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Last Updated: June 22, 2016
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The rally in oil prices appears to be stronger than what many analysts have expected. In the past few months, many negative events have taken place around the world. Starting with the failure of oil producers to reach an output freeze deal during Doha's meeting, the continuous growth of Iran's oil output and OPEC's in general, and most recently the concerns over the Brexit.

These events have imposed a huge threat to the rally in oil prices. In fact, during each event, we saw many oil market analysts doubting the rally in oil prices and expecting it to reverse a course. However, the actual impact of such negative events have been limited in terms of the duration and the oil price volatility caused. Throughout these events, the oil prices rally has shown a huge resistance and continued its upward path.

The recent oil prices recovery after oil prices retreated in mid-June as the rising likelihood of a Brexit raised concerns about the economic fallout in Europe is a simple example of such a fact. Oil prices fell sharply below $50/bbl aimed worries over a possible Brexit from the EU. The fall in oil prices didn't last long. Oil prices recovered to levels above $50 a barrel despite the huge volatility caused by such an event.

What is next for oil prices?

Given the current positive market sentiments along with other positive news coming from around the world, oil prices will not stay at $50 a barrel for quite long. In fact, in the coming weeks, oil prices could head above $55 a barrel reaching to $60/bbl, and here is why. 

1.     Unchanged Interest Rate and Weaker U.S. Dollar

On Wednesday last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to keep interest rates unchanged. The decision came as no surprise, especially after the brutal jobs report of May. Keeping interest rates unchanged means a weaker U.S. dollar. Given the inverse relationship between the greenback and oil prices, weakness in U.S. dollar is directly translated into strength in oil prices.

The Fed has also cut its economic growth forecast by 0.1 percentage point to 2 percent this year. With the Fed expecting a slower economic growth, interest rate hike is questionable. It will take a while until the Fed makes sure there are signs of economy strength. Till then, keeping interest rate unchanged will support the rally in oil prices. 

2.     Expected Oil Outages

Oil outages in many countries such as Canada, Nigeria, and Libya have increasingly contributed to the rally in oil prices over the past few months up until today. According to the IEA, outages from OPEC and non-OPEC countries cut global oil supply by nearly 0.8 mb/d in May. Although Canada's shut-in production will be fully restored in the near future, outages in both Nigeria and Libya appear to be escalating.

In Nigeria, militants attacks on oil and gas infrastructures have decreased the country's oil production to thirty-year lows. While government official say they have reached to a one-month ceasefire agreement with the rebels in the Niger Delta, what goes on the ground proves opposite. In fact, yesterday, the Niger Delta rebels denied having any ceasefire agreement with the Nigerian government. This news tell us one thing; militants attacks on oil and gas facilities will intensify in coming weeks.

Adding to the existing troubles the country is going through, the Nigerian oil workers threaten to go on strike over what they call it as an engagement of some companies in anti-labor practices. The oil workers have given these companies seven days starting on Monday, June 20, to change what the workers believe to be anti-labor practices. If the workers go on strike, the oil and gas industry activities will shutdown completely resulting in more oil outages.

Libya on the other hand is not in a better place than Nigeria despite occasional signs of optimism. The country's oil and gas fields and facilities are also under attacks from different militia groups. With the troubles the country is going through, it appears that Libya has a long way to go before making a significant increase to its oil production. For Libya, expectations are only for the worst to come. 

3.     U.S. Crude Inventory Drawdowns

The summer session is officially here. That means the seasonal U.S. inventory drawdowns is here as well. According to the EIA, the current session started with crude oil inventories at 531.5 million barrels as of 10 June. Crude inventory has declined for 3 consecutive weeks since then.

Inventory drawdowns are expected to increase from July to September as gasoline demand increases during the U.S. summer season. According to a report by Deutsche Bank, the rate of weekly drawdown should increase from the beginning of July and accelerate further into August.

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The New Wave of Renewable Fuels

In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.

Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.

Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.

This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.

But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.

In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.

But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.

Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.

Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.

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Market Outlook:

  • Crude price trading range: Brent – US$71-73/b, WTI – US$68-70/b
  • Global crude benchmarks have stayed steady, even as OPEC+ sticks to its plans to ease supply quotas against the uncertainty of rising Covid-19 cases worldwide
  • However, the success of vaccination drives has kindled hope that the effect of lockdowns – if any – will be mild, with pockets of demand resurgence in Europe; in China, where there has been a zero-tolerance drive to stamp out Covid outbreaks, fuel consumption is strengthening again, possibly tightening fuel balances in Q4
  • Meanwhile, much of the US Gulf of Mexico crude production remains hampered by the effects of Hurricane Ida, providing a counter-balance on the supply side

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