Louisiana’s oilpatch woes are far from over and may not end while Saudi Arabia remains at war with U.S. producers, said Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
“We are going to see more bankruptcies. We will see mergers and acquisitions,” Briggs said Monday during the weekly meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
“The stock market is nervous. The banks are nervous. Lots of companies have bonds due in a year and two years. They’re wondering will they be able to pay?” Briggs said.
Two years ago, no one would have believed that that was a possibility, Briggs said. It’s the kind of scenario the industry hasn’t seen since the 1980s, when bond companies ended up owning a lot of oil firms.
Back then, Briggs said, there was a popular saying and bumper sticker in oilpatch towns like Lafayette: “The last person to leave, please turn out the lights.”
The downturn has already cost the state thousands of jobs, and the state budget millions of dollars. The state loses from $12 million to $12.5 million in mineral revenue for each dollar drop in the price of oil. The most recent state budget revenue projections were based on oil at more than $60 per barrel. The price is now in the $40s.
The impact of the price drop is evident in the number of drilling permits the state issues, Briggs said. Earlier this year, the state granted a record-low 37 drilling permits for an entire month. Usually there are 130 or more. Last week there were six permits issued.
“So it’s an indication of just how slow things are going to be ... and I have no idea how long that will last. Nobody does,” Briggs said.
No one knows how long the Saudis’ war on U.S. oil producers will go on either, Briggs said. The Saudis need an oil price of $98 a barrel to support their government, social programs, royal family and other obligations.
Other members of OPEC are in even worse shape, Briggs said. Venezuela is in desperate straits. Last week, Bloomberg reported that traders gave Venezuela and its state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, a 73 percent chance of defaulting on its debt.
The question is how long will Saudi Arabia maintain its current production and how long can the U.S. oil industry survive in the current climate, Briggs said. If they fail to cripple the U.S. oil industry, the Saudis’ decision to increase production and drive down oil prices will have cost them tens of billions of dollars for no reason.
The Saudis have watched the U.S. double its domestic oil production in just seven years, Briggs said. They don’t want the U.S. to export the horizontal drilling and fracking technology that generated the shale boom to other countries, like Russia, so the Saudis are doing everything they can to prevent that.
On the plus side, Saudi Arabia can’t continue the current policy for very long, Briggs said, so the battle is bound to end.
U.S. production has already dropped by 200,000 barrels a day, and Briggs expects that to fall by a total of 500,000 barrels over the next several months. But the reduction is unlikely to result in any long-term price increase. The U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran, which Congress probably will approve, would allow Iran to begin exporting oil again, and those exports could easily offset any U.S. production cuts, he said.
Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter @tedgriggsbr.