LAKE CHARLES — Eighteen months into a serious energy sector downturn and thousands of layoffs, analysts told Louisiana Oil and Gas Association members Thursday that oil should rebound to $60 a barrel by 2018, and natural gas shows real long-term promise.
But, analysts say, strong short-term headwinds and longtime foes could keep the industry on the defensive: political forces in Washington that oppose drilling; prolific foreign producers including Saudi Arabia that have turned the oil spigots wide open; a possible loss of corporate tax breaks due to Louisiana’s financial crisis; and a new governor who does not oppose legacy lawsuits.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he and his administration would seek tax increases and ask the Legislature for an end to $200 million in corporate tax breaks. The Legislature will enter a special session Feb. 14 to deal with a $750 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, and a projected $1.9 billion and growing deficit in the 2016-17 fiscal year that starts July 1.
“I may not be that person you supported for governor. … But I am your governor,” Edwards said, referring to LOGA’s endorsement of Sen. David Vitter for governor last year. Edwards beat Vitter in a November runoff.
Edwards, who got standing applause before and after his speech from LOGA members, said that although the measures would impact oil and gas, the industry wasn’t being targeted.
“That’s the least I can do for you after all the love you showed me,” he said, to laughter. At the 2015 annual LOGA meeting, also in Lake Charles, Edwards was the lone Democrat in a debate among a field of four.
Edwards also said he supports landowners’ rights to sue oil and gas companies for alleged pollution left behind decades ago in drilling operations, so-called “legacy lawsuits” that LOGA has staunchly opposed.
Worldwide, the oil industry has watched $1 trillion in value evaporate as crude supply exceeded demand and sent prices from over $100 a barrel to near $30, said Greg Robbins, with Memorial Resource Development.
“That’s a tremendous amount of money that’s just gone, vanished,” Robbins said.
On Thursday, U.S. benchmark crude slated for March settlement was $33.70, up $1.70 for the day but far from profitable for most producers.
Bernadette Johnson, a managing partner at Ponderosa Advisors, said what’s keeping commodity prices low is a worldwide oversupply of oil and a U.S. abundance of natural gas.
“I don’t have a lot of good news for you on 2016 oil or gas,” she said.
But her supply-and-demand models show oil averaging $52 in 2017, $60 in 2018 and $67 in 2019 and 2020. Johnson said those price forecasts could swing widely if there’s a sudden disruption or addition to supplies.
The future for natural gas, meanwhile, looks promising when a real long view — 20 to 30 years — is applied, said Bill Marko, a managing director for Energy Investment Banking Group.
“Gas is the fuel of the future,” Marko said.
It’s a clean-burning fuel compared with coal, it doesn’t contribute as much to climate change and the low prices have increased its usage as a fuel and feedstock for petrochemical plants, Marko said.
He said the demand for natural gas in the U.S. should double or triple in two to three decades, and Louisiana’s got plenty of it, especially in the Haynesville Shale.
Also, improvements to drilling methods in Haynesville, traditionally an expensive place to drill, has reduced the break-even cost there from $6 per million Btu to $2 to $3, he said.
Mark Miller, president this year for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said forces beyond supply and demand and innovation remain hostile to the industry.
Onerous regulations coming out of Washington have the potential of stalling an oil and gas rebound.
And political attacks from groups that coordinate demonstrations across the U.S. against the industry also have potential for real harm.
“This is not just a bunch of college kids getting together to protest,” Miller said. “This is a well-heeled, well-contrived effort to get rid of oil and gas.”