In a classic scene from the Marx Brothers’ “The Cocoanuts,” Groucho befuddles Chico during a fast-talking hustle for a swampy Florida real estate development around a “viaduct.”

Befuddled and confused, Chico finally blurts out, “Why a duck? Why not a chicken?”

The oil and gas industry might be equally befuddled and confused right now by an abundance of drilled but uncompleted (DUC) wells. When commodity prices more fully recover, completion crews could move in, do their work and those DUCs will take flight. That could bring a quick uptick in output, according to an S&P Global Platts analyst.

Jenna Delaney, senior energy analyst-oil, told a crowd at the firm’s annual Midstream Energy & MLP Breakfast Briefing in Houston on June 7 that “there is a historic backlog” of such wells now. She added the buildup isn’t necessarily due to the price downturn.

“It’s not all economics,” Delaney explained. “They can be drilled faster than they can be completed” thanks to rapid advancements in drilling technology. The high DUC inventory means domestic production could come back more quickly than many expect—adding to the U.S. role as a major swing producer on the world market.

“The U.S. can respond faster now,” she added.

Platts/Bentek published a report at the end of the first quarter that counted 831 DUC wells in the Williston Basin and 1,022 in the Eagle Ford play as of October 2015. Thousands of other DUCs lie in other major plays.

“These well inventories disregard more recent wells because of the difficulty in distinguishing between wells that have been intentionally left uncompleted and wells that are simply in the process of being completed,” the report explained.

Meanwhile, the pullback in recent new drilling could have a long-term impact on crude supply, Delaney said. “Capex not spent now will impact production down the line” as the industry completes those DUCS, but will have fewer wells to complete afterward.

Her presentation featured a graphic that projects crude oil prices will be in the breakeven range of $50-$60 per barrel range through the end of 2017. However, “We don’t forecast prices because we could be wrong,” quipped Michael Grande, S&P Global director, during a question-and-answer session following Delaney’s presentation.

Delaney said S&P projects crude will come into a supply-demand balance in the next year, first in the U.S. in late-2016 and worldwide in 2017. Balance will happen in part due to a decline in U.S. production. Her presentation projected domestic oil output will hover just above 8.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d) the rest of this year and into 2017. Domestic output peaked above 9.5 million bbl/d in second-quarter 2015.

“U.S. production has declined but not as sharply as many had expected,” she added. Abroad, non-OPEC and non-U.S./Canada production will decline as lingering low prices make marginal fields economic, forcing producers to shut-in money-losing wells.

Politically unstable foreign producers, in particular Nigeria and Venezuela, are having sharp production declines that will partially offset production increases by Iran, Kuwait and the Middle East’s Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Taken together, the decline could amount to 150,000 bbl/d, she added.

Paul Hart can be reached at