14 January 2015, London – Oil and gas production was one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States between 2009 and 2014 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).
Oil production increased by more than 60 percent while natural gas production was up by more than 25 percent thanks to the shale revolution.
What is less well-known is that oil and gas production is also very energy intensive and the drilling boom contributed significantly to fuel consumption, especially diesel. Now the drilling boom is over, lower fuel demand from oil and gas producers helps explain why diesel consumption in the United States has been unusually weak over the last 12 months.
Fuel consumption by oil and gas producers themselves is an example of what is known in control systems theory as positive feedback. The more oil and gas the drillers produced, the more fuel they and their suppliers consumed, creating even more demand, and stimulating even more production.
Systems characterised by positive feedback tend to be prone to instability and boom-bust cycles. In the oil and gas sector, positive feedback contributes to the instability of supply, demand and prices. Fuel consumption by oil and gas producers and their suppliers is not the only example of destabilising positive feedback in oil and gas markets, and may not even be the most important.
Oil and gas lending and the state of the economy are also subject to positive feedback effects which destabilise oil and gas markets. But the fuel requirements of oil and gas production are significant enough that they are having a noticeable impact on consumption and prices, especially for diesel.
In 2014, oil and gas producers required around 10 cents worth of oil and gas production to produce $1 of oil and gas output, according to the BEA (“Commodity-by-industry direct requirements” 2014).
Drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing pumps mostly employ high-horsepower diesel-electric engines that run 24 hours per day consuming enormous quantities of diesel. Most of the heating, lighting and other services at remote well sites are also provided by diesel-electric generators.