For decades, elected leaders and corporate executives have chased a dream of independence from unstable or unfriendly foreign oil producers. Mission accomplished: Oil companies are producing record amounts of crude oil and natural gas in the United States and have become major exporters.
Yet the companies themselves are finding little to love about this seeming bonanza. With a global glut driving down prices, many are losing money and are staying afloat by selling assets and taking on debt. The value of oil and gas stocks as a proportion of the S&P 500 over the last six years has dropped to about 4.6 percent, from 8.7 percent.
Domestic oil production has increased by more than 60 percent since 2013, to over 12 million barrels a day, making the United States the biggest producer of oil and natural gas in the world and slashing imports. That growth has also reduced the clout and profits of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia, enabling President Trump to impose sanctions on Iran and Venezuela without risking higher gasoline prices or shortages.
Oil executives say the United States is set to become an even bigger factor because a further five million or so barrels of daily crude oil production are on the way in the next few years. Russia would have to drill deep into the Arctic to keep up, a prohibitively expensive proposition, and experts don’t think Saudi Arabia can increase production significantly.
But the share price of Exxon Mobil, the largest American oil company, is barely above where it was a decade ago. In years past, investors might have celebrated Occidental Petroleum’s proposed acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum, which has some of the most lucrative oil fields in the country. Instead, Occidental’s shares have fallen by about 10 percent since that deal in early May.
In the last four years, roughly 175 oil and gas companies in the United States and Canada with debts totaling about $100 billion have filed for bankruptcy protection. Many borrowed heavily when oil and gas prices were far higher, only to collectively overproduce and undercut their commodity prices. At least six companies have gone bankrupt this year, and Weatherford International, the fourth-leading oil services company, which owes investors $7.7 billion, is expected to file for bankruptcy protection on Monday.