Proven reliable methods on the Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) for any well (or other agreed parameter like EUR for the average well of specified vintage populations for plays, fields, companies or other) is crucial to make estimates on remaining Proven Developed Producing (PDP) and Proven UnDeveloped (PUD) reserves which are the linchpins for assets backed lending (reserves-based lending).
Attainable EURs with realistic decline curves are also the foundations for reasonable estimates on future cash flows, which forms the basis for the companies’ financial planning inclusive CAPital EXpenditures (CAPEX) for future well manufacturing.
Reserves-based lending is what the companies depend on to leverage their equities inclusive owners’ capital for loans that together sets the pace for developments of their acreage. These loans often come with clauses about the speed for the drilling of the companies’ area as the lenders want to see their capital returned with a profit within an agreed time frame. These loans come with covenants of various scopes commonly described by financial metrics which the borrowers have accepted to honor.
In this article, I will focus on PDP reserves as there is more uncertainty associated with developments of PUDs in time, price, and cost.
This article is based on a more comprehensive and granular analysis of the average EUR estimates by vintage and developments for PDP reserves and R/P for Bakken than what was presented in the article “The Bakken, a little about EUR and R/P” in August 2016.
A low R/P ratio (index) gives expectations of a steep decline in extraction from the growing population of wells, which results from Light Tight Oil (LTO) wells had steep and now steeper initial declines. The steeper declines also explain why the companies must stay on the treadmill to bring in a high number of new wells to sustain/grow the production and, more importantly, sustain/build their PDP reserves, which are the significant component for reserves-based lending.
- This study estimated remaining Proven Developed Producing (PDP) reserves in the Bakken(ND) as of end Oct-19 for the reference case to 1,6 – 1,7 Gbo (Giga, billion barrels).
The PDP reserves are from all the more than 14 000 horizontal wells started from Jan-08 and per Oct-19.
The EURs for the average well of the 2008 – 2019 vintages used in this study are shown in figure SD 6 at the end of this article.
- As of the end of Oct-19, the R/P (for Bakken, ND) was estimated at 3,3 (reference case).
A sensitivity analysis adding 5% to EURs for the 2015 – 2019 average vintage wells increase the R/P to 3,5.
- This study Juxtaposed the PDP estimates with the PDP numbers from the SEC 10-K filings for 2018 for some public companies that are heavily exposed to the Bakken (more than 90% of their equity/entitlement production from the Bakken).
At the end of 2018, this study found that these companies’ SEC reported PDP reserves were overstated with 30% – 50%.
- An independent verification confirming overstated reserves would, for those affected, likely result in a downgrade of their credit rating. A downgrade to below investment grade would have far-reaching consequences as any institutional investors would be forced to sell their bonds into a liquid starved junk bond market, and the companies would be faced with much higher interest rates for debt that is rolled over which eats into their cash flows.
- Should several independent and seasoned third parties verify the magnitude of overstated reserves, several LTO companies would be cornered, and the only way to paper over this would be to sweat it out while praying for a significant lasting higher oil price (like $90/bo or higher) soon.
Cornered because any sale of a significant portion of their well portfolio to buyers that have done their due diligence based on actual well data could come up with a much different assessment from the seller’s reserves and asked price based on the seller’s booked value of the portfolio for sale. A realized sale of a significant portion of the well portfolio reflecting the buyer’s offer could highlight that the seller’s booked to model PDP reserves is much lower. A realized sale could force the seller to take considerable impairments, which subsequently would raise questions about the remaining PDP reserves on their books. And as the PDP reserves of one or several companies become questioned, more would follow.
- Based on the PDP reserves from this study, it was estimated that each barrel of oil in the ground was burdened with about $30/bo (includes revenues from natural gas) to recover employed capital.
Another way to put this is that each barrel of oil has to netback $30/bo at the wellhead, or gross about $55 – $60/bo at the wellhead to recover employed capital (owners’ capital and debt) and also pay for Plugging & Abandonment. The estimated $55 – $60/bo is to recover employed capital and thus leaves no profit.
Applying simple project economics to earn a return of 7% (for the Bakken as one big project) would require an oil price of $80/bo at the wellhead for the PDP reserves as of end Oct-19.
- Management in many shale companies has a performance incentive structure in which production developments has been/is dominant.
- For the next 1-2 years, managements of LTO companies will generate and implement strategies that search to balance allocation of available capital to sustain and/or grow their production and reserve base (used for reserved based lending), deleverage and/or pay dividends to a growing number of impatient owners.
To exacerbate this challenge, the banks now have tightened requirements on revolving credit, decreased their loans, and voiced concern that the assets of some shale companies will not cover the loans. This is commonly referred to as balance sheet/accounting insolvency, and if the situation continues, creditors and lenders could force the company to sell assets or declare bankruptcy.
At present oil/gas prices this becomes exquisitely balancing acts as any financial deleveraging and dividend payouts eat into funds that otherwise could be made available for more well manufacturing.
- Reducing CAPEX for well manufacturing below some threshold to generate some Free Cash Flow (FCF) comes with some catches, and this is not only from the prospects from a decline in production/extraction and thus operational cash flow.
Changes to the Reserves Replacement Ratio (RRR) is an important parameter to follow and how it affects PDP reserves. Many companies have relied heavily on reserves-based lending, and a significant decline in PDP reserves will, by default, increase financial leverage and may (stress) test some of the loan covenants.
- Covenant light loans give less protection for investors. Credit rating agencies flagged problems with these for years, and issues with leveraged loans can happen overnight as it is challenging to see stress building on balance sheets from inflated (oil and gas) reserves estimates.
Realistic EURs and R/P estimates (produced by competent and independent third parties) could become a real game-changer for the future pace of US LTO developments.
- In recent years I have come to use the global credit impulse as one of the major leading indicators to predict the band of the oil price one year forward. Back in August 2018, I used the global credit impulse (amongst several other indicators like supply and demand, storage, etc.) to predict the oil price one year forward.
As of now and for 2020, few things suggest the global credit impulse will give support for a material higher oil price. Then throw in the US presidential election in 2020, which now makes me extend my price band of $55 – $70/bo from late 2018 for Brent Spot for this year.
OPEC+ may cut more to supplies to shore up the oil price, but OPEC+ has no control over changes to the global credit impulse, the future strengths/weaknesses to the US$, and developments in affordability amongst the global consumers.
In 2019 an average oil price in the mid-’60s (Brent Spot) triggered protests amongst consumers in several economies. There is a limit to how much higher the oil price for struggling US consumers can rise before it starts to affect consumption. The affordability threshold in recent years has declined with the higher and continued growth in total global debt.
My expectations for the oil price for 2020 are in line with most other analysts, and if that comes true, LTO operators should not expect much financial relief from the oil price this year.
Figure 1 shows that since early 2015 and through the slow down till early 2017 and per Oct-19, the remaining Producing Developed Remaining Reserves (PDP) for the Bakken has remained almost flat. In other words, reserves were extracted/produced at about the same rate flowing wells were added.
LTO extraction grew from 0,92 Mbo/d in Jan-17 to 1,43 Mbo/d in Oct-19 or close to 60%.
In the same period, PDP reserves grew with an estimated 90 Mbo or about 6%.Continue reading “Bakken, Something About EURs, PDP Reserves and R over P Ratio”