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Shale Industry Could Be  Swallowed by Its Own Debt
Energy

Shale Industry Could Be Swallowed by Its Own Debt

The debt that fueled the US shale boom now threatens to be its undoing.

Drillers are devoting more revenue than ever to interest payments. In one example, Continental Resources Inc., the company credited with making North Dakota’s Bakken Shale one of the biggest oil-producing regions in the world, spent almost as much as Exxon Mobil Corp., a company 20 times its size.

The burden is becoming heavier after oil prices fell 43% in the past year. Interest payments are eating up more than 10% of revenue for 27 of the 62 drillers in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent Exploration and Production Index, up from a dozen a year ago. Drillers’ debt ballooned to $235 billion at the end of the first quarter, a 16% increase in the past year, even as revenue shrank.

“The question is, how long do they have to get away with this,” said Thomas Watters, an oil and gas credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York. The companies with the lowest credit ratings “are in survival mode,” he said.

The problem for shale drillers is that they have consistently spent money faster than they have made it, even when oil was $100 a barrel. The companies in the Bloomberg index spent $4.15 for every dollar earned selling oil and gas in the first quarter, up from $2.25 a year earlier, while pushing US oil production to the highest in more than 30 years.

Companies have reduced spending to cope with lower prices, but those cuts will eventually lead to production declines, further shrinking revenue, Watters said.

US oil production will begin to fall this month and will continue to slide until early 2016 as shale drillers reduce spending, the Energy Information Administration said in a June 9 report.

 

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