Independent oil producers meet in SF

October 6, 2008 7:21:48 PM PDT
Oil prices are trading below $90 a barrel for the first time in eight months. Crude oil futures fell by more than $6 today, to $87.81 a barrel.

Last time the price was that low, back in February when we thought it was awfully high, gasoline prices averaged $2.97 a gallon. Compare that to today's average of $3.50 a gallon and $3.70 in the Bay Area.

Independent oil producers, not big oil, but the small companies, are getting hammered by the credit crisis. And it turns out, the oil industry is feeling the pinch of the crisis we're in as well.

There are more than 5,000 independent oil producers in the U.S. Almost all of them belong to the Independent Petroleum Association of America, IPAA.

Bruce Vincent is Vice Chairman of IPAA and President of Houston-based Swift Energy Company.

"We don't have pipelines, we don't have refineries, we don't have gasoline stations. We explore and develop oil and gas in the ground and sell it to somebody else," said Bruce Vincent from the IPAA.

They are responsible for 68 percent of U.S. oil production and 82 percent of U.S. natural gas.

Their meeting with industry analysts comes in the midst of a global economic slowdown. The IPAA says that means less demand. Less demand means lower oil prices and with less profit comes less production.

But short-term, that's good news for consumers who will pay less at the pump.

"Long term, prices will rise again because the world's in fairly good balance between supply and demand. But in the short run you're going to see prices come down and stay down, whether it's six months or two years - probably in that time frame," said Vincent.

The frozen credit markets could also hurt independent producers who already have lots of debt. Oil was at a record high as recently as July - today it was down from that high of $147 to less than $90 a barrel.

Energy economist Frederick Lawrence says given those massive swings, it's hard to imagine a riskier business than oil production these days.

"They're handling a lot of risk both in what they do, drilling for oil and natural gas where you can get a duster as easily as a flowing well and then you have the added risk in terms of the price," said Lawrence.

The IPAA says executives' main job right now, is convincing worried investors that their companies are sound despite the challenging economy.

To read about an unexpected boon in oil industry job opportunities, click on The Back Story.


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