(Adds background on U.S. shale business)
By Simon Webb
RIYADH, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Growth in U.S. shale oil production will slow sharply over the next two years, the chief executive officer of U.S. oilfield services giant Schlumberger said on Tuesday.
Olivier Le Peuch told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Riyadh he expects growth to slow to 600,000 to 700,000 barrels per day in 2020 and to 200,000 bpd in 2021, down substantially from roughly 1 million bpd in 2019.
Lower oil prices and investor demand for higher returns have forced U.S. shale producers to scale back investment after output surged over the past three years to total 13 million barrels per day, making the country the world’s biggest crude oil producer.
“Next year it will be 200,000 barrels per day,” Le Peuch said, adding that was his estimate for now.
U.S. shale growth should then plateau and will not return to the expansion of the past three to five years unless new technology to lower costs attracts another wave of investment, he said earlier in a panel discussion at the conference. “Shale production growth will go to a new normal ... unless technology helps us crack the code,” he said.
Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services provider, last month outlined an aggressive cost-cutting plan for its North American business, which included idling equipment and selling certain units.
The company cut more than 1,400 jobs since the third quarter of 2019 and it aims to sell one unit and cease operations of another one in North America. It also laid out a plan to pare down its OneStim hydraulic fracturing business, which it expanded through a $430 million acquisition roughly two years ago.
Le Peuch on Tuesday told Reuters there were no additional asset sales planned at the moment other than those already announced.
While Schlumberger idles equipment in the United States, the company has played a role in developing fracking in Saudi Arabia and will be involved in the Gulf kingdom’s development of its Jafurah shale gas field, he said.
Last week, Saudi Aramco said it had received regulatory approval to develop the Jafurah non-associated gas field with production expected to start in early 2024.
Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser described the project as the start of the kingdom’s own shale gas revolution.
Schlumberger’s CEO said it was unclear how quickly the kingdom could scale up shale production until full commercial development of the field had started. (Reporting by Simon Webb; additional reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by David Evans, David Clarke and David Gregorio)