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Norway’s petroleum sector is its most important industry. The petroleum sector accounts for 21.5% of its GDP, and almost half (48.9%) of total exports. In 2013 Norway was ranked the 15th-largest oil producer, and the 11th-largest oil exporter in the world. It is also the biggest oil producer in western Europe.

Oil is therefore regarded as a vital national resource and is the backbone of the Norwegian economy, though just like in the UK, its best years are in the past. Production levels have been dropping since the turn of the century, peaking at 3.5m barrels per day in 2001 to less than 1.9m in 2014.

Norway is not a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC), and in principle it sets prices based on the current market. But with OPEC having a virtual monopoly on global pricing, Norway in effect remains subject to the cartel’s pricing decisions. Norway is thus vulnerable to the volatility in oil pricing, and with regard to the structure of the sector and its role in the Norwegian economy, this vulnerability is extended throughout the society as a whole.

With the unsettling and dramatic slide in oil prices since June 2014, Norway has of course been substantially affected. Two months ago, Statistics Norway cut this year’s GDP forecast from 2.1% to 1% on the back of lower prices. A few days later the central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates to an all-time low of 1.25% to help stimulate the economy. Some 12,000 jobs are being cut as the oil industry pares back about 10% of its workforce, and there are fears that nearly 30,000 more could follow.

Statoil and the oil industry

Oil in Norway is dominated by Statoil, the largely state-owned oil company, which controls about 70% of the country’s petroleum production. It reported staggering losses in the third and fourth quarter of 2014 that were partly the result of the lower oil price – the company’s first loss since it listed on the stock market in 2001. Its share price is also down about a quarter on last summer. The majority of job losses in the sector are due to cost-cutting and reductions to capital expenditure that are aimed at steadying the ship.

Experts regard the low price as a difficulty mainly for the profitability of specific expansion projects, meaning that they could be postponed or even cancelled. High oil prices have made certain investments possible, which are now in trouble. For instance Statoil has held off on decisions on a US$6bn investment into the Snorre field in the North Sea and the huge Johan Castberg field in the Barents Sea.

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie is forecasting that petroleum investments in Norwegian waters will be down 25% this year, with foreseeable cuts in subsequent years too. There is at least one consolation for the industry: the huge Johan Sverdrup field, which is due to begin output in 2019, appears to be viable at prices beneath US$40 a barrel.

The Norwegian government also recently announced that by way of stimulus it would award a tranche of new oil and gas drilling licences next year, including opening up the first new area for exploration since the 1990s. It has also called for the sector to adapt, suggesting that the height of exploration and development has been achieved for oil exploitation, and the sector must now consolidate its position. However, so far there have been few specifics.

The national budget

Unlike in the UK, the main narrative in the Norwegian media is not about cutting producer taxes but worry about the state failing to obtain its expected revenue as outlined in the country’s budget. Some experts believe that if the trend continues the actual revenue collected for the pension fund this year could be as low as half of what was budgeted, which would doubtless be a blow.

Last month, Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg and finance minister Siv Jensen held a press conference on the situation, underlining that the government is prepared to take action if this becomes necessary, but that for the time being, the state budget is sufficiently capable of containing the situation. This means there are currently no plans to make cuts to the budget to cope with lower revenues.

Sovereign wealth

The big advantage that Norway has is the US$860bn (£565bn) Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global into which the oil money is deposited. Intended as an investment for future generations, it is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

Norway owns an estimated 1% of global stocks and is considered to be the largest state owner of European stocks. For a country with a population just over 5m, this is a position of remarkable economic strength – thanks primarily to petroleum. The revenue of the sector is not only important as an economic boost, but also as the foundation of the Norwegian welfare state.

The government is able to spend up to 4% of the fund every year to finance its budget, albeit for investments rather than direct spending. This year, despite a substantial increase to the level of spending, it will still only run to about 3% of the total. This is also a country in which unemployment is very low – below 4%.

In short, the fall in oil prices is problematic but by no means catastrophic for Norway. The general reaction is a pragmatic one: Norway is in the hands of the global market, and will do what it can to maintain a profitable and responsible petroleum sector that serves the interests of the country. There are no illusions that the oil will last forever, or that prices must remain unnaturally high, and it is perhaps precisely these kinds of vulnerabilities that the Norwegian system safeguards against. Short-term losses are expected, but there is continued optimism for long-term gains.

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Your Weekly Update: 15 -19 April 2019

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 15 April 2019 – Brent: US$71/b; WTI: US$63/b

  • Crude oil futures could be on the verge of snapping its longest weekly rally since 2016, as the market continues to balance managed crude supply from the OPEC+ nations with accelerating American output
  • Analysts are predicting that things could be coming to a head, which might see OPEC+ abandon its plans to stabilise supply and prices for an intense battle for market share with American shale producers instead
  • This seems to be echoed by comments from Saudi Arabia, hinting at a U-turn in OPEC+’s dedication to extending the current supply quota agreement
  • Russian Premier Vladimir Putin also chimed in, saying that he was ‘keeping his options open’ on the cuts and that he does not support an ‘uncontrollable’ increase in oil prices
  • Ongoing concerns in Libya, Venezuela and Iran are giving other OPEC nations some room to breathe in their supply deal, with the organisation reporting that its output plunged in March to 758,000 b/d below the expected Q2 average
  • After Japan reported it would hold back on resuming Iranian crude imports, India is now doing the same until clarification of American waivers on the sanctions is received
  • The International Energy Agency reports that it sees global oil markets tightening, warning that this could lower actual demand and forecasts
  • After a large 19 rig gain last week, the US reversed gear to lose 3 rigs, adding two oil sites while dropping five gas rigs, bringing the total active count to 1022
  • Rumbles of a shale slowdown in the US could keep crude prices on a gentle upward curve, with Brent likely to trade at US$71-72/b and WTI and US$63-64/b


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Shell has sold its 22.45% non-operating interest in the US Gulf of Mexico Caeser-Tonga asset to the Delek Group for some US$965 million in cash
  • US President Donald Trump is aiming to limit state powers over cross-border pipeline to promote projects stalled by state regulators over permit and environmental concerns through the issuance of Executive Orders
  • CNOOC has signed a new PSC with Smart Oil Investment for the Bohai 09/17 block in the shallow-water Qikou area of the Bohai Bay Basin in China
  • Also in the Bohai Bay, CNOOC and ConocoPhillips are planning to double production from the Penglai 19-3 field over the next few years
  • Shell has partnered with Sinopec in a maiden exploration of China’s shale oil potential, targeting the Dongying trough in Shengli in eastern China
  • Shell has also announced an ambitious drilling programme in Brazil, targeting the Argonauta pre-salt areas in the Santos Basin
  • Petrobras and the Brazilian government have settled a deepwater contract dispute for US$9.06 billion, paving the way for Petrobras and its partners to begin development of the crude deposits under the 2010 Transfer of Rights

Midstream & Downstream

  • Continuing on its diversification strategy, Saudi Aramco is now looking to double its global refining network to some 10 mmb/d by 2030 as a means of locking in buyers for its crude amidst intense competition, which would see Aramco to continue investing in key global refining centres
  • Shell is aiming to complete the overhaul of its RCCU at the 218 kb/d Norco refinery in Louisiana by May, ahead the US summer driving gasoline demand
  • Sinopec reports that its Jinling refinery in Jiangsu has sold its first 4,200-ton cargo of low-sulfur marine fuel ahdad of the new IMO standards kicking in
  • Saudi Aramco has signed an agreement with Poland’s PKN Orlen to trade Arabian-grade crude to the refiner in exchanges for high-sulfur fuel oil

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Total has been awarded an exploration licence for Block 12 in Oman, with the onshore 10,000 sq.km asset near the gas-rich Greater Barik area that is expected to hold ‘significant prospective gas resources’
  • Saudi Aramco is planning to move into LNG for first time ever, offering to supply Pakistan with cargos on a spot or short-term basis, even though it does not produce LNG and has only just begun developing an LNG trading desk
  • First feed gas has begun to flow at Sempra Energy’s Cameron LNG Train 1 in Louisiana, the final commissioning phase for the project
  • Keppel Gas in Singapore has imported its first 160,000 cbm cargo of US LNG under the country’s Spot Import Policy, its first from outside Southeast Asia and the first trickle in an exported flood of American LNG into the region

Corporate

  • Saudi Aramco has issued its first global bond, raising US$100 billion from the sale, above and beyond the initial expectations of US$10-15 billion
  • Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company has sold a ‘significant minority interest’ of 30-40% in Spanish energy firm Cepsa to investment group The Carlyle Group, but will retain majority shareholder
  • Canadian player Africa Oil has acquired 18.8% of fellow Canadian upstream firm Eco (Atlantic) Oil and Gas, but stressed that the acquisition was for investment purposes with no intention of exercising control
April, 23 2019
In 2018, the United States consumed more energy than ever before

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Primary energy consumption in the United States reached a record high of 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2018, up 4% from 2017 and 0.3% above the previous record set in 2007. The increase in 2018 was the largest increase in energy consumption, in both absolute and percentage terms, since 2010.

Consumption of fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—grew by 4% in 2018 and accounted for 80% of U.S. total energy consumption. Natural gas consumption reached a record high, rising by 10% from 2017. This increase in natural gas, along with relatively smaller increases in the consumption of petroleum fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power, more than offset a 4% decline in coal consumption.

U.S. total energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Petroleum consumption in the United States increased to 20.5 million barrels per day (b/d), or 37 quadrillion Btu in 2018, up nearly 500,000 b/d from 2017 and the highest level since 2007. Growth was driven primarily by increased use in the industrial sector, which grew by about 200,000 b/d in 2018. The transportation sector grew by about 140,000 b/d in 2018 as a result of increased demand for fuels such as petroleum diesel and jet fuel.

Natural gas consumption in the United States reached a record high 83.1 billion cubic feet/day (Bcf/d), the equivalent of 31 quadrillion Btu, in 2018. Natural gas use rose across all sectors in 2018, primarily driven by weather-related factors that increased demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer. As more natural gas-fired power plants came online and existing natural gas-fired power plants were used more often, natural gas consumption in the electric power sector increased 15% from 2017 levels to 29.1 Bcf/d. Natural gas consumption also grew in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors in 2018, increasing 13%, 10%, and 4% compared with 2017 levels, respectively.

Coal consumption in the United States fell to 688 million short tons (13 quadrillion Btu) in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of decline. Almost all of the reduction came from the electric power sector, which fell 4% from 2017 levels. Coal-fired power plants continued to be displaced by newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power generation sources. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity were retired, while 14.6 GW of net natural gas-fired capacity were added.

U.S. fossil fuel energy consumption by sector

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Renewable energy consumption in the United States reached a record high 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2018, rising 3% from 2017, largely driven by the addition of new wind and solar power plants. Wind electricity consumption increased by 8% while solar consumption rose 22%. Biomass consumption, primarily in the form of transportation fuels such as fuel ethanol and biodiesel, accounted for 45% of all renewable consumption in 2018, up 1% from 2017 levels. Increases in wind, solar, and biomass consumption were partially offset by a 3% decrease in hydroelectricity consumption.

U.S. energy consumption of selected fuels

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Nuclear consumption in the United States increased less than 1% compared with 2017 levels but still set a record for electricity generation in 2018. The number of total operable nuclear generating units decreased to 98 in September 2018 when the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey was retired. Annual average nuclear capacity factors, which reflect the use of power plants, were slightly higher at 92.6% in 2018 compared with 92.2% in 2017.

More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.

April, 17 2019
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April, 17 2019