By Ed Crooks in New York
A steep fall in oil prices would choke off production at some US fields and quickly tighten supplies, one of the leaders of the country’s shale oil revolution has said.
Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, the largest producer in the Bakken shale of North Dakota, said if an oversupply of oil drove the price down to $70 a barrel, it would “hurt” the US industry, but would quickly correct itself because it would make marginal production uneconomic.
His assessment suggests that oil prices are likely to remain at around Friday’s level of about $100 a barrel for benchmark US West Texas Intermediate crude.
US oil production has soared ahead of the government’s forecasts this year as the output from shales such as the Bakken and the Eagle Ford of Texas has boomed, leading some forecasters to predict an impending glut of American crude, particularly if supply constraints that have affected other producing countries such as Iran and Libya are eased.
However, Mr Hamm argued that prices were likely to remain around $90 to $100 a barrel for US crude, sustaining strong growth in American production.
“It doesn’t need to be $150 or $140,” he told the Financial Times. “But if we get in a moderate range, I think that’s good. And that’s where we are now.”
The consequences of the boom in shale gas production, which drove prices down to a 10-year low last year, were not likely to be replicated for oil, he added.
“Gas is everywhere; oil is somewhat harder to find,” he said. “Gas will flow through rocks a lot better; that’s why you can produce it from the shales easier.”
Expectations of stronger global growth next year, and concerns about supply disruption caused by the fighting in South Sudan, have helped drive the price of US crude to its highest level in two months this week.
Mr Hamm said an expected rise in US production of about 1m barrels a day could easily be absorbed by the market if there was a pick-up in the world economy.
“It’s been contained, and not met expectations for six years now. If it does start responding, finally, we’re going to have more consumption,” he said.
Fears of an oversupply of American oil have been exacerbated by the country’s export restrictions, imposed in the 1970s, which ban overseas sales of all but a trickle of US crude.
The US is still a net importer of about 6.4m barrels of oil a day, but the export ban has begun to create an oversupply of light sweet (low sulphur) American crude in the Gulf of Mexico region, forcing down prices relatively to internationally traded Brent crude.
Mr Hamm suggested he was hopeful that the restrictions could be eased.
“I think the ban on exports needs to be lifted,” he said. “And I’ve not yet run across anybody in DC that thinks it should stay in place. It’s not a policy that was very meaningful; everybody knows it’s archaic, and so I think it should go away quickly.”
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