Permian Basin emerges as premier US shale play

185,000-plus wells produce from Permian Basin, with nearly 18,000 horizontal wells

A new study by consultancy IHS shows that North American oil and gas companies are flocking to Permian Basin because of its superior productivity in a time of low prices and tight margins.

Permian Basin

Source: Murchison Oil and Gas.

According to the IHS Energy North America Supply Analytics report entitled The Permian Basin—Need for Improved Economics and Opportunities Drive Consolidation, peak productivity in the Permian Basin has improved by more than 40 per cent since third-quarter 2014, led primarily by the Bone Spring play.

This performance has not gone unnoticed by either operators or the markets, with markets showing a preference for Permian deals. In 2015, more than 35 per cent of deals were focused on the Permian Basin.

“More than 1,000 operators have generated new volumes from the Permian since January 2014, but just 10 operators are responsible for more than 50 per cent of the combined liquids production in the play,” said Reed Olmstead, senior manager – North America Supply Analytics Service at IHS Energy.

More than 650 operators are generating less than 3,000 b/d in the play. Due to the performance of the play and the interest and activity in it, IHS expects consolidation to increase in the play before the second half of 2016, and that consolidation in the Permian will occur at a greater rate than in other domestic plays, Olmstead says.

permian basin

Reed Olmstead, energy analyst with IHS.

“Operators are looking to focus their money on areas that can generate economic returns at depressed oil prices, and the Permian keeps rising to the top when you look at cost and performance,” he said.

“Permian deals skyrocketed in 2015, passing all other plays.”

Considering all Permian deals, the Midland Basin of the Permian has seen slightly higher 1P reserve valuations recently, bringing the play average up from $13 per 1P (proven) barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) of reserve to nearly $18.

By contrast, the IHS report said, Eagle Ford 1P reserves have seen recent valuations closer to $15 per BOE. The “Permian Premium” indicates the upside expected from the play, as productivity continues to increase.

“Premiums do not appear to have topped out, meaning companies looking to do business in the basin may pay even higher prices in the future,” Olmstead said.

Permian BasinThe result of increasing consolidation in the play, he said, will be a net reduction in capital spent, but higher productivity levels, as remaining operators will be able to achieve greater capital efficiencies. Individual operators will have more acreage for high-grading opportunities and will employ cost efficiencies across a greater inventory of new wells, generating improved returns.

“Generally speaking, smaller operators have more challenged economics than larger operators, largely due to the ability of larger operators to leverage operational and cost efficiencies across a greater acreage and production base,” said Jerry Eumont, managing director, North America Supply Analytics Service at IHS Energy, and a co-author of the Permian Basin consolidation analysis.

“We anticipate that much of the activity in the coming months will be driven by operators of all sizes, who are already operating in the basin, but focused on leveraging acquisition attempts for a variety of strategic purposes.”

Apache, the IHS report said, continues its transition to focusing more on Permian unconventionals, while Pioneer splits its focus on its Permian and Eagle Ford assets. Devon, despite its position in the Barnett and Eagle Ford, promotes activity in the Permian, though with below-average productivity.

With the sustained drop in oil prices, operators with a greater presence in the basin appear poised to acquire smaller, pure-play operators, but IHS also expects new entrants to be active.

”The Permian Basin covers a vast geographic footprint, however, the large number of well bores leads to few, if any, truly new production bases,” Eumont said.

“With so little acreage not held by production, any operator looking to enter the basin will have but one method to execute that strategy—acquisition. But they may not want to wait long, since premiums do not appear to have topped out, which means companies looking to do business in the basin may pay even higher prices in the future.”

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