The United States, new kings of oil


US production continues to rise thanks to the abundance of shale oil. In November, for the first time in forty-five years, the United States exported more oil than it imported.

This is an event, even if the industry statistics have yet to be carefully managed. In the last week of November, the United States exported more oil than it cared for, according to a weekly report by the US Agency for Energy Information (EIA) published Thursday, December 6 . A first since 1973.

US production in front of Russian and Saudi productions

Crude exports rose to 3.2 million barrels per day (MMBD) and refined products to 5.85 million barrels per day, while imports declined. The United States has already become the largest oil producer in the world for a few months, with 11.7 million barrels a day in November, ahead of Russia (11.4 mbd) and Saudi Arabia (10 , 75 mbd). . Never seen for almost half a century. In early 2017, US production was just over 9 million barrels per day.

Poland will buy American gas for twenty years

The explanation for this dramatic rise is in the Permian basin, which extends from western Texas to southeastern New Mexico. An area of ​​200,000 km2, almost a third of metropolitan France. It is also home to most shale oil fields, which account for about half of US production, compared to almost a decade ago.

This is to say the greatness of this revolution of oil, so-called unconventional, because it is not found in tanks, but trapped in the rock. " What we experienced in the mid-2000s with shale gas is happening in the United States with shale oil. In 2005, the country imported 100 billion cubic meters of gas. In 2015, it exported 100 billion cubic meters., says Guy Maisonnier, researcher at the French Petroleum Institute (IFPEN).

Huge reserves

And it's probably just a beginning. It is said that the Permian basin contains the equivalent of 70 billion barrels of shale oil, according to IHS MarKit. This is as much as the Ghawar camp in Saudi Arabia, considered the world's largest conventional oil field. In its latest annual report, published a month ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the production of American shale oil should double by 2025 and does not rule out the assumption that it will meet expected increase in world demand. It would therefore be an unprecedented venture ".

A very reactive production during the course

Many conditions are already in place to achieve this goal. Technical progress continues to increase with, for example, vertical wells of 3,000 meters accompanied by horizontal perforations that now exceed 2,000 meters. With the fall in oil prices in 2014, operators have undergone restructuring and production costs have declined. They are now between $ 30 and $ 50 a barrel versus $ 70 to $ 90 three years ago.

While this is still three to five times more expensive than drilling in the deserts of the Middle East, investments are infinitely lower, about $ 10 million per well. " The economic model of shale oil is radically different from that of conventional oils. Depending on price evolution, perforation can be quickly started or, on the contrary, interrupted "Says Guy Maisonnier.

Uphill in the geopolitical situation

This revival of American oil power, largely encouraged by US President Donald Trump, who has loosened many regulatory constraints in the sector, upsets the geopolitical situation. The oil monarchies of the Gulf are no longer in their hands: reducing their production to raise prices, they are also pushing American shale operators to increase their production, which in the end pushes prices down by increasing their prices. world offer.

However, there are uncertainties. " The financing of shale oil operations has been mostly done by debts for now and it is too early to say if the model is profitable over time ", says Benjamin Louvet, manager at OFI Asset Management. In the Permian basin, production has increased to such an extent that it is becoming increasingly difficult to sell it to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. The pipelines are full and new construction takes time. Manufacturers have to transport crude oil by train or by truck for hundreds of kilometers, which increases costs and weighs on margins.

Jean-Claude Bourbon


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