(Reuters) – The pace of mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. oil and gas sector during the third quarter tied with the first quarter for the worst in a decade, according to data released on Monday, as most shale producers remain reluctant to spend after an oil price crash this year.
U.S. crude prices are lower by about a third from the start of the year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has hammered fuel demand and forced oil companies to focus on preserving cash to survive the downturn instead of boosting production.
Energy consultancy Enverus said just 28 deals with a disclosed value were signed during July-September.
However, the total value of these deals, at about $21 billion, was 19.4% higher than a year earlier, helped by oil major Chevron Corp’s <CVX.N> purchase of Noble Energy Inc <NBL.O> and Devon Energy Corp’s <DVN.N> merger with WPX Energy Inc <WPX.N>.
Enverus valued those two mergers at $18.63 billion, almost 90% of the total deal value.
“There is a broad consensus that consolidation is a net positive for the industry… but it can be a challenge to find the right asset and balance sheet fits for accretive deals,” said Andrew Dittmar, senior M&A analyst at Enverus.
“It may take several more years for consolidation to play out.”
While there is potential for more deals this year, a pickup in activity would need higher commodity prices and new capital inflows, according to Enverus, but traditional sources of funding like private equity firms have become reluctant to participate.
Companies with manageable debt loads are likely to be the focus of mergers while heavily indebted companies are “being left to find their own way, resulting in a spate of Chapter 11 filings,” Dittmar added.
Among the largest shale producers to walk down the bankruptcy path during the third quarter were California Resources Corp <CRCQQ.PK> and Oasis Petroleum Inc <OAS.O>.
(Reporting by Shariq Khan in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)