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Something is awry in the beleaguered U.S. shale patch: older wells, which normally gush oil or natural gas in their first few months before rapidly depleting, are not petering out as quickly as they should.
When oil prices began falling a year and a half ago in the deepest rout in a generation, many analysts expected U.S. crude production, especially from fracking in the new shale plays that contributed to a global supply glut, to follow quickly.
Producers, such as Continental Resources Inc (CLR.N) and Whiting Petroleum Corp (WLL.N), have slashed spending on almost everything, in some cases even leaving drilled wells unfinished to conserve cash and wait for a sustained turnaround in prices.
With oilfield activity suddenly contracting, production from a dwindling number of freshly fracked wells would be unable to compensate for the rapid depletion of older wells. Yet that long-anticipated turning point has only just begun to emerge – partly because producers had a couple more tricks in store.
Some drillers are spending a little bit more on measures that are subtly flattening the so-called “production curve” of shale wells, either by limiting the initial surge in output or by squeezing a few additional barrels out of older wells, according to industry executives and analysts.