The hardest hit of all might be the oil sands projects of western Canada. According to a report in the Financial Times, 10 projects in Canada have at least been delayed due to the low crude prices and another 16 around the world have also been delayed, slowed, postponed or cancelled. That amounts to a global reduction of $100 billion in capital spending in 2015 according to Rystad Energy, an energy consultancy firm cited by the FT.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE: RDS-B), for example, has dropped plans for an oil sands project that was set to produce 200,000 barrels a day, and delayed the start-up of another project by two years. The supermajor also dropped plans for a $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Australia.
Another of the supermajors, BP PLC (NYSE: BP), has deferred a decision on the second phase of its Mad Dog project in the Gulf of Mexico. Norway’s state-controlled oil producer, Statoil ASA (NYSE: STO), has likewise deferred a decision to develop the Johan Castberg field, a recent discovery with estimated proved reserves of 400 to 650 million barrels inside the Arctic Circle. Statoil is also delaying further investments in its Snorre field, a discovery that dates back to the 1980s and is estimated to hold 1.63 billion barrels of oil.
Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) has slowed expansion plans on its Tengizchevroil project in the Caspian Sea . The company has said it will make a final decision on expansion this year.
In the U.S. the slowdown in drilling has had the most effect on tight (shale) oil plays. According to industry research firm IHS, around 80% of new U.S. production in 2015 has a break-even WTI price between $50 and $69 a barrel, which includes capital, operating costs, and a 10% rate of return. The actual cash cost of a marginal barrel is probably closer to $40 to $45 a barrel. IHS noted:
Expectations of the future—and the trajectory of oil prices—mean that prices do not need to fall to the break-even price before psychology, investment, and thus output are affected. Productivity gains and the growth imperative support further growth. But if oil price expectations—not to mention actual prices—dim further, then the impact on production would become more significant.
That impact includes the sharp drop in global capital spending in 2015, not just in U.S. shale plays, but globally.
What IHS did not know when it made its December estimates was how quickly the shale producers could reduce production and how quickly they may be able to restart it. The massive projects like Tengizchevroil and Johan Castberg will take years of time and billions of dollars to begin or expand production. Within a few months, U.S. shale production could return to projected growth levels for the year. Over the longer term (10+ years say) however, the shoe may end up on the other foot.