Short Positions In U.S. Crude Oil Futures Held By Producers, Merchants At Nine-Year High: EIA

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U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA):
Short positions in West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures contracts held by producers or merchants totaled more than 540,000 contracts as of October 11, 2016, the most since 2007, according to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Banks have tightened lending standards for some energy companies as crude oil prices declined throughout 2014 and 2015, and some banks require producers to hedge against future price risk as a condition for lending.

Initiating a short position, or selling a futures contract, allows the holder to lock in a future price for a commodity today, which oil producers and end users can use as a way to hedge or mitigate price risk. Increased short positions may indicate that current futures prices are seen as sufficient to generate positive returns from drilling projects.
Short positions in U.S. crude oil futures held by producers and merchants (commercial traders) actually declined to 497,460 on 10/18 from 540,000 on 10/11. Here's a chart showing the price of oil versus commercial short positions since 2006 via TradingView/Quandl.

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