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US oil output set to reach record high

The country's production has surged this year and is showing no signs of a slowdown

US oil output has flourished in 2017 and is set to reach a record high next year.

Total US crude production will rise by 0.6m barrels per day next year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), reaching 9.9m b/d. This would exceed the 1970 record of 9.6m b/d. This year output is expected to average 9.3m b/d, up from 8.9m b/d in 2016.

US natural gas production is also expected to rise by 3.1bn cubic feet per day in 2018, up from the 2017 average of 73.3bn cf/d. Next year's increase will be triple the 1bn cf/d growth rate in natural gas production of last year, according to EIA data.

By December 2018, US oil output is expected to surge to 10.1 m b/d—a 0.9m b/d rise from June 2017's level, according to EIA data, and a 1.4 m b/d jump since the end of last year.

Tight oil output growth, from prolific plays such as the Permian and Eagle Ford regions, is expected to make up most of the increase.

The Permian region will comprise the bulk of oil-output gains between now and 2018, with production set to reach 2.9 m b/d by the end of next year—a roughly 0.5m b/d boost from June 2017 levels.

The rise in Permian output would result in the play comprising 30% of total US output next year.

According to data from Baker Hughes, by mid-August, 377 of the country's 928 onshore rigs were located in the Permian—a doubling from a year earlier.

After a sharp run up in drilling activity over the first half of this year, every onshore US shale basin has seen the number of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) rise. In July—the latest month with available data-—total DUCs across the seven most prolific plays in the US had reached 7,059.

In the Permian, the number of DUCs has nearly doubled from this time last year to around 2,330 according to EIA data. If oil prices remains at sub-$50/b, companies could start pulling back the number of rigs they have running in the field.

But the Permian isn't the only shale play expected to boost US oil output growth through 2018.

Production from the Eagle Ford shale play is expected to average around 1.3m b/d through both 2017 and 2018—a rise of 100,000 b/d from levels in Q4 2016. But with higher breakeven prices than the Permian, the Eagle Ford region will be more susceptible to output and revenue losses if crude prices drop below $50 per barrel, the EIA says.

Output in the Eagle Ford has been declining since early 2015, dropping by 0.5m b/d between then and November 2016, down to 1.2m b/d in November 2016.

Production growth in the Eagle Ford is expected to be fairly limited for most of 2018, the EIA says, based on its forecasts that WTI prices will average below $50/b until the second half of next year.

Similarly, output in the Bakken will be capped by low crude prices. The EIA expects Bakken output to fall by 100,000 b/d next year, averaging around 1.1m b/d.

Bakken production has been gradually decreasing since 2015 but the recent uptick in output suggests this could change. The completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline could also help resolve the transportation problems taking oil to markets and refineries.

Increases in US offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico are also expected to boost total crude output. Gulf of Mexico production is forecast to reach 1.9m b/d by 2018—an upsurge of 300,000 b/d from last year. Seven offshore projects are planned to come online in 2018, including the Big Foot and Stampede fields, as well as the expansion of the Tahiti field in 2017 and the launch of the Horn Mountain Deep field.

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