A drilling crew member on an oil rig in the Permian Basin near Wink, Texas.
Nick Oxford | Reuters
The U.S. will maintain its oil production — or even ramp it up higher — despite low energy prices and slowing economic growth, Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said Wednesday.
Shale producers in the U.S. will continue to produce a record 12 million barrels a day throughout next year, he said, citing projections from the Energy Information Administration. They may even go up to as high as 13 million barrels, he added.
“U.S. production numbers are going to continue for quite some time,” Brouillette told CNBC.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures have fallen almost 20% since reaching their 2019 peaks in late April, as oil prices were dragged down by intensifying fears of an economic downturn that’s started to impact oil consumption.
But Brouillette rejected fears that oil demand would be hit amid slowing growth.
“Growth is slowing down slightly … over the course of early 2019. But I suspect that as the economy begins to rev up, we’ll start to see that demand pick up as well. And it’s going to be good news for oil producers,” he said.
On Wednesday, Brent crude futures were at $61.34 per barrel, and U.S. crude futures were at $52.40 per barrel — off this year’s highs of around $74 and $66 per barrel in April.
Our biggest challenge in the United States is not maintaining production, it’s actually getting the product to market. We are developing infrastructure … at a rapid pace, but we need to do more.
U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary
Even though shale drillers in the U.S. have been said to face obstacles on growing output amid a wave of belt-tightening that’s cutting billions of dollars from budgets, and the number of operating oil rigs have declined this year, Brouillette said that production is not actually the biggest problem.
“Our biggest challenge in the United States is not maintaining production, it’s actually getting the product to market. We are developing infrastructure … at a rapid pace, but we need to do more. We need more pipeline capacity in order to have the oil and the gas reach these export markets,” he said.
In fact, Brouillette said, there will be increased production, not falling output, in the U.S.
Last year, the global appetite for natural gas grew at the fastest pace since 2010. Most of that supply is expected to come from the U.S., amid its ambitions to be a top liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter.
American gas output surged by 11.5% in 2018 — marking the fastest growth since 1951, according to the International Energy Agency. Currently, Australia and Qatar are the top two exporters of LNG, which is a form of the fuel chilled to liquid for transport by sea.
But amid the trade war, Chinese tariffs on U.S. natural gas could put Washington’s ambitions on hold, with the Asian giant accounting for a large share of global demand and taking the spot as the world’s number 2 importer for LNG.
Brouillette dismissed that notion, however, pointing to high demand from the rest of Asia.
He said that sales to South Korea and Japan look “very, very large” relative to China. With Mexico numbers added to that tally, “the future looks pretty bright,” he added.
“We still see continued LNG export growth all throughout the world,” Brouillette added.
— CNBC’s Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.