NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Businesses hate uncertainty. And the collapse in oil prices is making it harder for many companies to forecast such basic things as costs, spending plans and even earnings.
The biggest impact, of course, is being felt by the energy industry itself.
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"The worst thing is the devil you don't know," says Fadel Gheit, senior energy analyst at Oppenheimer. "Uncertainty will kill the industry."
Particularly vulnerable are the smaller, independent producers of oil or natural gas, which already have been cutting capital spending.
This week alone Texas-based Matador (MTDR) and Concho Resources (CXO) and Canadian-based Crescent Point Energy (CPG) all slashed their capital spending programs for 2015 by about 30%.
Companies that serve the industry like oil service and construction companies and pipe producers are also affected. U.S. Steel (X) recently announced it would temporarily close its pipe-manufacturing plant in Lorain, Ohio, and lay off 614 workers because of spending cuts by several North American oil and gas companies.
Indeed, in mid December when oil prices were 25% higher than they are today many independent oil and gas exploration companies, including ConocoPhillips (COP) and Apache (APA) , slashed capital spending budgets for 2015 by 20% or more.
The most vulnerable oil companies are the smaller players, says John Stoltzfus, chief market strategist at Oppenheimer & Co. "Their balance sheets are significantly impacted and they've taken out a significant amount of debt."
Ironically that debt, which soared 55% since 2010 to $200 billion today among American oil and gas companies is the reason some companies will continue to drill because they can't afford not to, according to The Wall Street Journal. They need to service their debt. Rather than delaying drilling some companies like EXCO Resources (XCO) of Dallas are selling properties or suspending dividend payments.
Oil-related related loans are creating risks for lenders and the high yield market. CreditSights has identified about 25 oil companies at risk, including 14 which could default. Vulnerable companies include Sabine Oil & Gas, Quicksilver Resources (KWK) , American Eagle Energy (AMZG) and Goodrich Petroleum (GDP) .