North American shale producers far outspent their revenue in the second quarter despite making deep spending cuts to survive the worst oil price crash in decades.
Operators idled rigs, sacked workers and even stopped producing oil as the coronavirus pandemic hit global energy demand and sent US crude prices below zero in April — but it was all “too little, too late”, analysts at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said on Tuesday.
The 34 shale oil and gas producers in the IEEFA study spent $3.3bn more on drilling and other projects during the second quarter than they earned by selling oil and gas, the sector’s worst performance in years, the institute said in a report.
“In financial terms, companies in the centre of the US fracking boom have been performing terribly for years,” said Clark Williams-Derry, the report’s lead author. “But last quarter was particularly dismal, characterised by low prices, falling revenues, collapsing investment and declining investor sentiment.”
Revenue across the group fell 64 per cent compared with the previous quarter, the IEEFA said, as plunging prices took their toll. In response, companies slashed capital expenditure by an average of 45 per cent.
EOG Resources, one of the shale patch’s biggest oil producers, cut its capex by 70 per cent but still spent $360m more than it generated during the second quarter, the IEEFA said. Continental Resources, led by Donald Trump ally Harold Hamm, spent $334m more than it generated.
The brutal second-quarter results marked a new nadir for an industry now notorious among investors for its poor returns. Oil and gas has been the S&P 500’s worst-performing sector since 2010 and has lost 46 per cent of its value since the start of 2020, compared with a near-5 per cent rise for the main board.
The poor financial performance contrasted in recent years with the sector’s startling success in its “upstream” business, where shale drillers ended decades of declining US oil and gas output, making the country the world’s largest producer.
But the price crash has also ruined that achievement. US oil output, which hit a record high near 13m barrels a day early this year, was less than 11m b/d in July, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Oil sector job losses have exceeded 100,000, according to consultancy Rystad Energy, as activity has stalled. The number of operating rigs in the US on Monday was about 70 per cent below its level a year ago, according to Enverus, a data provider.
Haynes and Boone, a law firm that tracks oil-patch bankruptcies, said 36 producers had gone bust since the start of the year, leaving $50bn worth of debt behind, and the pace of filings had “substantially picked up”.