By: Thomas Holst
Oil field metrics in the Uintah basin confirm a resurgence in oil and gas activity. The current Uintah basin rig count is 12, up from three a year ago. Operating permits issued to energy companies for exploration and production activity has also increased. This upswing in activity was triggered by a steady rise in oil prices to $64 per barrel from a low point of $30 per barrel in early 2016.
What factors caused the decline in oil prices since 2016? First, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) shifted their practices in late 2015 when Saudi Arabia, the senior member, rejected its traditional role as the OPEC “swing” producer that lowers its own oil production to compensate for other OPEC members who exceeded their assigned production quotas. When Saudi Arabia rejected its role as the “swing producer”, OPEC members oversupplied the global market with oil, driving prices down.
Second, OPEC members believed a steep dip in oil prices would decrease U.S. shale oil production since costs of shale production are higher than conventional oil production costs. Shale technology had transformed the U.S. from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter over the last decade. OPEC’s logic was that lower crude oil prices would suppress shale oil production activities, thereby causing the U.S. to revert back to a net importer of energy.
What went wrong with OPEC’s logic? Ultimately, OPEC members such as Kuwait, Libya, Iraq, and Angola (all recovering from collapsed economies caused by wars) suffered the economic pain of lower oil prices most acutely because energy accounts for over 40 percent of GDP in these countries. By contrast, the U.S. energy sector accounts for only 8 percent of US