof of improvement inactivity, the rig count in the Permian Basin has risen to 288 from an all-time low of 116 in August 2020.
As far as combined U.S. oil supplies from seven major shale formations (Anadarko, Appalachia, Bakken, Eagle Ford, Haynesville, Niobrara, and Permian) is concerned, EIA expects it to increase from 8,342 Mbbl/d in December to 8,438 Mbbl/d in January. With crude prices hovering around the $70-barrel level, production is expected to increase in six of the seven unconventional plays, with the largest gain of 71,000 barrels per day happening in the Permian Basin.
The effects of strong oil prices can also be seen in the number of wells that are being drilled but not completed (DUC), or wells that could be turned on at short notice. The EIA said that the number of such wells declined by 226 over the past month, with 105 of those in the Permian.
Experts say that it’s cheaper to drill and complete oil wells in the Permian Basin as compared to most other major fields. Moreover, there are certain parts of the shale play whose well-returns are the best in the U.S. Permian’s attractive economics. This means that producers can make money and sustain growth there at the current price. According to estimates, the average breakeven prices in most of the Permian well locations is below $50 per barrel — the lowest in the United States.
It’s not surprising that the United States’ top energy moguls have renewed their focus on the largest U.S. shale play. The likes of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips are placing long-term bets on the Permian Basin to take full advantage of the commodity upcycle.
ExxonMobil continues to invest heavily in the low-cost play. The company recently unveiled its plans to spend between $20 billion and $25 billion each year out to 2027. Along with offshore Guyana developments, XOM will allocate the lion’s share of the budget toward Permian.
At the third-quarter end, ExxonMobil produced 500,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in the Permian Basin, which comprised more than 40% of its total production in the United States. XOM has a strong presence in the prolific area, where it continues to lower its fracking & drilling costs.
Chevron, meanwhile, announced that for 2022, it intends to spend $4.5 billion on shale, with the lion’s share (or $3 billion) going to the lucrative Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico alone. In fact, CVX’s existing project pipeline is among the best in the industry, thanks to its premier position in the lucrative play.
Driven by robust output in the showpiece region, Chevron’s U.S. volumes so far this year have increased some 10% from the year-earlier level to 1,113 thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day. CVX currently holds approximately 2.2 million net acres in the Permian — primarily in the prolific Midland and Delaware basins.
Another big U.S. company ConocoPhillips’ Permian footprint has expanded significantly over the past year, culminating with the recent purchase of 225,000 net acres in the core of the oilfield. The acquisition added 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day of production to Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) COP’s portfolio, putting it just behind ExxonMobil to become the second-largest hydrocarbon producer in the Lower 48.