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Texas Economist: Recovery Could Be 'Frustratingly Slow'

With just over half of 2016 gone, the Texas oil and natural gas industry -- and that of the nation -- has a long way to go to recovery despite early signs of recovery in the data that make up the Texas Petro Index (TPI).

"Virtually nothing in this cycle that would correct the current contraction has occurred quickly or within the time frames that many had forecast," said Karr Ingham, the economist who created and maintains the monthly TPI. "The sharp price decline and resulting industry downturn was the direct result of market imbalance and rising crude oil supplies.

"Concerns about these very things remain in place, and there is presently no great sense that the difference will be made up on the demand side. Hence, while the end may be near in terms of TPI decline, there is every chance that the recovery ahead will be frustratingly slow."

Since beginning a decline in July 2014 the benchmark price of crude oil has dropped 78%. Crude oil prices in Texas averaged $45.19/bbl in June, according to the TPI, the fourth straight monthly increase since the average monthly price fell to a low of $27.08/bbl in February. In response to the rise in oil prices: For the first time in almost two years, the average statewide rig count was higher in the previous month.

The number of drilling permits granted in June by state regulators -- 656 -- was 28% more than the low ebb in February, when Texas operators received 511 permits.

The rate of industry job-loss slowed in June, with an estimated 900 jobs shed by upstream oil and gas companies.

The TPI shows that production has been so slow to respond to lower wellhead prices that statewide crude output in 2015--the year after prices peaked above $100/bbl in summer 2014 -- increased about 11.5% compared to 2014. According to the TPI, in fact, production in every month of 2015 was greater than in the same month a year earlier; the first year-over-year production decline measured by the TPI didn't occur until January.

"Even with deep declines in activity levels, oil production in Texas has been slow to respond," he said. "In fact, crude output in Texas this year through June declined only about 5% compared to the first six months of 2015," Ingham said.

The TPI in June declined for the 19th straight month, to 155.8, 39% lower than in June 2015 and less than half the value of the peak TPI of 313.4, which occurred in November 2014. Before embarking upon the current economic downturn, the peak TPI in November 2014 marked the zenith of an economic expansion that began in December 2009, when the TPI stood at 187.5.

During a briefing with reporters in Houston on Monday, Ingham said that as goes Texas, so goes the rest of the nation, more or less, when it comes to oil and gas. "If we were doing a national version of this [index], it wouldn't look a whole lot different," he said.

What a recovery will look like and when it takes hold both remain to be seen. But Ingham said his "worst case scenario" would be to have crude oil markets looking like natural gas markets did post-2008.

The TPI is a barometer of the upstream oil and gas industry. The story is a bit different in the downstream, Ingham allowed. The downstream sector -- petrochemical commodity end-users, etc. -- doesn't vacillate with oil and natural gas prices the way the upstream sector does, Ingham said. However, in Texas the downstream accounts for a much smaller portion of the state's employment than the upstream does.

According to the TPI, June Texas crude oil production totaled an estimated 96.3 million bbl, 7.2% less than in June 2015. The value of Texas-produced crude oil totaled more than $4.35 billion, 25.5% less than in June 2015. Estimated natural gas output was nearly 697.4 Bcf, about 3.2% less than in June 2015. With natural gas prices in June averaging $2.41/Mcf, the value of Texas-produced gas declined 13.2% to about $1.68 billion.

The Baker Hughes count of active drilling rigs in Texas averaged 185 compared to 363 in June 2015. Drilling activity in Texas peaked in September 2008 at a monthly average of 946 rigs before falling to a trough of 329 in June 2009.

The number of Texans on oil and gas industry payrolls averaged an estimated 204,100, according to statistical methods based upon the Texas Workforce Commission's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, about 20.9% fewer than in June 2015. According to calculations based upon TWC's Current Employment Statistics (CES) data -- the basis of TPI employment calculations before Ingham refined his methodology -- a record 306,000 Texans held oil and gas industry jobs in December 2014. Using the CES as a benchmark, Ingham calculated the nadir of upstream oil and gas industry employment in Texas before the December 2014 record to be 175,700 in October 2009. During the previous growth cycle, industry employment peaked at 219,900 in October 2008.

Looking back on the year so far in Texas oil and natural gas, the statewide working rig count averaged 222, 55.9% less than in the first six months of 2015, when an average of 504 rigs were drilling. In first-half 2014, the number of rigs drilling in Texas averaged 869.

The Texas Railroad Commission issued 3,539 drilling permits, 36.4% fewer than in first-half 2015, when 5.564 permits were granted. In first-half 2014, the RRC issued 11,860 permits.

Producers recovered an estimated 603.9 million bbl of crude oil, a 5% year-over-year decline compared to the 635.4 million bbl recovered in first-half 2015. In first half 2014, Texas producers recovered 519.1 million bbl of oil.

With crude oil wellhead prices declining 27.6% to average $36.08/bbl, the estimated value of Texas-produced crude oil declined 31.2% to nearly $21.8 billion. In first-half 2015, wellhead prices averaged $49.81/bbl and the value of Texas oil production was estimated at nearly $31.7 billion. In first-half 2014, wellhead prices averaged $97.35/bbl and the value of Texas oil production was estimated at nearly $51.5 billion.

With natural gas prices declining 27.9% to average $1.95/Mcf, the estimated value of Texas-produced natural gas decreased 30.3% to about $8.2 billion. In first-half 2015, gas wellhead prices averaged $2.70/Mcf and the value of Texas- produced natural gas was nearly $11.8 billion. In first-half 2014, gas wellhead prices averaged $4.62/Mcf and the value of Texas natural gas was more than $20 billion.

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