Mr Yergin said groups with deep pockets such as Blackstone and Carlyle will take over the infrastructure when the distressed assets are cheap enough, and bide their time until the oil cycle turns.
“The management may change and the companies may change but the resources will still be there,” he told the Daily Telegraph. The great unknown is how quickly the industry can revive once the global glut starts to clear - perhaps in the second half of the year - but it will clearly be much faster than for the conventional oil.
“It takes $10bn and five to ten years to launch a deep-water project. It takes $10m and just 20 days to drill for shale,” he said, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Mr Yergin is author of “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power”, and is widely regarded as the guru of energy analysis.
He said shale companies have put up a much tougher fight than originally expected and are only now succumbing to the violence of the oil price crash, fifteen months after Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states began to flood the global market to flush out rivals.
“Shale has proven much more resilient than people thought. They imagined that if prices fell below $70 a barrel, these drillers would go out of business. They didn’t realize that shale is mid-cost, and not high cost,” he said.
Yet even if scores of US drillers go bust, the industry will live on, and a quantum leap in technology has changed the cost structure irreversibly. Output per rig has soared fourfold since 2009. It is now standard to drill multiples wells from the same site, and data analytics promise yet another leap foward in yields.
“$60 is the new $90. If the price of oil returns to a range between $50 and $60, this will bring back a lot of production. The Permian Basin in West Texas may be the second biggest field in the world after Ghawar in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Zhu Min, the deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, said US shale has entirely changed the balance of power in the global oil market and there is little Opec can do about it.
“Shale has become the swing producer. Opec has clearly lost its monopoly power and can only set a bottom for prices. As soon as the price rises, shale will come back on and push it down again,” he said.