Guest Post: Calculating The Breakeven Price For The Median Bakken Shale Well

Authored by CEO of the SOFA,

A lot of data has been thrown around recently concerning the Bakken shale wells of North Dakota in an attempt to figure out the necessary oil price required to break even on the investment.  In order to get a clearer picture of the financial situation in Bakken, it is necessary to develop a financial model of the median Bakken well (attached). 

The median Bakken well has the following attributes:

With a discount rate of 15%, the median well has a profitability index of 1.02 (after federal income tax) if $66 per barrel is used  (A profitability index of 1.0 indicates a break even situation at the discount rate that was used in the model).  This means that at $66 per barrel, half the wells are uneconomic.  If oil prices settle out at this price it can be expected that the number of wells drilled should be reduced by about half.

If the current oil price of $55 per barrel is used, the initial production rate has to be increased to 800 BPD in order to break even.  According to the J.D. Hughes data, 25% of the wells have an initial production rate of 1000 BPD or more.  Accordingly, if oil prices settle out at the current price, the number of wells drilled will be about a quarter of the present number.

Some people have stated that this shale industry exists only due to abnormally low interest rates.  If we use $100 per barrel and increase the discount rate to 20%, the median well has a profitability index of 1.6, which is profitable.  The well is still making over 200 BPD after payout.  My conclusion is that the shale development would still be profitable in a normal interest rate environment.

The production data used in this model are from only 4 counties, Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail, and Williams.  Very few wells have been economic outside of these 4 counties.  Therefore, when these 4 counties become saturated with wells, the Bakken play is over. 

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And we already see rig counts falling and jobless claims surging in the Shale states.