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LONDON (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell has changed its redundancy terms so it can claim tax refunds that some UK workers would otherwise have been able to claim on redundancy payments, internal documents seen by Reuters show.

The move comes as the Hague-based oil giant is slashing 5,000 jobs this year following the collapse in oil prices and its merger with smaller UK rival BG Group.

The UK government allows employees who have worked part of their career overseas to reclaim some, or in some cases all, of the tax due on severance payments.

On April 1 this year, however, Shell introduced "targeted tax equalization of severance payments", whereby "Shell will claim any tax reliefs or tax refunds on the severance payment that are available," according to a presentation to staff.

The tax refunds in question can be claimed in relation to ex-gratia lump sum severance payments, rather than legal minimum redundancy. This means that Shell can include the right to claim any tax refund linked to the employee's overseas service as a term of the ex-gratia severance package.

Shell said the change was consistent with its policy of smoothing out the impact of tax on employees moving overseas, aimed at ensuring staff face the effective tax rates of their home country no matter where they work.

The equalisation policy means Shell incurs higher costs when an employee goes on assignment to a higher tax jurisdiction and receives a saving when one moves to a lower tax jurisdiction.

The company declined to say whether the application of the equalisation policy to redundancy payments would save money. Spokesman Jonathan French said Shell's severance packages were "currently among the most generous in the sector".

"The policy is designed to promote equal treatment of employees with the same home country," he said.

Ude Adigwe, an organiser with the GMB labour union in Scotland, said the measure was unacceptable.

"It would seem that companies are trying to defray or offset the impact on their finances by putting the burden on the ordinary worker," he said.

POLICY CHANGE

The cost to British workers of Shell's policy change could be significant.

In an example cited in one Shell presentation, an employee entitled to 100,000 pounds severance, who faces a marginal tax rate of 45 percent and has spent half their career abroad, would receive 68,500 pounds after tax and equalisation.

If an employee enjoyed the full benefit of the foreign service tax relief, they would receive almost 16,000 pounds more. If they had spent 75 percent of their career abroad the payment would be tax free.

Shell declined to say how many people might be affected by the policy change which should mostly affect UK employees.

Shell said in December it planned to cut 2,200 jobs after its takeover of BG but did not say how many UK workers would lose jobs. After completing the BG deal in February, Shell announced another 2,800 cuts, of which 475 would be from its oil and gas production division in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Usually companies don't take account of the foreign service tax break when calculating employees' payoffs as part of large scale redundancies, said David Whincup, employment partner at law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

This means it is up to the departing worker to claim back a refund in respect of the Foreign Service Relief, but following its policy change Shell will claim the benefit instead.

Employment experts said Shell's approach was not common, although Alain Cohen, director at employment law firm Ashby Cohen, said he had heard of another oil company doing the same.

According to a report produced by law firm Mayer Brown in 2013, a company needs to reach agreement with the UK tax authority, Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, before it can begin such a scheme.

The UK tax authority declined to comment on the Shell case, citing taxpayer confidentiality.

By Tom Bergin

(Editing by David Clarke)

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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.

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A New Frontier for LNG Pricing and Contracts

How’s this for a first? As the world’s demand for LNG continues to grow, the world’s largest LNG supplier (Shell) has inked an innovative new deal with one of the world’s largest LNG buyers (Tokyo Gas), including a coal pricing formula link for the first time in a large-scale LNG contract. It’s a notable change in an industry that has long depended on pricing gas off crude, but could this be a sign of new things to come?

Both parties have named the deal an ‘innovative solution’, with Tokyo Gas hailing it as a ‘further diversification of price indexation’ and Shell calling it a ‘tailored solutions including flexible contract terms under a variety of pricing indices.’ Beneath the rhetoric, the actual nuts and bolts is slightly more mundane. The pricing formula link to coal indexation will only be used for part of the supply, with the remainder priced off the conventional oil & gas-linked indexation ie. Brent and Henry Hub pricing. This makes sense, since Tokyo Gas will be sourcing LNG from Shell’s global portfolio – which includes upcoming projects in Canada and the US Gulf Coast. Neither party provided the split of volumes under each pricing method, meaning that the coal-linked portion could be small, acting as a hedge.

However, it is likely that the push for this came from Tokyo Gas. As one of the world’s largest LNG buyers, Tokyo Gas has been at the forefront of redefining the strict traditions of LNG contracts. Reading between the lines, this deal most likely does not include any destination restriction clauses, a change that Tokyo Gas has been particularly pushing for. With the trajectory for Brent crude prices uncertain – owing to a difficult-to-predict balance between OPEC+ and US shale – creating a third link in the pricing formula might be a good move. Particularly since in Japan, LNG faces off directly with coal in power generation. With the general retreat from nuclear power in the country, the coal-LNG battle will intensify.

What does this mean for the rest of the industry? Could coal-linked contracts become the norm? The industry has been discussing new innovations in LNG contracts at the recent LNG2019 conference in Shanghai, while the influx of new American LNG players hungry to seal deals has unleashed a new sense of flexibility. But will there be takers?

I am not a pricing expert but the answer is maybe. While Tokyo Gas predominantly uses natural gas as its power generation fuel (hence the name), it is competing with other players using cheaper coal-based generation. So in Japan, LNG and coal are direct competitors. This is also true in South Korea and much of Southeast Asia. In the two rising Asian LNG powerhouses, however, the situation is different. In China – on track to become the world’s largest LNG buyer in the next two decades – LNG is rarely used in power generation, consumed instead by residential heating. In India – where LNG imports are also rising sharply – LNG is primarily aimed at petrochemicals and fertiliser. LNG based power generation in China and India could see a surge, of course, but that will take plenty of infrastructure, and time, to build. It is far more likely that their contracts will be based off existing LNG or natural gas benchmarks, several of which are being developed in Asia alone.

If it takes off  the coal-link LNG formula is likely to remain a Asian-based development. But with the huge volumes demanded by countries in this region, that’s still a very big niche. Enough perhaps for the innovation to slowly gain traction elsewhere, next stop -  Europe?

The Shell-Tokyo Gas Deal:

Contract – April 2020-March 2030 (10 Years)

Volume – 500,000 metric tons per year

Source – Shell global portfolio

Pricing – Formula based on coal and oil & gas-linked indexes

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