Falling Oil Prices: How Low is Too Low for Bakken Producers?

Falling Oil Price
Falling Oil Price

In light of falling crude oil prices, there is growing speculation about how low will be too low for U.S. producers. In just a few short months, prices have plummeted from $100 a barrel to around $70 today. This has left analysts and industry leaders worried about the effects this will have on the booming shale industry, including investment and drilling interests in the Bakken play. Since extracting shale oil is currently a more expensive process than conventional production methods, Bakken producers may be more vulnerable to lower crude prices.

OPEC turned up the heat on Thanksgiving Day and sparked what some are calling an 'oil war’, by announcing that it will hold steady on current production. This has garnered worldwide attention and assured that this downward trend in price will continue. (Read more: OPEC Challenges Bakken Shale Drillers) Certainly, this ‘war’ will have its casualties, as some shale producers will not be able to keep up. One indication of this was that drilling permits declined sharply over November, anticipating a slump for the near future. However, the deafening cries of doom are probably premature.

Keeping in step with the IEA estimate that most production in the Bakken play will remain profitable at or below $42 per barrel, Exxon Mobil CEO, Rex Tillerson told Houston Business Journal on Wednesday that the energy giant can maintain profitability until crude prices hit $40 a barrel. He also maintained his confidence in their Bakken shale initiatives.

What you do is ensure that you can invest and be successful at the bottom of the cycle,” Tillerson said. “We test across a range that’s all the way down to $40 and up to $120.