While the energy practices within large consulting firms typically house their oil, gas and utilities experts—this structure is no longer sustainable, at least not from a narrative perspective. The story lines raging in these sectors no longer fit into a single article. This magazine issue’s energy industry focus concentrates squarely on the challenges facing U.S. utility companies. While these threats and discussions certainly delve into oil and gas (shale gas, in particular), we sat down with Bain & Company Partner Andy Steinhubl, who co-leads the firm’s oil and gas practice in the Americas, to focus more deeply on oil and gas issues.
Consulting: What are some of the most important forces driving change in the energy sector (in North America)?
Steinhubl: Two major forces standout:
1) the supply discontinuity of natural gas, which is being driven by technology breakthroughs allowing the cost-effective extraction of shale gas; and
2) The renewed scarcity of oil driven by rampant demand growth in China and other developing economies, that is compounded by a continued OPEC supply discipline and an increasing scarcity of other ‘easy oil.’
Given the abundance of shale gas resource within North America (NA), the US has ‘flipped’ from requiring natural gas imports through liquefied natural gas (LNG) at long-term prices likely north of $10/MCF (one thousand cubic feet) to natural gas self-sufficiency—estimated for at least 40 to 50 years at current consumption levels—at prices more like $5/MCF (and lower currently).