The resurgence of U.S. shale will undermine the OPEC-fueled price rally, capping oil prices at roughly $50 per barrel through 2017. That is the conclusion from the EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, which forecasts WTI to average $50.66 per barrel and Brent to average just $51.66 per barrel next year.
The agency also cast doubt on OPEC’s ability to follow through on its deal. “The extent to which the announced plans will be carried out and actually reduce supply below levels that would have occurred in their absence remains uncertain.” But even if they do, any price rally above $50 per barrel will merely spark a revival in U.S. shale drilling, which will “encourage a return to supply growth in U.S. tight oil more quickly than currently expected.” In other words, the OPEC deal won’t fuel the sustained rally that oil bulls have hoped for.
In fact, the oil bust could persist for another year, according to the EIA. Rising U.S. oil production next year will postpone the projected withdrawals in oil inventories, pushing drawdowns off until 2018. In fact, the EIA actually projects inventories to climb once again, rising by 0.8 million barrels per day (mb/d) in the first half of 2017. For the entire year, inventories could build at an average rate of 0.4 mb/d. In other words, the EIA does not expect the global supply/demand equation to come into balance until the end of next year, a much more pessimistic prediction than the markets have come to expect, especially following the OPEC agreement. One prevailing theory about the state of the oil market before the OPEC deal came from the IEA, which forecast a convergence of supply and demand by the middle of 2017. The OPEC deal was supposed to accelerate that adjustment, tightening the market and moving up the “balance” to early 2017.
But the EIA is much less bullish. That is because of the expected rebound in shale production. The U.S. shale industry has succeeded in lowering the cost of drilling, as rock bottom oil prices forced efficiencies throughout the supply chain over the past two years. Even at today’s prices, a lot of shale drilling is profitable, especially in the booming Permian Basin. The agency expects overall production to be essentially flat, but supply would grow if prices increased from current levels.