Tracking the Growing Wave of Oil & Gas Bankruptcies in 2020
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Tracking the Growing Wave of Oil & Gas Bankruptcies in 2020

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The Growing Wave of Oil & Gas Bankruptcies in 2020

2020 hasn’t been kind to the energy sector, and a growing wave of energy bankruptcies has started to build.

After a difficult year marred by rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and crude prices in the $50-60 per barrel range, analysts warned that the energy sector needed a strong recovery to offset a rising (and expiring) mountain of debt.

Instead, the oil patch has seen one bombshell after another, and the impacts are adding up.

Fueling the Wave’s Growth

The new year opened with a U.S. attack on a top-ranking Iranian general in Baghdad, followed by an Iranian counterattack on two bases in Iraq that hosted U.S. military personnel.

Then, the energy industry worried that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) wouldn’t renew its production deal with non-member countries, causing increased production and negative pressure on crude prices.

All the while, the threat of COVID-19 grew and started to spread. In March, the new coronavirus hit markets hardest, right as the OPEC+ deal collapsed. Russia and Saudi Arabia subsequently flooded the markets with cheap oil, starting a price war to drive out competition.

What developed was the perfect storm of nonexistent demand matched up against oversupply. Crude prices plummeted and hit a historic sub-zero low on April 20th, with futures for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude closing at -$37.63.

The Wave’s Initial Damage

Now, following a renewed OPEC+ deal limiting production agreed upon on April 9th and slowly restarting economies driving up crude demand, prices have started to tick up.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and will take a long time to recover. By charting the sector’s bankruptcies over the first half of 2020—tracked by law firm Haynes and Boone, LLP for the U.S. and Insolvency Insider for Canada—we can see the wave start to swell:

Company TypeQ1 BankruptciesQ2 BankruptciesTotal (H1 2020)
Oil & Gas Producer71825
Oilfield Services71219
Midstream Services213
Total163147

For oil and gas producers, the second quarter of 2020 saw 18 bankruptcies, the highest quarterly total since 2016.

So far, they’re largely centered in the U.S., which saw a boom of surface-level shale oil production in the 2010’s to take advantage of rising crude prices. As prices have dropped, many heavily leveraged companies have started to run out of options.

Company TypeQ1 Total DebtQ2 Total DebtTotal (H1 2020)
Oil & Gas Producer$1.4 billion$29.2 billion$30.7 billion
Oilfield Services$10.8 billion$13.2 billion$24 billion
Midstream Services$0.2 billion$0.2 billion$0.5 billion
Total$12.5 billion$42.7 billion$55.1 billion

The biggest victim in the first half of 2020 was Chesapeake Energy, a shale giant that declared bankruptcy on June 28 with more than $9 billion in debt.

Canada has also seen an uptick in energy bankruptcies, especially after facing years of stiff competition from U.S. shale producers. However, the number of cases in Canada is far fewer than in the United States.

One reason is that companies staved off bankruptcy or receivership in four of the seven insolvency cases in Canada since January 2020, at least temporarily. Instead, they are seeking protection under the country’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, giving them a chance to restructure and avoid insolvency.

A Prolonged Fallout

Another reason for the discrepancy in bankruptcy numbers is timing. The energy sector faced its biggest challenges in 2015/2016, causing many companies to take on debt.

Unfortunately, much of that debt is starting to expire, or becoming too difficult to pay off in the current market conditions.

That’s why, despite the wave of bankruptcies caused by COVID-19 gaining steam, the wave will continue well into 2020 and likely beyond.

July has already seen more companies declaring bankruptcy or seeking creditor protection. The question is, how many more are waiting to surface?

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Energy

What’s Made from a Barrel of Oil?

Oil is a building block that makes modern life possible. Here are the proportion of finished products that are created from a barrel of oil.

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What Products Are Made from a Barrel of Oil?

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From the gasoline in our cars to the plastic in countless everyday items, crude oil is an essential raw material that shows up everywhere in our lives.

With around 18 million barrels of crude oil consumed every day just in America, this commodity powers transport, utilities, and is a vital ingredient in many of the things we use on a daily basis.

This graphic visualizes how much crude oil is refined into various finished products, using a barrel of oil to represent the proportional breakdown.

Barrel of Oil to Functional Fuel and More

Crude oil is primarily refined into various types of fuels to power transport and vital utilities. More than 85% of crude oil is refined into fuels like gasoline, diesel, and hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGLs) like propane and butane.

Along with being fuels for transportation, heating, and cooking, HGLs are used as feedstock for the production of chemicals, plastics, and synthetic rubber, and as additives for motor gasoline production.

Refined Crude Oil ProductShare of Crude Oil Refined
Gasoline42.7%
Diesel27.4%
Jet fuel5.8%
Heavy fuel5.0%
Asphalt4.0%
Light fuel3.0%
Hydrocarbon gas liquids2.0%
Other10.1%

Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Crude oil not only powers our vehicles, but it also helps pave the roads we drive on. About 4% of refined crude oil becomes asphalt, which is used to make concrete and different kinds of sealing and insulation products.

Although transportation and utility fuels dominate a large proportion of refined products, essential everyday materials like wax and plastic are also dependent on crude oil. With about 10% of refined products used to make plastics, cosmetics, and textiles, a barrel of crude oil can produce a variety of unexpected everyday products.

Personal care products like cosmetics and shampoo are made using petroleum products, as are medical supplies like IV bags and pharmaceuticals. Modern life would look very different without crude oil.

The Process of Refining Crude Oil

You might have noticed that while a barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, it ends up producing 45 gallons of refined products. This is because the majority of refined products have a lower density than crude oil, resulting in an increase in volume that is called processing gain.

Along with this, there are other inputs aside from crude oil that are used in the refining process. While crude oil is the primary input, fuel ethanol, hydrocarbon gas liquids, and other blending liquids are also used.

U.S. Refiner and Blender InputsShare of Total
Crude oil85.4%
Fuel ethanol4.8%
Blending components3.5%
Hydrocarbon gas liquids3.0%
Other liquids3.3%

Source: EIA

The process of refining a 30,000-barrel batch of crude oil typically takes between 12-24 hours, with refineries operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Although the proportions of individual refined products can vary depending on market demand and other factors, the majority of crude oil will continue to become fuel for the world’s transport and utilities.

The Difficulty of Cutting Down on Crude Oil

From the burning of heavy fuels that tarnish icebergs found in Arctic waters to the mounds of plastic made with petrochemicals that end up in our rivers, each barrel of oil and its refined products impact our environment in many different ways.

But even as the world works to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels in order to reach climate goals, a world without crude oil seems unfathomable.

Skyrocketing sales of EVs still haven’t managed to curb petroleum consumption in places like Norway, California, and China, and the steady reopening of travel and the economy will only result in increased petroleum consumption.

Completely replacing the multi-faceted “black gold” that’s in a barrel of oil isn’t possible right now, but as electrification continues and we find alternatives to petrochemical materials, humanity might at least manage to reduce its dependence on burning fossil fuels.

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Mapped: Visualizing U.S. Oil Production by State

The U.S. is the largest oil producer in the world. Here we map the share of oil production in the country by all 50 states in 2020.

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Map of U.S. Oil Production by State

Mapped: Visualizing U.S. Oil Production by State

In 2018, the United States became the world’s top crude oil producer. It has strongly held this position ever since.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the country accounted for nearly 15% of the world’s total oil production in 2020, churning out close to 13 million barrels of crude oil per day—more than Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Although total U.S. oil production declined between 1985 and 2008, annual production increased nearly every year from 2009 through 2019, reaching the highest amount on record in 2019.

The Dominant Oil Producing States

Impressively, 71% of total U.S. oil production came from just five states. An additional 14.6% came from the Gulf of Mexico, which is a federal jurisdiction.

Here are the five states that produce the largest amount of crude oil:

RankStateOil Production
(billion barrels)
Share of Total Production
1Texas1.7843.0%
2North Dakota0.4310.4%
3New Mexico0.379.2%
4Oklahoma0.174.1%
5Colorado0.164.0%

Rounding the top 10 are states like Alaska, California, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Utah.

Texas is undoubtedly the largest oil-producing state in the United States. In 2020, Texas produced a total of 1.78 billion barrels of oil. Texas is home to the most productive U.S. oil basin, the Permian, routinely accounting for at least 50% of total onshore production. A distant second is North Dakota, which produced about 431.2 million barrels of oil in 2020.

Regional Distribution of U.S. Oil Production

A total of 32 of the 50 U.S. states produce oil. They are divided among five regional divisions for oil production in the U.S., known as the Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADD).

These five regional divisions of the allocation of fuels were established in the U.S. during the Second World War and are still used today for data collection purposes.

Given that Texas is the largest U.S. oil-producing state, PADD 3 (Gulf Coast) is also the largest oil-producing PADD. PADD 3 also includes the federal offshore region in the Gulf of Mexico. There are around 400 operational oil and gas rigs in the country.

Impact of U.S. Oil Production on Employment

Rapid growth in oil production using advanced drilling methods has created high-paying jobs in states like North Dakota and Texas.

Thanks to the rapid development in the Bakken Shale formation, North Dakota boasts the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. The state has also grown personal income and state economic output at a fast rate, due to oil and gas industry growth.

Oil production from the Eagle Ford Shale has transformed a relatively poor region of South Texas into one of the nation’s most significant economic development zones. In fact, due largely to the oil and natural gas industry, the Texas Comptroller estimates that Texas has recovered 100% of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

Looking to the Future

The U.S. slashed its oil production forecast through next year just as OPEC and its allies begin to roll back their production cuts in the coming months.

U.S. oil output will drop to 11.04 million barrels a day this year, down from a forecasted 11.15 million. This was a result of the deep freeze that shut down the oil industry in Texas. The EIA also lowered its output forecast for 2022 by 100,000 barrels a day.

Despite its forecast for a rise in supply from outside the cartel this year, OPEC said in its report that it is uncertain about the levels of investment expected to determine the non-OPEC supply outlook for the years to come.

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