Where Big Oil is cutting back

Oil could hit $70 if this happens: Yamada
Oil could hit $70 if this happens: Yamada   

Around the world, the crash in crude prices has created huge financial headaches for oil producers.

Simply put, much of the oil they were hoping to pull out of the ground is too expensive to generate a profit. That has led to huge cuts in investment in new exploration and production. Those spending cuts are also helping to offset a steep drop in revenues after the price of oil fell in half since last summer.

Meanwhile, the world is awash in oil. In the U.S., another 5 million barrels flowed into storage tanks, raising the total to 471 million barrels—well above the previous peak of 400 million barrels reached in April, 2014, according to Genscape, an oil research firm.


Oil producers who have decided to keep pumping are hoping all that oil in storage will eventually generate higher profits when oil prices recover.

Many companies that have already started drilling are deferring completions, delaying the flow of new supplies in hopes of higher prices down the road. Leaving the oil and gas in the ground saves oil producers the cost of storing it as available storage space continues to dwindle.

Cabot, Chesapeake, EOG, SM Energy, Apache and Anadarko have announced deferral of 845 well completions in the Eagle Ford, Bakken, Wattenberg and Permian basins, according to Genscape. The firm estimates that represents about 373 million barrels a day of oil production and 528 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.

Read MoreUS oil output is falling! Or maybe not

Worldwide, oil and gas companies are expected to cut spending on exploration and production by 17 percent this year, according to a survey by Cowen and Co.

A lot depends on what happens to oil prices from here. Oil prices have been bouncing between $50 and $60 a barrel since the beginning of the year, and with little sign of supplies' easing, crude is expected to remain cheap for the time being.

Finding a bottom in oil
Finding a bottom in oil   

One reason: OPEC, the global cartel that once acted to enforce prices by cutting production to keep supplies tight, has continued to add to global surpluses. And of all the world's producers those in the Middle East continue to boost investing in new supplies. Producers in the region are expected to boost in spending on exploration by 4 percent this year, to $41.7 billion, according to the Cowen survey of 476 oil companies.

If oil recovers to around $70 a barrel this year, Cowen estimates global spending on exploration and production will drop to $571 billion. At $60 per barrel, the cuts would be deeper, ranging between 30 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey.