Oil well in North Dakota. Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips.

Oil well in North Dakota. Photo courtesy ConocoPhillips.

Economist and financial analyst Gary Shilling set off a bit of a furor recently when he said the price of crude oil could go as low as $10 a barrel.

In an op-ed for Bloomberg View, he discussed a number of reasons the price could get down to $10-20 per barrel.

"At about $50 a barrel, crude oil prices are down by more than half from their June 2014 peak of $107. They may fall more, perhaps even as low as $10 to $20," wrote Shilling, president of A. Gary Shilling & Co., a consultancy in Springfield, New Jersey.

Demand is dropping. Growth is slowing in China, and it's minimal in Europe and negative in Japan. The U.S. has developed vehicles that are more fuel-efficient and other energy conservation measures.

Meanwhile, supply is increasing, thanks in large part to the oil boom in the U.S., made possible by fracking and horizontal drilling technologies. In fact, U.S. output rose by 15% in the 12 months through November from a year earlier, based on the latest data, while imports declined 4%, Shilling notes. 

On Feb. 19, Tom Kloza with the Oil Price Information Service noted that U.S. crude production hit 9.28 million barrels per day, the "highest number since Haldeman and Ehrlichman resigned from the Nixon Administration (4/73)."

Shilling wrote that U.S. crude oil production is forecast to rise by 300,000 barrels a day during the next year.

Meanwhile, U.S. crude inventories are at around an 80-year high, leading Kloza to tell Marketwatch.com, “We’re testing virgin territory for crude-oil stocks."

In addition to larger global demand slowdown, in the short term, a large refinery workers strike, just as refineries are starting their maintenance season, and the strike at the West Coast ports have lessened demand for crude.

And then there's the "eroding power of the OPEC cartel."

Shilling explains that Saudi Arabia and other well-off members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries essentially have been playing a game of "chicken" with the countries that cheat, producing more than their quotas to take advantage of the above-market crude prices normally created by the cartel.

"Saudis figure they can withstand low prices for longer than their financially weaker competitors, who will have to cut production first as pumping becomes uneconomical…. Saudi Arabia requires a price of more than $90 to fund its budget. But it has $726 billion in foreign currency reserves and is betting it can survive for two years with prices of less than $40 a barrel."

So, is $10 a barrel oil possible?

Schork Group President Stephen Shork, on Bloomberg's "Street Smart," said it is "absolutely possible."

"I still like the market lower – we've been in range of $55 to $45 [a barrel] for the past two months," said the energy analyst.

However, he cautioned that $10 a barrel oil wouldn't necessarily be good news.

"We're looking at a situation, we have to keep in mind, when was the last time oil prices collapsed because of good global economic news? The next time … will be the first time. So this is the canary in the coal mine. This should be sending a signal around the world that everything is not rainbows and unicorns economically."

While $10 to $20 oil may be possible, others say that doesn't mean it's likely.

T. Boone Pickens, a big promoter of natural gas fuel, told CNBC that oil will go back up to near $70 or $80 a barrel by the fourth quarter of this year.

After Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal said in an interview with CNBC that the price of oil won't go near $100 in this lifetime, Pickens said he didn't know what he was talking about, predicting that once enough rigs are shut down in the U.S., the price will climb.

Oil producers in West Texas and North Dakota "can't drill for $45 oil," Pickens said on CNBC's "Street Signs."

"The reason the oil price has dropped is because of production here in the United States," Pickens said. "No question, we were the ones that caused it, and we'll be the ones that will fix it. And the way we fix it is our rig count will go down."

As an article on http://247wallst.com points out, "As with most things in life it is unlikely that the truth lies at either extreme."

"I know it isn’t sexy and it probably breaks some unwritten rule of internet hackery to say it, but the most likely scenario is that WTI futures will bounce around current levels for a while before gradually recovering to the $60-$70/barrel level."

The word from the U.S. Department of Energy in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook predicts oil prices of $55 per barrel for benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude this year and $71 in 2016, though it says there is “very high uncertainty in the price outlook.”

No kidding.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

View Bio