Shale technology – the new ‘swing’ producer setting global oil prices?

The emergence of shale technology, particularly in the US, is dramatically challenging the conventional rules of the global oil markets, says Olivier Appert, president of the World Energy Council French Committee. Shale could become be the new “swing” producer in setting the price of oil on global markets. 

“For the last 40 years, OPEC has been the major player in setting global oil prices because of its location within OPEC Countries, most specifically in the Middle East,” Appert says. “It has been the ‘swing’ producer, increasing its production when markets are tight, and reducing quotas when there is over-supply. However, in the last few years, with the advent of nonconventional shale oil and gas production in the US, the dynamics of the global market could be about to dramatically change.”  

Every two years, oil production in the US has increased by 2 millions of barrels per day, the equivalent of Norway because of increased shale supplies. As a result, oil supplies are surpassing demand by one or two millions of barrels per day.

Against this background, OPEC held meetings in November 2014 and in June, where it decided to maintain its level of production in order to keep its market share, which has led to the price of oil dropping by 50%. However, despite a significant reduction of investments by oil companies, production in the US has remained almost stable, thanks to a reduction of costs due to an increased efficiency in the production process. It is against this background that, much to the surprise of many observers, that shale production has not fallen significantly.

“The question that these new market dynamics raises is: ‘Are we entering a new paradigm of the oil market?’,” Appert adds. “Up to the ’70s, the market was dominated by the famous ‘Seven Sisters’, the well-known most important international oil companies. After the oil shock in 1973, OPEC took a leadership position, but, today, when we look ahead, it is possible to see that OPEC will no longer hold a dominant position.   

“With the role of shale producers in the US becoming more predominant, they may become the ‘swing’ producers in setting global market prices.”

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