A New U.S. Oil Production Peak Looks Imminent

Year-over-year change in U.S. oil production.

From this graphic, production growth has been slowing since January, and the slowdown has accelerated in recent months. Production growth is falling so fast that at the current pace, it would fall below zero before the end of the year. The steep decline from the most recent EIA report was influenced by offshore production shutting in ahead of Hurricane Barry. But, even if we assume the slower rate of decline from earlier in the year, it looks like growth will fall below zero within a year. Once growth falls below zero, that represents a year-over-year decline in U.S. production.

It’s hard to say whether the current decline will be permanent. Note that there was a similar decline that began in 2015, but that reversed direction in 2017 as oil prices recovered from the $30/bbl level back up to over $50/bbl.

It’s doubtful that the current decline will see the same sort of sharp reversal, as the previous decline was a result of sharp cuts in capital spending as oil prices fell from the $100/bbl level to below $30/bbl. The current production decline is taking place during a period of a smaller decline in oil prices.

Regardless, probably the only thing that can arrest the current slowdown is a spike in oil prices from current levels. And unless that slowdown is arrested, total U.S. oil production will likely be once again be in decline within one year — and possibly by year-end.

This is the outcome OPEC is hoping for. It is clear that their strategy is to keep oil prices propped up until U.S. oil production begins its decline, at which point they can reassert control over the global oil markets.

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