Japanese utility Kansai Electric lost all its nuclear output in March, following a court injunction challenging the recent restart of its Takahama 3 and 4 reactors. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, for the citizens of Brazil, rain proved a welcome distraction from the country’s political crisis, while in Syria an uneasy truce has broken out amongst the country’s warring factions.
In the ancient city of Rome, the executives of Italian oil and gas major Eni are pondering the wisdom of a multi-billion dollar investment decision in Mozambique, a decision they expect to take this year – but also one they had hoped to take last year. The thread that binds these seemingly disconnected events together, and which would change the regional East African economy forever, is LNG.
Japan is the world’s largest consumer of LNG and national demand for the commodity hit record highs in the aftermath of the devastating Fukushima nuclear disaster. That calamitous event saw all of the country’s substantial nuclear capacity come offline, raising oil, LNG and coal demand in a desperate attempt to generate enough electricity to keep the economy afloat.
Japan’s LNG imports jumped from 85.90 Bcm in 2009 to 120.6 Bcm in 2014, representing 36.2% of world LNG trade. The country’s coal demand rose from 108.8 million tons of oil equivalent to 128.6 mtoe in 2013, and the disaster briefly reversed a decade-long decline in Japanese oil demand.
However, Fukushima also sparked a boom in solar power, one of the few technologies that offers both a reduction in Japan’s dependency on imported energy commodities and lower greenhouse gas emissions, and, perhaps long-term, a deeper structural shift in the country’s primary energy supply. Japanese LNG demand is set to decline over the long-term, and, if the world’s largest LNG market is contracting, LNG suppliers need to look elsewhere for demand growth.
Rainfall in the Amazon
They could look to Latin America. Back across the Pacific, as the Takahama reactor turbines slowed, the residents of Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, reached their arms into the air to welcome the rain. Brazil has been suffering a savage two-year drought, which has led to sometimes severe water rationing. Throughout 2015, Sao Paulo’s largest reservoir, Cantareira, was churning the muddy water below pump level.
Levels in Brazil’s vast hydroelectric reservoirs plummeted. Given the country’s dependence on hydropower, the only alternative was to ramp up LNG imports, a situation faced by all of the continent’s major economies. Between 2009 and 2014, South and Central America’s LNG imports leapt from 3.27 Bcm to 21.4 Bcm, an almost sevenfold increase, marking the emergence of a major new, but volatile, market for the commodity. However, how consistent this demand proves to be depends on the rain and Argentina’s ability to develop its own massive shale oil and gas reserves.
Sending coal to Newcastle
Perhaps more surprisingly, given its own natural gas endowment, the Middle East too has become a new market for LNG. Kuwait, Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates all now import LNG. Conflict and political division have long obstructed the development of regional gas pipelines that would have made these LNG import facilities unnecessary. Peace in Syria, if it holds long term, could ultimately see the resumption of plans to pipe gas between the states of the Middle East and perhaps even further afield to Europe. But then again, peace may prove a double-edged sword for LNG; many of today’s LNG importers are potentially tomorrow’s exporters.
Surplus to requirements
The LNG industry has already entered a period of surplus and has a long list of projects under construction on which it is too late to turn back. This will bring ever-rising supply out to 2020. Yet what were once flourishing markets now look less certain, a reminder that expectations can change radically in less than a decade. The spot price of LNG is now close to a fifth of post-Fukushima levels.
As the Argentinean government moves to protect the development of its shale oil and gas reserves from low prices, perhaps the most salutary reminder of all is the US shale revolution. Seen less than a decade ago as huge new market for LNG imports, the US is on the cusp of becoming a major exporter.
Decision time in Rome
What then for the executives in Rome? Do they commit billions of dollars to their giant gas finds offshore East Africa, gambling that Japanese public opinion will turn against its nuclear industry, that rainfall in the Amazon basin will be low, that Argentina will fail in its quest for energy independence, and that the Middle East will never achieve meaningful inter-regional energy cooperation?
And what of renewables, which in Europe and the United States now hold the largest share of newly- installed generating capacity? The renewables boom continues to spread and its technologies to develop, boosted by the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change agreed upon last December.
Yet coal use worldwide appears to be peaking and its fall may prove LNG’s opportunity. The short-term outlook appears fairly certain; LNG is in oversupply and will remain cheap for the next two to three years at least, but this itself may give it a more central role in countries’ energy plans. That is the gamble that companies hoping to develop new projects must consider. LNG is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, but a
fossil fuel nonetheless and an imported one to boot.
Ross McCracken, Managing editor, Energy Economist
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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 20 May 2019 – Brent: US$73/b; WTI: US$63/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
At first, it seemed like a done deal. Chevron made a US$33 billion offer to take over US-based upstream independent Anadarko Petroleum. It was a 39% premium to Anadarko’s last traded price at the time and would have been the largest industry deal since Shell’s US$61 billion takeover of the BG Group in 2015. The deal would have given Chevron significant and synergistic acreage in the Permian Basin along with new potential in US midstream, as well as Anadarko’s high potential projects in Africa. Then Occidental Petroleum swooped in at the eleventh hour, making the delicious new bid and pulling the carpet out from under Chevron.
We can thank Warren Buffet for this. Occidental Petroleum, or Oxy, had previously made several quiet approaches to purchase Anadarko. These were rebuffed in favour of Chevron’s. Then Oxy’s CEO Vicki Hollub took the company jet to meet with Buffet. Playing to his reported desire to buy into shale, Hollub returned with a US$10 billion cash infusion from Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway – which was contingent on Oxy’s successful purchase of Anadarko. Hollub also secured a US$8.8 billion commitment from France’s Total to sell off Anadarko’s African assets. With these aces, she then re-approached Anadarko with a new deal – for US$38 billion.
This could have sparked off a price war. After all, the Chevron-Anadarko deal made a lot of sense – securing premium spots in the prolific Permian, creating a 120 sq.km corridor in the sweet spot of the shale basin, the Delaware. But the risk-adverse appetite of Chevron’s CEO Michael Wirth returned, and Chevron declined to increase its offer. By bowing out of the bid, Wirth said ‘Cost and capital discipline always matters…. winning in any environment doesn’t mean winning at any cost… for the sake for doing a deal.” Chevron walks away with a termination fee of US$1 billion and the scuppered dreams of matching ExxonMobil in size.
And so Oxy was victorious, capping off a two-year pursuit by Hollub for Anadarko – which only went public after the Chevron bid. This new ‘global energy leader’ has a combined 1.3 mmb/d boe production, but instead of leveraging Anadarko’s more international spread of operations, Oxy is looking for a future that is significantly more domestic.
The Oxy-Anadarko marriage will make Occidental the undisputed top producer in the Permian Basin, the hottest of all current oil and gas hotspots. Oxy was once a more international player, under former CEO Armand Hammer, who took Occidental to Libya, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia, the Congo and other developing markets. A downturn in the 1990s led to a refocusing of operations on the US, with Oxy being one of the first companies to research extracting shale oil. And so, as the deal was done, Anadarko’s promising projects in Africa – Area 1 and the Mozambique LNG project, as well as interest in Ghana, Algeria and South Africa – go to Total, which has plenty of synergies to exploit. The retreat back to the US makes sense; Anadarko’s 600,000 acres in the Permian are reportedly the most ‘potentially profitable’ and it also has a major presence in Gulf of Mexico deepwater. Occidental has already identified 10,000 drilling locations in Anadarko areas that are near existing Oxy operations.
While Chevron licks its wounds, it can comfort itself with the fact that it is still the largest current supermajor presence in the Permian, with output there surging 70% in 2018 y-o-y. There could be other targets for acquisitions – Pioneer Natural Resources, Concho Resources or Diamondback Energy – but Chevron’s hunger for takeover seems to have diminished. And with it, the promises of an M&A bonanza in the Permian over 2019.
The Occidental-Anadarko deal:
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
In April 2019, Venezuela's crude oil production averaged 830,000 barrels per day (b/d), down from 1.2 million b/d at the beginning of the year, according to EIA’s May 2019 Short-Term Energy Outlook. This average is the lowest level since January 2003, when a nationwide strike and civil unrest largely brought the operations of Venezuela's state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), to a halt. Widespread power outages, mismanagement of the country's oil industry, and U.S. sanctions directed at Venezuela's energy sector and PdVSA have all contributed to the recent declines.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Baker Hughes
Venezuela’s oil production has decreased significantly over the last three years. Production declines accelerated in 2018, decreasing by an average of 33,000 b/d each month in 2018, and the rate of decline increased to an average of over 135,000 b/d per month in the first quarter of 2019. The number of active oil rigs—an indicator of future oil production—also fell from nearly 70 rigs in the first quarter of 2016 to 24 rigs in the first quarter of 2019. The declines in Venezuelan crude oil production will have limited effects on the United States, as U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil have decreased over the last several years. EIA estimates that U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in 2018 averaged 505,000 b/d and were the lowest since 1989.
EIA expects Venezuela's crude oil production to continue decreasing in 2019, and declines may accelerate as sanctions-related deadlines pass. These deadlines include provisions that third-party entities using the U.S. financial system stop transactions with PdVSA by April 28 and that U.S. companies, including oil service companies, involved in the oil sector must cease operations in Venezuela by July 27. Venezuela's chronic shortage of workers across the industry and the departure of U.S. oilfield service companies, among other factors, will contribute to a further decrease in production.
Additionally, U.S. sanctions, as outlined in the January 25, 2019 Executive Order 13857, immediately banned U.S. exports of petroleum products—including unfinished oils that are blended with Venezuela's heavy crude oil for processing—to Venezuela. The Executive Order also required payments for PdVSA-owned petroleum and petroleum products to be placed into an escrow account inaccessible by the company. Preliminary weekly estimates indicate a significant decline in U.S. crude oil imports from Venezuela in February and March, as without direct access to cash payments, PdVSA had little reason to export crude oil to the United States.
India, China, and some European countries continued to receive Venezuela's crude oil, according to data published by ClipperData Inc. Venezuela is likely keeping some crude oil cargoes intended for exports in floating storageuntil it finds buyers for the cargoes.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, and Clipper Data Inc.
A series of ongoing nationwide power outages in Venezuela that began on March 7 cut electricity to the country's oil-producing areas, likely damaging the reservoirs and associated infrastructure. In the Orinoco Oil Belt area, Venezuela produces extra-heavy crude oil that requires dilution with condensate or other light oils before the oil is sent by pipeline to domestic refineries or export terminals. Venezuela’s upgraders, complex processing units that upgrade the extra-heavy crude oil to help facilitate transport, were shut down in March during the power outages.
If Venezuelan crude or upgraded oil cannot flow as a result of a lack of power to the pumping infrastructure, heavier molecules sink and form a tar-like layer in the pipelines that can hinder the flow from resuming even after the power outages are resolved. However, according to tanker tracking data, Venezuela's main export terminal at Puerto José was apparently able to load crude oil onto vessels between power outages, possibly indicating that the loaded crude oil was taken from onshore storage. For this reason, EIA estimates that Venezuela's production fell at a faster rate than its exports.
EIA forecasts that Venezuela's crude oil production will continue to fall through at least the end of 2020, reflecting further declines in crude oil production capacity. Although EIA does not publish forecasts for individual OPEC countries, it does publish total OPEC crude oil and other liquids production. Further disruptions to Venezuela's production beyond what EIA currently assumes would change this forecast.