The oil market just gets worse and worse.

From time to time we check in on the state of the oil industry to determine whether we are approaching a time when it might become profitable to drill along the Beartooth Front. We’re far from it. As of the  close of business on Monday, the price of oil touched a seven-year low as active rig counts dropped to their lowest levels since 2010, and pump prices in the area stayed at low levels.

The price of crude reached a seven-year low. Source: NASDAQ

The price of crude reached a seven-year low. Click to enlarge. Source: NASDAQ

Oil at 7-year low
Oil closed Monday at $37.60 a barrel, driven by a meeting last week of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). At the meeting members failed to reach a decision on a ceiling for oil production. Analysts said that OPEC would likely maintain its production around current levels of 31.5 million barrel per day. In addition, new volumes will come to the market once US sanctions against Iran are lifted in 2016, contributing to an excess of supply over demand of around a million barrels per day. Some analysts see the price of oil dropping as low as $20 a barrel.

When we last checked in on May 12, oil had risen to $59.14 after crashing to $48.59. In June of 2014, at the height of the Bakken boom, oil was hovering around $105 per barrel.

North American rig counts. Click to enlarge. Source: Baker Hughes

North American rig counts. Click to enlarge. Source: Baker Hughes

Active rig counts at a 5-year low
As a result of the price decline, North American rig counts dropped to 737 at the end of last week, a decline of seven from the previous week, with a total decline of 1,183 rigs from a high of 1.920 a year ago.

In North Dakota, the active rig count has fallen to 64 from 191 in the last year, and state officials say they expect it fall even further after the OPEC meeting. North Dakota has 1000 permitted wells waiting to be fracked, but no operators willing to drill in the current environment.

Year-over-year oil exploration in the US is down 64.7%. Gas exploration is down 44.2%. The weekly average of crude oil spot prices is 38.8% lower than last year and natural gas spot prices are 41.7% lower than last year.

Gas prices_120715Local gas prices remain low
It’s a bleak picture for the industry, although it means a holiday bonus for those of us who purchase gas locally. You can pump gas at Costco in Billings for $2.09 a gallon, $2.16 at Maverik in Bridger, $2.18 at the Town Pump in Columbus, and $2.19 at the Town Pump in Red Lodge and the Cenex in Columbus. Those prices could be lower by Christmas.

The bottom line is that nobody is going to be drilling along the Beartooth Front very soon. But we should all be aware that when the oil companies come knocking with promises of economic growth and plenty of jobs, that promise is only as good as an oil market that we have no control of.

Stacked rigs sit idle at a depot in Dickinson, ND. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Cullen

Stacked rigs sit idle at a depot in Dickinson, ND. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Cullen

What we can control locally are the terms under which we allow oil companies to drill when they are ready. The state of the market is a bit of a reprieve for us, but we need to be ready when the market changes and the rigs return. That’s why landowner groups in Stillwater and Carbon counties are working on establishing citizen initiated zones to make sure that when the next boom is over, our way of life is maintained.

Falling gas prices and the uncertain future of the Shale Boom – November 14, 2014
The price of oil: drilling will continue for now, but we need to keep our eyes on the future – January 12, 2015
Checking in on the price of oil, gas, and declining rig counts – May 12, 2015



About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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1 Response to The oil market just gets worse and worse.

  1. Always be vigilant and in the spirit of the season, lets send the Board of Oil and Gas Holiday Greetings and ask ’em for Setbacks, oversight, more inspections, transparency of frack fluids AND better management and recycling of ‘Frack’ wastewater………

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