The growth in US oil production led by the rise in unconventional supply is well under way, and similar growth in other regions could pave the way for great increases in global supply.
A new global field-by-field study of oil investment suggests that world oil production capacity could grow to more than 110 million BOPD by 2020, an increase of 20% from today. Analysis of oil exploration and development projects around the world indicates that more than 49 million BOPD in additional production capacity could be gained by 2020. Taking into account risk factors and depletion rates, net additional production capacity is likely to increase by more than 17 million BOPD by 2020, the most capacity growth since the 1980s. The figures come from a report released in June by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School titled Oil: The Next Revolution. It was authored by Leonardo Maugeri, former ENI senior executive vice president of strategies and development.
Leading the way in this new surge of production, in order, are Iraq, the US, Canada, Brazil, and Venezuela. And much of the production is unconventional—shale/tight oil in the US, pre-salt in Brazil, oil sands in Canada, and extra-heavy oil in Venezuela. The study predicts that four current major producing areas will show declines during the period: Norway, the UK, Iran, and Mexico.
Other conclusions of the study include:
- The US will continue to see great gains in output from unconventional resources, thanks to “the technological revolution brought about by the combined use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.” The states of North Dakota and Texas will see the largest growth in supply. These technologies used in shale also will be used to reopen and recover oil from conventional, established fields. “The United States could increase oil production by 3.5 million BOPD … making it the second largest oil producer in the world after Saudi Arabia.”
- Oil prices could collapse when these large volumes of oil hit the market, contradicting conventional wisdom that global supply will struggle to keep up with world demand. The report concludes that oil production capacity is growing so rapidly that it might outpace consumption. “The oil market will remain highly volatile until 2015 and prone to extreme movements in opposite directions. After 2015, however, most of the oil projects analyzed in the report will advance significantly.”
- Shifts in the supply/demand balance will affect geopolitics. The US could be producing 65% of its oil consumption needs domestically, becoming less dependent on Middle East countries. And while the US shale boom likely will not be easily replicated elsewhere, development of known and unknown unconventional resources globally “could be surprising,” says the report.
- The increase in unconventional oil development will lead to heightened environmental protection and regulation challenges. “Industry needs to develop technological solutions to minimize water use, minimize and report chemical use, and carefully monitor production sites,” says the report. “If such a collective effort by industry does not materialize, government may respond with more onerous regulation in the near future that could impact US shale oil production.”