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Oil prices edge up as US drilling declines

A jet fuel market in Europe saturated by imports from Asia and the Middle East has forced sellers to keep their oil offshore on tankers or chose longer voyages as they seek out buyers.

[SINGAPORE] Oil prices edged up in early trading in Asia on Monday as US drilling slowed and analysts estimated that US$1.5 trillion worth of planned American production was uneconomical at prices of US$50 per barrel or lower.

Crude oil prices have plunged almost 60 per cent since June 2014, when soaring global production started to clash with slowing demand. This includes losses of more than a quarter since June this year as a sharp slowdown in China has sparked concerns over the health of the world economy.

Analysts said the low prices were beginning to impact production as drillers slow down new projects, especially in cost-sensitive North America where drillers react fast to changing prices.

US energy firms cut oil rigs for a third week in a row last week, a sign that the latest crude market weakness was causing drillers to put on hold production plans, triggering a slight increase in prices on Monday. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were trading at US$44.84 per barrel at 0108 GMT, up 16 cents from their last settlement. Globally traded Brent futures were at US$47.60 per barrel, up 13 cents. "The current rig count is pointing to U.S. production declining sequentially between 2Q15 and 4Q15 by 255,000 barrels per day at the observed path of the US horizontal and vertical rig count across the Permian, Eagle Ford, Bakken and Niobrara shale plays," Goldman Sachs said. "The implied year-on-year growth by 4Q15 of 120,000 barrels per day is lower than the prior week's estimate of 125,000 barrels per day," it added.

Analysts said low prices would have a bigger impact in the longer term as producers struggle to cut enough costs. "Operators are seeking an average cost reduction of 20-30 per cent on projects, supply chain savings through squeezing the service sector will only achieve around 10-15 per cent on average," energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said. "US$1.5 trillion of uncommitted spend on new conventional projects and North American unconventional oil is uneconomic at US$50 a barrel," it added.