By Ovunc Kutlu
Although oil producers in some countries are hurting more than others and had to trim output, global production continues to rise despite falling prices, according to official data.
Conventional wisdom suggests plummeting oil prices would make it harder for producers to see a return on their investments, and force them to shut wells resulting in decreased output.
While this still holds true, such as oil production in the U.S. has fallen by 400,000 barrels a day on average since last April, oil output in the Middle East and Russia have risen since mid-2014, taking global production levels higher than it was in June 2014 when prices were at a peak of $115 per barrel.
Global oil output was at 93 million barrels per day (mbpd) on average at the end of the second quarter of 2014, according to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) January market report.
As prices began falling in mid-2014, global production rose to 94.3 mbpd on average in the third quarter, and reached 95.4 mbpd in the final quarter of 2014.
Much of this increase was attributed to OPEC as the cartel boosted output by 600,000 barrels per day, while the rest came from the U.S. shale oil and rising Russian output as producers fought relentlessly to protect their market shares.
Global oil production declined slightly to an average 95.1 mbpd during the first quarter of 2015, but it did not take much time until producers adjusted to the new price environment. Total worldwide output jumped to 96.3 mbpd in the second quarter and averaged 96.9 mbpd during the second half of last year.
Overall, global oil output rose by 2.77 percent on average in one year, from $93.7 mbpd in 2014 to $96.3 mbpd in 2015, according to the IEA's report, while oil prices declined by 48 percent in 2014 and 34.5 percent in 2015.
Research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie said last Friday in a report that only less than 0.1 percent oil production has been currently halted globally.
"Since the dramatic drop in prices from late 2014, there have been few halts in production -- with around 100,000 barrels per day shut-in globally to date," read the report.
The reason behind the level being lower than most expect is due to the fact that most wells around the world are operating despite negative cash flows.
"Our latest 2016 production data indicates that with Brent crude oil prices at $35 per barrel, 3.4 mbpd of oil production is cash negative, which equates to 3.5 percent of global supply of 96.1 mbpd," said Stewart Williams, vice president of upstream research at Wood Mackenzie.
The company also added in the report that the number of shut-ins is unlikely to increase, since many producers are also keeping production with the hope of a rebound in prices.
Robert Plummer, vice president of investment research at Wood Mackenzie explained the situation as "the operator's first response is usually to store production in the hope that the oil can be sold when the price recovers."
"Being cash negative simply means that production costs are higher than the price that the producer receives and does not necessarily mean that production will be halted altogether. Curtailed budgets have slowed investment which will reduce future volumes, but there is little evidence of production shut-ins for economic reasons," he added.
Plummer noted that low oil prices have affected Canadian oil sands, production in Venezuela, the aging U.K. North Sea oil fields and the U.S. onshore projects the most.
"At a Brent oil price of $35 per barrel, Canada has 2.2 mbpd of production which has a negative cash operating cost. Venezuela is second with 230,000 barrels a day from its heavy oil fields, followed by the U.K. with 220,000 barrels per day," he concluded.
Williams said only 190,000 barrels a day of average production is being cash negative at a Brent price of $35 per barrel.