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U.S. Oil Producers May Drill Themselves Into Oblivion

An oil drilling rig on July 30, 2013, near Watford City, N.D.
An oil drilling rig on July 30, 2013, near Watford City, N.D.Photograph by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Remember the fall of 2008? As the world spun out of control and the price of everything crashed, a barrel of oil lost 70 percent of its value over about five months. Of course, prices never should’ve been as high as $146 that summer, but they shouldn’t have crashed to $40 by the end of that year either.

As the oil market has recovered, there have since been three major corrections, when prices have fallen at least 15 percent over a few months. We’re now in the midst of a fourth, with oil prices down more than 20 percent since peaking in late June at around $115 a barrel. They’re now hovering in the mid-$80 range and could certainly go lower. That’s good news for U.S. consumers, who are finally starting to reap the rewards of the shale boom through low gasoline prices. But it could spell serious trouble for a lot of oil producers, many of whom are laden with debt and exaggerating their oil reserves.