Limited frack supply could hamper U.S. crude oil output

July 27, 2022

DENVER (Reuters) - Demand for hydraulic fracturing equipment is quickly outpacing supply, executives said this week, setting the stage for a new obstacle to U.S. oil and gas production growth.

Oil companies have been under pressure from the Biden administration to lift production to curb high energy prices. Some companies, particularly private firms, also want to boost output to capitalize on oil’s surge to $100 a barrel. However, in order to boost output, equipment and crews are needed.

“Availability of frac fleets is one of main bottlenecks impeding oil and natural as production growth for the next 18 months,” Robert Drummond, chief executive officer of fracking firm NexTier Oilfield Solutions said on Wednesday.

U.S. crude production is expected to average 11.9 million barrels per day in 2022, below the pre-pandemic record of 12.3 million bpd in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Drummond warned that capital constraints and supply chain snarls will make it difficult to add equipment and said it could take several years to correct the imbalance in the market.

NexTier will not deploy any additional fracking capacity this year, he added.

“We definitely see frac crew bottlenecks as a significant headwind for U.S. producers headed into 2023,” said Matt Hagerty, a senior analyst at BTU Analytics, a Factset Company, citing a “perfect storm” of frac sand and labor shortages, inflation, and limited inventory of fleets that can be reactivated after going idle in 2020.

Rivals Halliburton and Liberty Oilfield Services have warned that the market was near full utilization. Liberty estimated that roughly 250 fleets are running, with about 25 to be added this year. Consultancy Primary Vision Network puts the number higher, at 290 currently operating.

Liberty said pricing in the market had recovered enough to support re-activating some fleets it acquired from Schlumberger, as well as adding two electric fleets in the first quarter of next year.

However Halliburton last week warned that “supply chain bottlenecks, even for diesel fleets, make it almost impossible to add incremental capacity this year” and that experienced crews are in high demand.

Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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Although the article focuses on oil, obviously a shortage of frac crews hampers increases in natural gas production also.  The article also mentions frac sand and labor shortages.  I find the shortage of frac sand instructive of the entire history of unconventional reservoir production.  When the operating companies ramped up drilling several years back it created a surge in new frac sand companies and operations.  The new focus was in sand operations "in basin".  In other words, no more transporting by rail and truck from far away states but supply close where the wells were being drilled.  In short order the supply of frac sand and the competition between frac sand companies sky rocketed.  Then came the next down turn and a number of sand company bankruptcies.  So, whether frac crews, sand or labor, this is the history of the industry - boom and bust.  Too much supply > prices crash > companies go bankrupt/companies cut back on equipment and workforce > supply goes down > demand goes up >  supply lags demand > prices go up.  We are currently in that last phase which will last until supply catches up with demand and prices go down.  De ja vu all over again.

This cycle is a little different in my opinion.  Not everyone who wants or needs a frac crew has the ability to even attempt to get one.  Some are constrained by budget and/or their own governance.  And with the ability to export LNG and the inability to ever build a new transport pipeline for stranded assets this may last a while.  From an industry standpoint this is clearly not a boom as in the past.  I have seen a few since I entered the industry in 1979.

Curious about the stranded assets pipeline situation.  I seem to remember a number of new natural gas pipelines, some recent completions and some either under construction or in subscription mode, that connect Permian gas to the Gulf Coast.

It's called the Marcellus.  

Not a problem for the Permian and Haynesville.  I guess if more Marcellus gas could be transported to the Gulf Coast, it could knock a dollar off the price that Permain and Haynesville gas gets.

jay, my apologies for missing the level of stranding in the Marcellus.  I don't often delve into those play constraints.  I do however keep up daily with Haynesville and to a somewhat lesser extent with the Permian.  When it comes to pipelines, this is what has come across my news feeds and internet alerts.


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Here's an update for members on Haynesville pipeline development.

Pipeline Capacity Growth Fuels Record Haynesville Gas Production

4/13/2022 By Jeff Awalt, Executive Editor



HOUSTON (P&GJ) — Natural gas production from the Haynesville shale reached record highs in late 2021 and remained relatively strong in early 2022 on expanded pipeline takeaway capacity and higher demand, a new U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) report revealed Wednesday.

Pipeline capacity growth

Production growth in the Haynesville has been facilitated by expanding pipeline takeaway capacity out of the Haynesville in recent years.

Projects have included Enbridge Midcoast Energy’s CJ Express pipeline, which entered into service in April 2021, and Enterprise Products Partners’ Gillis Lateral pipeline.  In addition, the associated expansion of Enterprise's Acadian Haynesville Extension entered into service in December 2021.


(Source: EIA, based on data from CME Group as compiled by Bloomberg, L.P., and Baker Hughes Company)

Those three projects added 1.3 Bcf/d of takeaway capacity from the Haynesville area, raising its total estimated takeaway capacity to 15.9 Bcf/d, according to PointLogic. That figure suggests excess takeaway capacity out of the Haynesville is at or below 900,000 Mcf/d, or about 7% of total capacity.

More recently, Energy Transfer said it has started construction of the 1.65 Bcf/d  Gulf Run pipeline to move gas from the Louisiana Haynesville to the Gulf Coast.

That project, which Energy Transfer gained via its acquisition of Enable Midstream in December 2021, is backed by a 20-year agreement with the $10 billion Golden Pass LNG export plant now under construction in Texas by QatarEnergy (70%) and Exxon Mobil (30%) .

Energy Transfer has said it expects to complete Gulf Run by the end of 2022.

Marshall McCrea, Energy Transfer's co-CEO, told analysts earlier this year that the Dallas-based company was still working on its own LNG export project at Lake Charles in Louisiana.

"We hope to be able to announce some agreements that we are close to getting signed over the next few years," McCrea said, noting the company was "still a ways from FID but we are really excited about where that project is going."


I don't try to keep up with projects such as those listed above, but I do read articles published about the overall regulatory processes required for new pipelines.   The new Administration's 3 key federal agencies have all placed either roadblocks or speedbumps in the processing of new drilling, and new pipelines.  I won't go into drilling since that has been covered before on this Site, but FERC has toughtened the rules for getting new NG pipelines approved through the system, and EPA has also revised what it considers for environmental impact for new pipelines.

So, that's a fine list of projects above, but I wonder how many of those got through the federal hoops before late 2021, when many of these new rule changes went into effect.

Steve, I think what you are missing is the difference between interstate pipelines which come under federal regulations and intrastate pipelines.  The projects on that list are all intrastate pipelines.  Connecting the Permian and Haynesville gas to sales points is not a problem and represents a large percentage of the current domestic pipeline needs.  It would be good to have better east coast connections for the Marcellus Basin but that's not as important nationally and certainly of less interest to the majority of our GHS members.


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