Texas leads the nation in oil and gas bankruptcies, after oil and gas activity “suffered a bloodbath of sorts in April as the state began to register the full effects of the Covid-19 lockdowns, with upstream jobs tumbling to the largest monthly decline on record,” Natural Gas Intel reports.
But the signs were there prior to the coronavirus ever hitting, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, because of the Russian-Saudi Arabian price war. In December, 2019, the Dallas Fed doubled its estimates for jobs losses through October 2020 because of volatile oil prices. It expected roughly 8,100 job losses in Texas’ oil and gas sector, the largest oil producer in the nation.
But within a few months, a loss of 8,100 projected jobs turned into more than one million after Gov. Greg Abbott placed restrictions on businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and oil prices continued to hit rock bottom lows, according to forecasts projected by the Perryman Group.
After the state shut down in mid-March, wells closed, rigs to stopped operating and tens of thousands of workers were immediately laid off. Texas’ oil output fell in March by an estimated 235,000 barrels per day, the largest monthly decline ever recorded, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers.
The Alliance’s benchmark Texas Petro Index (TPI) fell to 172 in April from 181.9 in March, the second largest monthly decline on record (the September to October 2015 11-point drop was the largest on record).
“The Texas upstream oil and gas economy was already in a state of decline when COVID-19 came along, with drops in the number of working rigs and industry employment, but the rate of decline has obviously accelerated sharply in March and April,” Karr Ingham, an Alliance economist who created the TPI, told Natural Gas Intel.
Over the next few months, the hits kept coming.
Drilling companies and refineries shed more than 51,000 jobs in March alone, according to a report by BW Research Partnership, a research consultancy. The group analyzed Department of Labor data in addition to its own survey data of about 30,000 energy companies.
In April, Philip Jordan, vice president of BW Research Partnership, told Bloomberg News, “We’re looking at anywhere between five and seven years of job growth wiped out in a month.”
In April and May, 14 oil and gas companies in North America filed for bankruptcy, according to a report by the Haynes Boone law firm, compared to five filings for bankruptcy during the first three months of the year. Of the 19 that filed, 10 are in Texas.
Houston-based firms Diamond Offshore, Yuma Energy, Victerra Energy, Freedom Oil and Gas and Gavilan Resources filed for bankruptcy in the last two months.
In late April, U.S. oil prices crashed to a record low with U.S. futures falling below $0 a barrel. The oil futures of West Texas Intermediate, the American benchmark of crude oil, plummeted to their lowest prices on record, and the largest single day drop of more than 90 percent.
After rising since then, oil futures fell sharply on Thursday, with U.S. prices down by more than 8 percent.
Oil is likely to “remain vulnerable and exposed to downside shocks thanks to coronavirus-related concerns,” Lukman Otunuga, senior research analyst at FXTM, told MarketWatch News. Despite the OPEC+ agreement this past weekend extending production cuts by another month, the oil and gas industry appears to be in “a losing battle with COVID-19 and world growth fears,” he said.
Globally, the oil industry is projected to lose $1.8 trillion in revenue this year due to the coronavirus shutdowns, according to a report by the data firm Fitch Group.
Oil prices at $30 a barrel are “not a sufficient clearing price for many heavily leveraged shale producers,” the Fitch Group report states. “It is reasonable to expect that a substantial number of producers will continue to seek protection from creditors in bankruptcy even if oil prices recover over the next few months.”
To avoid bankruptcy, Suzy Taherian, who formerly worked with Exxon and Chevron, writes in Forbes, firms can consider as options industry consolidation, private equity firms acquiring assets of distressed companies, banks holding oil and gas assets, or power utilities buying their providers of energy.