Shale Producer Pioneer Expects OPEC to Boost Oil Prices as Brent Tumbles

(Reuters) — The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will likely take steps to boost oil prices, which started the year in free-fall, the chief executive of top shale producer Pioneer Natural Resources Scott Sheffield said on Thursday.

"Saudi is not going to let Brent stay around $75 a barrel," he told investors at a Goldman Sachs conference in Miami, Florida. "It wouldn't surprise me if they had another cut."

His comments came as oil posted its biggest two-day loss in three decades to start the year this week. Brent futures LCOc1 were trading around $78 a barrel on Thursday morning.

Sheffield said future oil prices, often referred to as "the strip", will likely stay in backwardation going forward, with current prices higher than future contracts.

"There is no liquidity in the market," he said referring to later-dated oil contracts. "Banks aren't hedging, there's nobody using that product and hedging anymore. No airlines are hedging, so there is nothing to bring up the strip."

He anticipated oil prices to find a base of around $90 a barrel, with an upside of around $150 a barrel.

Going forward, Sheffield predicted that oil output in the largest U.S. shale basin will eventually hit 7 million and plateau. He warned that the gas-to-oil ratio there will likely shift to under 50% oil over the next ten years, prompting the need for a new gas pipeline roughly every 18 months.

Only Chevron, Pioneer Natural Resources and ConocoPhillips have capacity to produce more than 1 million barrels per day of oil equivalent in the Permian by 2030, Sheffield predicted.

At the same time, he said the rig count will likely stay relatively flat and potentially decrease amid surging prices for services and takeaway constraints. He pointed to day rates of roughly $38,000 for rigs operated by drilling contractor Patterson-UTI.

"Something has got to break," he said.

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