Shale gas producers could default on 40% of their debt in the next two years if oil prices stay below $65 per barrel, according to a recent analysis by JP Morgan Chase.
But with oil and gas producers scrambling to keep production levels high, fracking analyst Deborah Lawrence says it’s unlikely prices will rise that high in time to avert another round of “shale debt redux.” In a post yesterday on The Energy Collective, she explains why shale gas companies are still pushing production higher in spite of mounting debt, falling prices, and weak demand for their product.
“The shale revolution has always been funded by massive debt,” she writes. “Operators who were drilling for gas back in 2009-2011 used debt extensively.” So when they produced more gas than the market could absorb and prices tanked, “many couldn’t afford to pull back production to help stabilize prices. Had they done so, they would not have been able to meet their debt payments. So they kept pumping…and pumping…and pumping.”
As the industry gets more desperate for funds, “junk bonds have financed the U.S. shale boom, and now the sharp drop in oil prices could lead to a massive wave of defaults on that high-yield debt,” the Wall Street Journal commented.