Oil’s biggest bust since the global recession was good for a few cases of whiplash.Just two months ago, Continental Resources Inc. (CLR), the shale driller founded by billionaire Harold Hamm, budgeted for $80-a-barrel oil and planned to spend $4.6 billion in 2015. Six weeks later, with crude down 29 percent in the interim, Continental cut its 2015 budget to $2.7 billion.Halliburton Co. (HAL), the world’s biggest provider of fracking services to oil companies, announced Dec. 11 that it would dismiss 1,000 workers. Two months earlier, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar said “our sector will be fine” if oil prices range between $80 and $100 a barrel.Oil PricesThe U.S. shale boom that’s brought the country closer to energy self-sufficiency than at any time since the 1980s will be challenged in 2015 as never before. The benchmark U.S. crude price fell below $50 today for the first time since April 2009. Demand growth is weakening and OPEC, which controls 40 percent of supply, is unwilling to cut output.“The extent and rapidity of the price decline has been a surprise,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC, an energy consultant in Houston. “They’re facing a new reality.” Photographer: Daniel Acker/BloombergPioneer Drilling Co. operations near Montrose, Pennsylvania, U.S.West Texas Intermediate reached a 2014 peak of $107.73 in June before dropping as low as $49.77 today on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The grade settled at $50.04 a barrel. That’s below the break-even price for 37 of 38 U.S. shale oilfields, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.RBC Capital Markets and CIBC World Markets predict prices will remain below $60 for the first three months of 2015. Societe Generale SA’s Michael Wittner forecasts an average of $64.50 in the first quarter and $61.50 in the second.
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