News that did not surprise me in the least:

Some of the banks that helped fuel the fracking boom are beginning to question the industry’s fundamentals, as many shale wells produce less than companies forecast.

Banks have begun to tighten requirements on revolving lines of credit, an essential lifeline for smaller companies, as these institutions revise estimates on the value of some shale reserves held as collateral for loans to producers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The tightening financial pressure on shale producers is one of the reasons many are facing a reckoning going into next year. Chevron Corp. said Dec. 10 that it plans to take a charge of $10 billion to $11 billion, roughly half of it tied to shale gas assets, which it said won’t be profitable soon. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Friday it will take a roughly $2 billion impairment, and other companies are expected to follow suit in writing down assets, according to analysts and industry executives.

The heat is greatest for small and midsize shale producers, including many whose wells aren’t producing as much oil and gas as they had projected to lenders and investors. Some of those companies may be forced out of business, said Clark Sackschewsky, the managing principal of accounting firm BDOs Houston tax practice. Large companies are likely to weather the blow because of their size and global asset diversity, but for some smaller shale operators, tightening access to bank loans could prove disastrous.

Energy companies accounted for more than 90% of defaults on corporate debt in the third quarter, according to Moody’s Investors Service. There were more than 30 oil-company bankruptcies in 2019, exceeding the number in 2018 and 2017. Exploration and production companies are now carrying more than $100 billion in debt, according to Haynes & Boone.

Specifically, banks have begun questioning shale producers’ predictions about their wells’ initial rate of decline, which are proving overly optimistic, according to engineers. If shale wells, which produce rapidly early and then taper off, are declining faster than predicted, questions arise regarding how much they will ultimately produce.

Wall Street Journal

December 23, 2019

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