U.S. shale oil producers are in line to suffer more than $10 billion in derivative hedging losses this year if oil prices remain around $100 per barrel, Rystad Energy research showed. Many shale operators offset their risk exposure through derivative hedging, helping them to raise capital for operations more efficiently. Those who hedged at lower prices last year are in line to suffer significant associated losses as their contracts mean they cannot capitalize on sky-high prices.
Despite these hedging losses, record-high cash flow and net income have been widely reported by US onshore exploration and production (E&P) companies this earnings season. These operators are now adapting their strategies and negotiating contracts for the second half of 2022 and 2023 based on current high prices, so if oil prices fall next year, these agile E&Ps will be able to capitalize and will likely boast even stronger financials.
Anticipating the significant negative impact of these hedges, shale operators made a concerted effort in the first half of this year to lower their exposure and limit the impact on their balance sheets.
Many operators have successfully negotiated higher ceilings for 2023 contracts and based on current reported hedging activity for next year, even at a crude price of $100 per barrel, losses would total just $3 billion, a significant drop from this year. At $85 per barrel, hedged losses would total $1.5 billion; if it fell further to $65, hedging activity would be a net earner for operators.
E&Ps typically employ derivative hedging to limit cash flow risks and secure funding for operations. However, commodity derivative hedging is not the only risk management strategy operators use. Rystad Energy’s analysis looked at a peer group of 28 US light tight oil (LTO) producers, whose collective guided 2022 oil production accounts for close to 40% of the expected US shale total. Of this group, 21 operators have detailed their 2022 hedging positions as of August. The group includes all public hedging activity in the sector as supermajors do not employ derivative hedging as a funding strategy, and private operators do not disclose their hedges publicly.
“With huge losses on the table, operators have been frantically adapting their hedging strategies to minimize losses this year and next. As a result, we may not have seen peak cash flow in the industry yet, which is hard to believe given the soaring financials reported in recent weeks,” said Rystad Energy Vice President Alisa Lukash.