Executive Briefings

The Shale Industry Is Scrambling to Catch Up to Its Own Boom

Five years ago, the thought of $55-a-barrel oil would have given Piotr Galitzine heartburn. Now it's keeping one of his steel-pipe shops in Houston open 24/7 and fueling a flurry of orders.

It's stoking business for National Oilwell Varco Inc. too, with the oilfield-equipment giant for the first time in better than a decade selling more land-based than offshore gear. And it's got Perry Taylor on the hunt for truckers to haul fracking sand. Even at $80,000 a year, jobs are hard to fill. "It's tough," said the chief executive officer of Agility Energy Inc. "We've got commitments that are very difficult to keep right now because we can’t get the drivers."

Crude is nowhere near its $100-plus highs of recent years, but drillers pounced after it steadily crept back up from the $26 bottom it sank to early last year. And as they tap more and more new wells, the rebound is spreading quickly, and powerfully, to the oilfield-services outfits that were so hard hit during the collapse.

“Everyone is so hungry,” said Joseph Triepke, founder of the industry research company Infill Thinking in Dallas. “It’s like we’re hanging a steak in front of a bunch of starving people.”

That services companies are hopping again with crude worth half what it was three years ago is thanks in large part to technological advances that help explorers to find more pockets of petroleum riches, and to drill faster and frack smarter. That last bit is key in the shale formations that hold the most promising on-land pockets of oil and gas; tapping them requires fracturing the surrounding rock with injections of water, sand and chemicals.

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It's stoking business for National Oilwell Varco Inc. too, with the oilfield-equipment giant for the first time in better than a decade selling more land-based than offshore gear. And it's got Perry Taylor on the hunt for truckers to haul fracking sand. Even at $80,000 a year, jobs are hard to fill. "It's tough," said the chief executive officer of Agility Energy Inc. "We've got commitments that are very difficult to keep right now because we can’t get the drivers."

Crude is nowhere near its $100-plus highs of recent years, but drillers pounced after it steadily crept back up from the $26 bottom it sank to early last year. And as they tap more and more new wells, the rebound is spreading quickly, and powerfully, to the oilfield-services outfits that were so hard hit during the collapse.

“Everyone is so hungry,” said Joseph Triepke, founder of the industry research company Infill Thinking in Dallas. “It’s like we’re hanging a steak in front of a bunch of starving people.”

That services companies are hopping again with crude worth half what it was three years ago is thanks in large part to technological advances that help explorers to find more pockets of petroleum riches, and to drill faster and frack smarter. That last bit is key in the shale formations that hold the most promising on-land pockets of oil and gas; tapping them requires fracturing the surrounding rock with injections of water, sand and chemicals.

Read Full Article