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The discovery of tight oil has been a confidence booster for the United States, promoting talk of energy independence from the old, Saudi Arabia-centred oil establishment, as well as reduced need for Canada’s oil sands.
But with surging tight oil supplies dampening prices, you’ve got to wonder whether it’s becoming a victim of its own success, much like shale gas, and whether producers have the staying power to continue to fuel investment.
One of the skeptics is long-time world oil market insider Rilwanu Lukman, the former secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and a former oil minister of Nigeria.
In an interview in Calgary, the 74-year-old mining engineer, who has seen more than his fair share of oil fads and price swings, warned it’s too soon for the U.S. to declare it no longer needs imported oil, let alone to dream of exporting oil.
For one thing, tight oil requires very high prices to be economic, he said, in contrast to imported oil that is cheap and abundant. For another, tight oil has too little history to be counted on as a replacement for other oil sources.
“The so-called oil from shale, it’s still not fully studied,” he said before addressing a conference at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. “We don’t really know to what extent these reserves will be produceable and at what cost. Because it is local, the government goes out of its way to make it viable, in spite of it not being economic, compared to the Middle East or elsewhere, where you punch a hole and it gushes out.”
The latest slide in oil prices is not encouraging for tight oil producers.
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