Weir Sees International Acceleration Amid U.S. Shale Dominance

Demand for hydraulic fracturing equipment may expand to a third the size of the current North American market by 2016 as international shale development accelerates, according to Weir Group Plc, the biggest supplier of pressure pumps.

Countries including Australia, Russia and Saudi Arabia are increasing their use of so-called fracking equipment that sends water and sand underground to crack rock and release oil and natural gas from shale formations, said Keith Cochrane, chief executive officer of the Glasgow, Scotland-based company, in an interview yesterday in Houston.

The amount of pumping horsepower being used -- a standard industry measure of demand -- may reach 6 million to 7 million outside of the U.S. and Canada in the next few years, compared with about 2 million to 3 million now, Cochrane said. The current North American market, the largest in the world, supports 17.5 million horsepower, according to PacWest Consulting Partners, a Houston-based company that tracks oilfield servicers.

“People are waking up to the size and the potential of the shale opportunity that exists in their own countries,” Cochrane said. “And, bluntly, also the competitive threat that is developing if they leave it to the U.S.”

Shale projects outside of North America haven’t yet produced the abundant, predictable output seen in formations such as Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale and the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania. In Poland, Marathon Oil Corp. and Talisman Energy Inc. this week joined Exxon Mobil Corp. in halting work amid disappointing results. Wells have been more promising in other nations that are beginning to explore shale resources, Cochrane said.

International Market

“We do expect a lot of growth internationally,” said Chris Robart, a principal at PacWest. The consultant expects the international market to nearly double in capacity by the end of next year to about 8.3 million horsepower.

Those estimates could be slightly less after dialing back growth estimates in Argentina, Robart said. The biggest international growth market is China, while other hot areas include Australia and Mexico, he said.

Countries are looking to replicate economic benefits the U.S. has seen from its domestic oil and gas production. Chemical companies and other manufacturers have announced plans for U.S. projects amid a drop in gas prices, which touched a 10-year low last year.

Growth areas include the Middle East, Australia, Russia and China, Steve Noon, a divisional managing director at Weir, said in an interview. Countries understand the potential of shale in terms of jobs, taxes and being self-sufficient in energy, Cochrane said, and their combined effect may be significant.

“It’s the fact you’re seeing it in four or five different countries, albeit from a low base, that then starts to add up to become something more meaningful,” Cochrane said.

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