During the first three months of 2016, crude oil prices were relatively more volatile than in recent history. This elevated volatility occurred when overall oil prices were low, and volatility was driven by high uncertainty related to supply, demand, and inventories. Crude oil price volatility has declined since its peak in March. Prices have risen as concerns about future economic growth have abated and as inventory growth has slowed since the start of the year.
The 30-day measure of oil price volatility (calculated as the standard deviation of daily percent changes in crude oil prices over the previous 30 trading days) reached a high of 45% on March 4 before falling to 33% on April 18. Volatility levels in March were the highest since early 2009, when crude oil prices were falling in response to the financial crisis and to a drop in demand for petroleum products. The recent decline in oil prices resulted in volatility levels closer to the 2015 average of 27%.
Volatility often reflects market uncertainty about both the current and future value of a commodity. Daily volatility is often driven by the release of new economic or supply information, changes in market expectations, or unanticipated events that can cause large price adjustments.
Some reasons for volatility in crude oil prices include uncertainty about:
Volatility also increased during unexpected interruptions in oil supply, such as the disruptions that occurred during the first Gulf War in 1990, in the aftermath of hurricanes in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, and in Libya in the first half of 2011.
Monthly trading ranges, or the difference between the high and low closing oil prices in a given month, are another way of measuring volatility. In January 2016, Brent crude oil spot prices closed at a low of $26 per barrel (b) and a high of $36/b, and this $10/b trading range was higher than the range of any month in 2015. The magnitude of the trading range compared with the average monthly price was 33% in January, the highest since 2008.
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After a year of securing deals, finalising details and even projecting way beyond the current, Novatek’s Arctic LNG 2 was been given its Final Investment Decision (FID), paving its way for a 2023 start. Led by Russia’s largest independent gas producer, the 19.8 million ton per annum project is also joined by Total, CNPC, CNOOC and the Japan Arctic LNG consortium (consisting of Mitsui & Co and JOGMEC).
The make-up of the project stakeholders is telling. There is Novatek, which aims to catch up with Gazprom as Russia’s largest gas player. Then there is Total, whose savvy deals have propelled it to become the second largest private gas player (behind Shell) through a diversified portfolio. Japan – currently the world’s largest LNG importer – is well represented, while the fast-growing demand market of China is in there as well. Each of the minority players owns a 10% stake but Total also has a 19.4% stake in Novatek, bringing its total economic interest to 21.6%.
The geography of the project is interesting as well. Centred on the Trekhbugornly and Gydanskiy fields, the terminal at Utrenniy and a large-scale liquefaction plant in the remote Gydan Peninsula, passage from this part of Russia’s Arctic is difficult. Which is why Novatek is also partnering with Sovcomflot to build a fleet of 17 icebreaker-class LNG carriers to ferry the super-chilled liquid through the Arctic to Northeast Asia. That’s the Northern Sea Route, the closest direct route to Asia available and it might even get easier. Climate patterns have shifted the Arctic’s ice floes, with new shipping channels opening up from thawing ice in the summer. The journey rivals delivery times from Qatar to Tokyo, or Australia to Shanghai – which explains the high interest from Japanese and Chinese parties. For Total, which has a global presence, Arctic LNG 2 will also be able to deliver cargoes to Europe via transhipment terminals in the Murmansk region.
It also explains why Novatek is already thinking beyond this. Arctic LNG 2 will consist of 3 phases. Train 1 is scheduled for 2023, while Train 2 and Train 3 planned for 2024 and 2026. But Novatek has already made overtures to expand its assets in the Gydan – part of West Siberia’s Yamal-Nenets region. Novatek’s ambitions call for up to 140 mtpa of LNG production in Gydan and Yamal, from its current 16.5 mtpa Yamal LNG and the 19.8 mtpa Arctic LNG 2, though Gazprom has pushed back on Novatek’s lobbying of the Russian government on the issue. However, plans have already been made for at least one more LNG project – oddly titled Arctic LNG 1 – that would focus on the Soletsko-Khanaveyskoye field in the Kara Sea, which has an estimated 2.18 bcm of gas in place.
The net result of this is that Russia will become a more diversified gas player. Besides the Sakhalin II and Yamal LNG projects, Russia primarily sells its gas by pipeline to Europe. But with resistance there increasing – see the furore over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – Russia needs more options. Geography and weather have always presented challenges to export Siberian gas to Asia and the rest of the world, but Arctic LNG 2 offers a very promising glimpse of a possibly profitable future.
Arctic LNG 2:
In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that natural gas-fired electricity generation in the United States will increase by 6% in 2019 and by 2% in 2020. EIA also forecasts that generation from wind power will increase by 6% in 2019 and by 14% in 2020. These trends vary widely among the regions of the country; growth in natural gas generation is highest in the mid-Atlantic region and growth in wind generation is highest in Texas. EIA expects coal-fired electricity generation to decline nationwide, falling by 15% in 2019 and by 9% in 2020.
The trends in projected generation reflect changes in the mix of generating capacity. In the mid-Atlantic region, which is mostly in the PJM Interconnection transmission area, the electricity industry has added more than 12 gigawatts (GW) of new natural gas-fired generating capacity since the beginning of 2018, an increase of 17%.
This new natural gas capacity in PJM has replaced some coal-fired generating capacity—6 GW of coal-fired generation capacity has been retired in that region since the beginning of 2018. The Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey was also retired in 2018, and the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania plans to shut down its last remaining reactor this month.
These changes in capacity contribute to EIA’s forecast that natural gas will fuel 39% of electricity generation in the PJM region in 2020, up from a share of 31% in 2018. In contrast, coal is expected to generate 20% of PJM electricity next year, down from 28% in 2018. In 2010, coal fueled 54% of the region’s electricity generation, and natural gas generated 11%.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
Wind power has been the fastest-growing source of electricity in recent years in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) region that serves most of Texas. Since the beginning of 2018, the industry has added 3 GW of wind generating capacity and plans to add another 7 GW before the end of 2020. These additions would result in an increase of nearly 50% from the 2017 wind capacity level in ERCOT. EIA expects wind to supply 20% of ERCOT total generation in 2019 and 24% in 2020. If realized, wind would match coal’s share of ERCOT's electricity generation this year and exceed it in 2020.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook
Natural gas-fired generation in ERCOT has fluctuated in recent years in response to changes in the cost of the fuel. EIA forecasts the Henry Hub natural gas price will fall by 21% in 2019, which contributes to EIA’s expectation that ERCOT’s natural gas generation share will rise from 45% in 2018 to 47% this year. Although EIA forecasts next year’s natural gas prices to remain relatively flat in 2020, the large increase in renewable generating capacity is expected to reduce the region’s 2020 natural gas generation share to 41%.
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 9 September 2019 – Brent: US$61/b; WTI: US$56/b
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