Oil in a Free Market Economy

When oil prices began to plunge two years ago due to a global glut of crude, experts predicted US shale producers would be the losers of the resulting shakeout.

But the American companies that revolutionized the oil and gas business with hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are surviving the carnage largely unbowed.

Though the collapse in prices caused a wave of bankruptcies, total US oil production has only fallen by about 535,000 barrels a day so far this year compared with 2015, when it averaged 9.4 million barrels, according to the latest federal data.


As the oil markets ponder where production will resume when prices pick back up, one clear answer has emerged: America. Goldman Sachs forecasts the US will be pumping an additional 600,000 to 700,000 barrels of oil a day by the end of next year—making up for every drop lost in the bust.

RT Dukes, of Wood Mackenzie:

The US isn’t the marginal barrel but the most flexible.  We’ll be the fastest to snap back.

Among other reasons,

Even as banks and other traditional lenders tighten their purse strings, alternative sources of money are cropping up, from private-equity funds to distressed-debt specialists.

“The very existence of that capital means prices are likely to be lower for longer, because it compounds the supply problem,” [Senior Vice President of Corporate Advisory and Banking for Brown Brothers Harriman, Lewis] Hart said.

Alternate sources of capital are willing to provide those funds and take these risks because American producers always find ways to cut costs and enhance efficiencies when things get tough.  The underlying innovativeness that competition encourages, here fracking, produces technologies that also drive toward cheaper, more efficient ways of doing things.

This is the agility that the oil business, that businesses in general, can have in a free market economy.  It’s an agility that government, however well meaning, cannot have, whether in a free market economy or a government planned (or even just government led) economy.

See, for instance, the last eight years of our economy under government regulation.  Oil is succeeding despite that because our economy remains largely free market, although government intrusion is starting to threaten that freedom.

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