It would take a drop in crude prices to about $50 a barrel before U.S. oil production growth would be choked off.
That's the finding in a new report from Citigroup energy analysts. They said the two-year low in U.S. oil prices is not yet stalling growth of U.S. crude production, and even at $70 per barrel, the industry would continue to increase production.
It would have to fall to $50 or even lower, to fully halt shale production growth, the report said. At a level of $40 to $60 a barrel, production growth would fall toward zero as producers shut less productive wells. Citi said, in fact, this break-even price could get lower over time as producers focused on more intensive drilling in more productive areas.
The rapid growth in U.S. oil production has been a sore point for OPEC and other producers, as it has contributed to a glut of supply in the Atlantic basin at a time when global demand growth continues to slide. West Texas Intermediate futures briefly fell below $80 a barrel Thursday, a new two-year low.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer, took aim at the problem of falling prices when it decided to defend its market share by cutting prices instead of production. Traders have speculated the Saudis intention was to hurt any number of rivals including Russia, Iran or the U.S. shale oil industry.
"I have no way to know the validity of Saudi motivation. Certainly, officials from the kingdom have made it clear that they think that at prices under $90 a barrel, U.S. shale production begins to slide," said Edward Morse, global head of Citigroup commodities research.