Crude oil continues to trade in the US$45/b range, as a strong dollar and high stockpiles weighed on the market, while there was a sense of pessimism permeating out of the G20 meeting in Chengdu on Sunday over the health of the global economy.
Last week in Asian oil:
Upstream & Midstream
- Saudi Arabian exports to China are on the increase, out-supplying Russia in June. Since 2008, Russia has been the main supplier of crude to China, but Saudi Arabia has closed the gap significantly this year. Iran, too, is aiming to increase its crude shipments to the Middle Kingdom, focusing on supplying independent teapot refineries together with trader Trafigura.
- Iran continues to come out of the cold, now re-forging ties with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, which traditionally depended entirely on Iranian crude for its sole refinery, had stopped ties due to the US-led sanctions, but has now reached out to Iran to sign its first oil sale contract since 2011.
- Singapore’s Keppel Corp sees little improvement in global oil demand as the worldwide glut continues to weigh on the market. Keppel is the world’s largest builder of oil rigs, and is mulling significant further cuts in its workforce as fewer newer contracts for rigs come in, if at all. Keppel has already shrunk its workforce by some 11,000 since 2015.
- Emerging from its civil war, Libya’s hopes to normalise its crude export volumes took another blow last week as the Libya National Oil Corporation objected to a government deal with the Petroleum Facilities Guard to re-open key ports for exports after the latter blockaded facilities at Ras Lanuf, Es Sider and Zueitina. NOC had originally declared force majeure due to the blockade, but is dissatisfied with the terms given to the Guard and vows to continue the force majeure.
- Indonesia has (suddenly) switched to Platts Dated Brent as the basis for its Indonesian Crude Price (IPC) calculation effective July. Previously calculated as 50% Platts and 50% spot assessment of various Indonesian crudes, the switch to 100% Dated Brent echoes Petronas’ similar decision in 2011, but the swift switchover has ruffled feathers in the trading community, left exposed by the sudden change.
- Saudi Arabia reports that its planned 400 kb/d Jizan refinery is expected to come online 2018, while ironing out kinks on its clean fuels project at Ras Tanura, which will increase the amount of oil products coming out of the Kingdom, destined for Asia and Europe.
- Chevron has signed an agreement with China’s JOVO Group through its Singapore subsidiary Carbon Hydrogen Energy Pte Ltd to supply LNG from its global portfolio. The deal involves 500,000 metric tons of LNG per year over five years, with the first cargo scheduled for 2018.
- India is reviving a plan to merge most, or all of the country’s state oil companies, to create a giant integrated corporation in hopes of generating efficiency through consolidated operations and distributions. The plan was first mooted in 2005, but rejected as ‘unworkable; the new plan would bring together entities like ONGC, IndianOil, HPCL and BPCL together with federal bodies like the Oil Industry Development Board.
- ExxonMobil has won the bidding war for InterOil after Oil Search pulled out of the competition last week. The US giant will now pay US$2.5 billion for InterOil and its vast gas reserves in Papua New Guinea, with the long-term ambition of turning PNG into a vast LNG exporter. The deal is expected to be finalised in September, pending regulatory review.
Other International Updates
Upstream & Midstream
- The US rig count has risen for the fourth consecutive week, adding 15 rigs to a total of 462. Fourteen oil rigs were added to the total – all onshore – placing downward pressure on prices as the development means US output will stem its decline, and possibly begin to rise again.
- A pipeline spill on Husky Energy’s Saskatchewan Gathering System in western Canada has spilled some 1,500 barrels of heavy oil, with Husky rushing to contain and clean the spill before it moves further down the North Saskatchewan River.
- BP is continuing its retreat from downstream operations, planning to sell off much of its UK fuel terminal assets, as well as its stake in the onshore United Kingdom Oil Pipeline. The shake-up in the British entity’s UK operations leaves its portfolio further skewed towards upstream, which it views as more profitable and strategic.
- The first US LNG cargo crosses through the Panama Canal this week, slashing the journey time from the US Gulf of Mexico to the LNG-hungry demand centres of Asia. Expect more cargos to follow suit, as US Gulf producers join Canada’s LNG exporters in BC and Australia is competing for Asian contracts.
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Recent headlines on the oil industry have focused squarely on the upstream side: the amount of crude oil that is being produced and the resulting effect on oil prices, against a backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that is just one part of the supply chain. To be sold as final products, crude oil needs to be refined into its constituent fuels, each of which is facing its own crisis because of the overall demand destruction caused by the virus. And once the dust settles, the global refining industry will look very different.
Because even before the pandemic broke out, there was a surplus of refining capacity worldwide. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, global oil demand was some 99.85 mmb/d. However, this consumption figure includes substitute fuels – ethanol blended into US gasoline and biodiesel in Europe and parts of Asia – as well as chemical additives added on to fuels. While by no means an exact science, extrapolating oil demand to exclude this results in a global oil demand figure of some 95.44 mmb/d. In comparison, global refining capacity was just over 100 mmb/d. This overcapacity is intentional; since most refineries do not run at 100% utilisation all the time and many will shut down for scheduled maintenance periodically, global refining utilisation rates stand at about 85%.
Based on this, even accounting for differences in definitions and calculations, global oil demand and global oil refining supply is relatively evenly matched. However, demand is a fluid beast, while refineries are static. With the Covid-19 pandemic entering into its sixth month, the impact on fuels demand has been dramatic. Estimates suggest that global oil demand fell by as much as 20 mmb/d at its peak. In the early days of the crisis, refiners responded by slashing the production of jet fuel towards gasoline and diesel, as international air travel was one of the first victims of the virus. As national and sub-national lockdowns were introduced, demand destruction extended to transport fuels (gasoline, diesel, fuel oil), petrochemicals (naphtha, LPG) and power generation (gasoil, fuel oil). Just as shutting down an oil rig can take weeks to complete, shutting down an entire oil refinery can take a similar timeframe – while still producing fuels that there is no demand for.
Refineries responded by slashing utilisation rates, and prioritising certain fuel types. In China, state oil refiners moved from running their sites at 90% to 40-50% at the peak of the Chinese outbreak; similar moves were made by key refiners in South Korea and Japan. With the lockdowns easing across most of Asia, refining runs have now increased, stimulating demand for crude oil. In Europe, where the virus hit hard and fast, refinery utilisation rates dropped as low as 10% in some cases, with some countries (Portugal, Italy) halting refining activities altogether. In the USA, now the hardest-hit country in the world, several refineries have been shuttered, with no timeline on if and when production will resume. But with lockdowns easing, and the summer driving season up ahead, refinery production is gradually increasing.
But even if the end of the Covid-19 crisis is near, it still doesn’t change the fundamental issue facing the refining industry – there is still too much capacity. The supply/demand balance shows that most regions are quite even in terms of consumption and refining capacity, with the exception of overcapacity in Europe and the former Soviet Union bloc. The regional balances do hide some interesting stories; Chinese refining capacity exceeds its consumption by over 2 mmb/d, and with the addition of 3 new mega-refineries in 2019, that gap increases even further. The only reason why the balance in Asia looks relatively even is because of oil demand ‘sinks’ such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Even in the US, the wealth of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast makes smaller refineries on the East and West coasts increasingly redundant.
Given this, the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis will be the inevitable hastening of the current trend in the refining industry, the closure of small, simpler refineries in favour of large, complex and more modern refineries. On the chopping block will be many of the sub-50 kb/d refineries in Europe; because why run a loss-making refinery when the product can be imported for cheaper, even accounting for shipping costs from the Middle East or Asia? Smaller US refineries are at risk as well, along with legacy sites in the Middle East and Russia. Based on current trends, Europe alone could lose some 2 mmb/d of refining capacity by 2025. Rising oil prices and improvements in refining margins could ensure the continued survival of some vulnerable refineries, but that will only be a temporary measure. The trend is clear; out with the small, in with the big. Covid-19 will only amplify that. It may be a painful process, but in the grand scheme of things, it is also a necessary one.
Infographic: Global oil consumption and refining capacity (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019)
|Region||Consumption (mmb/d)*||Refining Capacity (mmb/d)|
*Extrapolated to exclude additives and substitute fuels (ethanol, biodiesel)
End of Article
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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on Bloomberg L.P. data
Note: All prices except West Texas Intermediate (Cushing) are spot prices.
The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) front-month futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the most heavily used crude oil price benchmark in North America, saw its largest and swiftest decline ever on April 20, 2020, dropping as low as -$40.32 per barrel (b) during intraday trading before closing at -$37.63/b. Prices have since recovered, and even though the market event proved short-lived, the incident is useful for highlighting the interconnectedness of the wider North American crude oil market.
Changes in the NYMEX WTI price can affect other price markers across North America because of physical market linkages such as pipelines—as with the WTI Midland price—or because a specific price is based on a formula—as with the Maya crude oil price. This interconnectedness led other North American crude oil spot price markers to also fall below zero on April 20, including WTI Midland, Mars, West Texas Sour (WTS), and Bakken Clearbrook. However, the usefulness of the NYMEX WTI to crude oil market participants as a reference price is limited by several factors.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
First, NYMEX WTI is geographically specific because it is physically redeemed (or settled) at storage facilities located in Cushing, Oklahoma, and so it is influenced by events that may not reflect the wider market. The April 20 WTI price decline was driven in part by a local deficit of uncommitted crude oil storage capacity in Cushing. Similarly, while the price of the Bakken Guernsey marker declined to -$38.63/b, the price of Louisiana Light Sweet—a chemically comparable crude oil—decreased to $13.37/b.
Second, NYMEX WTI is chemically specific, meaning to be graded as WTI by NYMEX, a crude oil must fall within the acceptable ranges of 12 different physical characteristics such as density, sulfur content, acidity, and purity. NYMEX WTI can therefore be unsuitable as a price for crude oils with characteristics outside these specific ranges.
Finally, NYMEX WTI is time specific. As a futures contract, the price of a NYMEX WTI contract is the price to deliver 1,000 barrels of crude oil within a specific month in the future (typically at least 10 days). The last day of trading for the May 2020 contract, for instance, was April 21, with physical delivery occurring between May 1 and May 31. Some market participants, however, may prefer more immediate delivery than a NYMEX WTI futures contract provides. Consequently, these market participants will instead turn to shorter-term spot price alternatives.
Taken together, these attributes help to explain the variety of prices used in the North American crude oil market. These markers price most of the crude oils commonly used by U.S. buyers and cover a wide geographic area.
Principal contributor: Jesse Barnett