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Hamm: Oil at turning point, but no shale gale yet

Hamm raises oil target

Harold Hamm, billionaire oilman, says the oil market is at a turning point, and he's taking important steps to get ready for the day when the U.S. will have to ramp up crude production.

Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, appeared Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Box" with a prediction that oil would rise to a lofty $69 to $72 per barrel — a leap above the then nonconsensus call of $60 he made on the program in January.

Hamm's year end forecast is also well above most current industry expectations, which have risen to around $60 at year-end. He said what's fueling his revised forecast is the faster-than-expected rebalancing of supply and demand.

"This rebalancing occurred early in the second quarter, not in the third. By the fourth quarter we'll have over a million barrels a day shortfall," he said, "In 2017, we could see the shortfall extend up to 2 million barrels a day undersupply. Because of that, we will see pressure on prices then and the undersupply comes primarily from light sweet crude oil."

Citing cutbacks by U.S. producers and the Nigerian disruption as some reasons behind the loss of supply, Hamm said the price differentials building in the world between sweet crude, sour and heavy oil could vary widely.

Harold Hamm
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hamm, in a telephone interview with CNBC, said Continental is getting prepared for the day when U.S. daily production will need to rise from its 8.75 million barrel a day level. But that does not mean the company will be turning on any of its shut-off rigs anytime soon.

"One of the consequences in having very cheap subeconomic prices for two years is people need to repair their balance sheets and that's the approach for most companies, like Continental are doing. We will complete wells that have not been completed but we don't have any plans to get more rigs in the field. We are being very disciplined. It's going to be a while before people are adding a lot of rigs back out there."

Continental will have 195 drilled but uncompleted wells, or DUCs, by the end of 2016, but Hamm did not say when the company would increase production. He also did not say when Continental would consider adding rigs. The U.S. industry has cut about 800,000 barrels a day in production from its peak in the spring of 2016.

Oppenheimer energy analyst Fadel Gheit tells CNBC he does not quite see the bullish fundamentals behind Hamm's call, "(Sixty-nine to seventy-two dollars) it's a stretch. It's a very low probability. We still have inventories near all-time highs. The realistic expectation is going to be $55 to $65. I would not be surprised to see oil prices knocking on $60 (by year-end). I do believe that is the new normal."

Jacques Rousseau, managing director of global oil and gas at ClearView Energy Partners, said in response to Hamm's call, "We think $70 a barrel by year-end 2016 may be optimistic, however, data points have been trending in a positive direction this year."

In a May 16 report ClearView said oil prices have had a strong correlation with OECD industry inventories since 2011; citing a decline in inventories beginning in February 2016.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct the number of drilled but uncompleted wells Continental will have by the end of 2016.