By Bill Loveless

Most U.S. oil companies will be able to produce more oil while reducing operating costs at prices of $45 a barrel or so, Fitch Ratings said July 19.

While the price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil, has fallen from a 2017 high of $54.45 on February 23, producers with solid credit ratings can compensate for the lower price now through further gains in efficiency and lower costs per barrel, Fitch said.

WTI closed at $46.02 on July 18.

“Most U.S. (exploration and production) companies will continue to see production profile gains and lower costs per barrel of oil equivalent through a combination of reduced drilling days, improved well bore placement, expanded multi-well pad drilling, longer laterals and higher intensity completions, which should help offset market price pressures,” Dino Kritikos, senior director for U.S. Corporates at Fitch, said in a statement.

Fitch issued the finding following a recent investor tour in California, New York and Chicago.

This comes as U.S. oil production increases this year in the face of attempts by OPEC to cut its oil output and raise oil prices.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that U.S. oil production will average 9.3 million barrels a day in 2017, up from 8.9 million barrels a day last year.

For 2018, EIA projects U.S. oil production increasing further to 9.9 million barrels a day, which would mark the highest annual average output in U.S. history, surpassing a record of 9.6 million barrels a day set in 1970.

The source of that data, EIA’s Short-term Energy Outlook for July, estimates WTI prices will average $48 a barrel in the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018.