There will be a lot more smiles today than there have been over the last couple of years, as the annual Eagle Ford Consortium, which takes stock of the shale field south and west of San Antonio, opens at the Convention Center, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Economist Tom Tunstall, who studies the Eagle Ford at UTSA, says you can't really call it a 'comeback,' for the oil patch, because the field has already recovered from the near extinction it suffered when oil prices crashed in 2015.
He says, ironically, attempts by OPEC to cut production to raise global oil prices have played right into the hands of shale producers, by raising oil prices to about $50, which he says is good for everybody but OPEC.
"Prices at the pump aren't too high, yet most producers can make a profit at those prices," he said.
Tunstall says the biggest surprise has been how, rather than packing up and shutting down wells when prices crashed, like has happened in previous oil slumps, the oil industry got down to work and came up with ways to increase efficiency.
"What has been interesting is the way the shale technology and efficiencies have made it so resilient, much to OPEC's surprise."
It was the $140 a barrel oil of the late 2008s, that motivated George Mitchell and other oilfield engineers to come up with the horizontal fracking method which was able to extract billions of barrels of oil locked in rock formations below South Texas. When OPEC cut production in late 2014 to try to kill shale, the 'break even' price was still over $80 a barrel. But efficiences have cut that break even price to $50, and in many cases lower, which means U.S. shale can be produced just as cheaply as oil can be produced using traditional drilling methods in nearly every OPEC nation except Saudi Arabia, and as cheaply as non OPEC giant Russia.
But Tunstall says one casualty of all that efficiency has been the oil field worker.
While employment is increasing in the shale fields, with some 3,000 more workers added in the last year, some 95,000 oil jobs have been lost in Texas since 2015, and the vast majority will never return.
In fact, automation has replaced many of those roughneck jobs, with multiple wells being monitored and regulated on line from San Antonio, Houston, and other remote locations.