What’s holding back America’s domestic energy producers
A recurring question about how to fight rising gas prices is why on earth America’s shale oil producers aren’t working at top speed to meet demand.
As Paul Tice writes in the Wall Street Journal, shale producers took it on the chin as recently as 2020, with crashing prices that bankrupted hundreds of drillers, rising regulation, and Wall Street demands for disciplined spending. And then there are the government roadblocks to production:
U.S. oil and gas producers need to extend their drilling inventories and permit runways further into the future because the Biden White House is canceling or slow-walking leases on federal lands while clawing back acreage for national monuments. The administration also is taking advantage of environmental and endangered-species statutes to curtail drilling on private land. New energy infrastructure projects—including interstate pipelines and liquefied natural gas export facilities—are subject to a global climate test, a charge for the social cost of carbon and environmental-justice standards. All this will have a chilling effect on new projects and further reinforce industry consolidation.
And yes, that means the environmental push to defund drillers is taking a toll on production:
U.S. and European financial regulators are pushing through mandatory reporting standards on sustainability. This is the first step toward screening and excluding politically incorrect industries such as oil and gas from investment portfolios. As the intertwined climate-change and sustainability movements gain momentum between now and 2030, the lending and capital markets are likely to become more hostile toward traditional energy.
U.S. shale companies will need to ensure their ability to self-fund from operations and run with less balance-sheet debt to reduce their dependence on financing from the banking system and institutional investors. Consequently, corporate sustainability doctrine provides another strong argument for U.S. energy companies to maintain the status quo of slow to no production growth and to continue living within cash flow over the long term.
Make no mistake: there’s a long term trend to more renewables coming online to replace oil and gas. But it won’t happen overnight – and may not reach sufficient scale in a decade or more. Until then, oil and gas will remain major players in the energy mix. Punishing production through regulation, then, is a sure way to guarantee more pain at the pump…and just about everywhere else.