U.S. shale oil and gas explorers are once again in the limelight, following the International Energy Agency’s forecast that a “second” shale revolution was on the horizon. The next wave would drive U.S. oil output to 19.6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2024 up from 15.5 million bpd in 2018, noted the agency that advises some of the biggest, predominantly Western governments on energy related issues.

The IEA also forecast that U.S. gross crude exports are “expected to double” over the period making it a net energy exporter, underpinned by efforts of shale explorers. The upbeat assessment, published at the start of the recently concluded IHS Markit CERAWeek 2019 conference, an energy industry jamboree held every March in Houston, Texas, triggered ecstatic dialogues about both the viability and future direction of the industry.

Like a broken, albeit on the money record, several commentators at the conference expressed the opinion that should the oil market take a turn for the worse, many shale players with viable acreages could survive at $35-40 per barrel prices. For hidden deep in the IEA’s take on the U.S. shale industry is an accolade that’s not alluded to enough when such quips are made – how process optimization and technological efficiencies are keeping players competitive in a cutthroat industry. Following the oil price slump of 2015-16, visits to fracking sites and onstream wells from the Denver-Julesburg basin and to the Permian would illustrate how things are changing.

Seismic studies are now heading beyond 4D, solar panels power personnel quarters, eight wells are often seen producing more oil and gas volumes than 16 previously did, processes and assets are more productive, and unmanned remotely managed rigs, hitherto largely seen offshore, are becoming visible onshore. What’s more drilling times are being reduced and in many cases halved, driven by data obtained from smart sensors. Regina Mayor, Global Sector Head, Energy and Natural Resources at KPMG, says the “second wave” is being powered by a different kind of ingenuity and more agile capital planning.